Service and support for end user company car drivers is now central to winning and retaining major corporate fleet leasing contracts. By Jonathan Manning.
Driver satisfaction has never been more important for leasing companies.
Major fleet operators are increasingly outsourcing administrative tasks to their leasing provider and that can often include contact with drivers.
Leasing companies need to have the right systems and processes in place to handle everything from vehicle selection to service, maintenance and repair (SMR), and de-fleet in a timely manner.
The development changes the nature of business for leasing companies schooled in business-to-business supply agreements.
Dealing with end-user drivers is far more of a retail proposition in which the keyholders will judge service delivery against the best consumer brands, particularly online retailers.
Moreover, as the intermediary between driver and third party suppliers, leasing companies face the challenge of managing their nationwide networks of car dealerships, garages and fast-fit operators to meet driver expectations.
Driver support has become a principal consideration in tender requests as outsourcing gains momentum, says Deborah Jenkins (below), general manager, customer relationship management at Alphabet, where the Customer First Contact team won the FN50 Customer Service Team award last November.
“In the fleet leasing business you often hear from others that the experience for drivers is irrelevant in the decision-making process – it’s all about the fleet decision- makers only,” she says.
“But I think this is blinkered and short-sighted – senior fleet decision-makers in organisations are drivers too – and so are their employees.
“If we’re not serving the employees of the business and focusing our efforts solely on the senior fleet decision-makers then pretty soon that disenchantment will become clear and that’s no basis for a long-term, sustainable partnership with a customer.”
The importance of driver support and improving employee satisfaction has reached a point, added Jenkins, where it is not only one of a company’s strategic objectives in a tender, but where drivers are actually involved in the process.
“With some customers when we are undertaking a policy review or making changes to a fleet choice or travel policy we will involve a number of representative employees from across their business to make sure that they have a voice in the process and their needs are being met. Employee customers are an important stakeholder in these decisions,” she says.
The importance of delivering driver satisfaction is amplified by the fact that by the time a large corporate has taken the strategic decision to outsource its fleet, it will already be familiar with both market pricing and the contractual elements of lease agreements, so it’s unlikely to discover significant differences between competing suppliers, says Nick Hardy, sales and marketing director, Ogilvie Fleet (below).
Companies may try to trim their rental rates a little or offer to be more flexible with back end charges, but the scope for differentiation is limited.
“It therefore comes down to technical solutions you can provide and how you can manage the drivers, so that tends to score quite highly,” says Hardy.
“I’d say it’s probably right up there in the top three criteria.
"Areas such as how fast a leasing company reacts to driver needs, its opening hours and whether it can provide a 24-hour service come into play, but the focus is more likely to be on the sophistication of the technical solutions on offer through apps and online systems.
“More often than not the question is asked about what technical solutions we can provide,” says Hardy.
“We always go back and say that is only one part of it and humans do still like to interact with humans.
"We are not going to say you can only deal with us online or that all of our support is online.
“So when someone is ordering a new company car, some drivers want to do it all via our app, some drivers want to do it online in their own time, but others really want to talk, they want support and help and to speak to a ‘petrolhead’ about their options. They want to know in intimate detail which vehicle to choose, because it’s emotive to them.”
Most corporate clients seek the “quiet running” of their fleets, says Max Turner, customer services director of Zenith (below), another way of saying that drivers have to be able to find the answers and services they need easily and first time, without having to contact their in-house fleet team.
“About 85% to 90% of our orders come via an online platform of one kind or another because most of our drivers want an easy route in,” says Turner.
“We do very little processing of orders manually these days. It doesn’t mean we’re not helping drivers to make the right choice, it just means we have a platform where they can start to refine their choice, and if they have specific queries they can get hold of their account executive to talk it through.
"Each corporate has its own account executive who knows the policy and the business intimately so they can advice appropriately. It’s a better use of our time to add value.”
Zenith created the role of customer services director last year, a clear reflection of the importance that clients attach to driver support.
The company monitors and measures its performance after every interaction with a driver, from vehicle order and delivery to service, maintenance and defleet, to keep a close eye on customer reaction.
“Every driver has the opportunity to feed back after the experience through a formal survey that goes out after every event.
"The driver is changing rapidly, with higher expectations and lower tolerance. Everyone is time-precious and we have to supply a service that is quick and easy,” says Turner.
“We have a Voice of the Customer board, which I chair, and we sit every month to discuss customer feedback, and ensure we are moving the customer journey forward.
"That is critical to us. It’s a way of ensuring the customer and driver are always foremost in our business strategies. Our whole business is effectively bonused on the performance of our service.”
READ MORE: How I got here: Nick Brownrigg, Alphabet
This focus on the quality as much as the quantity of interactions is heavily influencing the way the major leasing companies approach customer service.
At Alphabet, for example, “a major KPI is to reduce the number of incoming phone calls by increasing our number of outbound phone calls for a much more proactive approach,” says Jenkins.
“We’re not yet at the point where we have a higher ratio of outgoing than incoming calls, but we’re working towards much more outbound, proactive contact. All of our corporate customers have a Continuous Service Improvement Plan in place.
"However good your service is you can’t rest on your laurels – it’s not just about delivering good service now it’s that ethos of continual improvement.”
Before Alphabet created its Customer First Contact team, the company estimated that it resolved about 40% of calls first time; since the team was created the figure has risen to in excess of 80%. Greater efficiency in the supply chain is also helping this proactive approach.
For example, the company’s new online Tyre Replacement Portal, launched in collaboration with Kwik Fit in July, allows drivers to book a timed appointment to replace their tyres via an app or online, and makes sure the right tyres are in stock.
The system even remembers previous tyre replacements, auto-populating the driver’s car tyre size and rating to save even more time.
Looking to the future, fleet outsourcing is likely to extend beyond the management of cars and drivers into the realms of mobility.
Hardy says: “It won’t be long before a client wants us to book trains and make travel arrangements.”