Fleet News

Get suppliers to work for you

Fleet managers say they want five things from their supplier partners. Catherine Chetwynd looks at how you can get them

A true partnership

Why is this important?

A true partnership ensures suppliers respond quickly and efficiently when clients need something in a hurry. This means they can help fleet managers develop and implement strategies.

To do this effectively, suppliers need to get under the skin of a clients’ business to understand exactly how it works.

“If they can’t grasp that, they are going to be offering the wrong sort of solutions,” says Liz Hollands, fleet and facilities manager for the Freight Transport Association (FTA).

A good cultural fit is also important, as is the right range of products and services to meet buyers’ and drivers’ requirements. This is so that the latter group can do their job – driving – most effectively and also so they can have the vehicle that best fits their reward package or job needs.

Fleet is not just about moving people and goods around, adds Ted Sakyi, group fleet manager for Wates Group. 

“It is about motivating and rewarding drivers,” he adds. “Company cars and LCVs are emotive objects; we spend a lot of time in them, which is why you need a partner who thinks beyond the car as just an asset.”

How can a fleet manager achieve this?

“You need to understand suppliers are in business to make some money,” says Hollands.

“You get a much better result if you respect that and, with a stable, long-term relationship, you can build a lot more trust and more knowledge of each other.”

Clearly stated objectives from the outset, supported by ongoing communication, mean that buyers and suppliers know what has been achieved and what has still to be achieved.

The supplier’s view

“Fleet managers benefit from mapping out their exact requirements before speaking to a business rental provider, so that instead of adopting a universal solution to their needs, the supplier can work with them to deliver best value, a bespoke service and ensure the expected service levels are exceeded,” says Yvonne Findlay, head of supply chain at Nexus Vehicle Rental.

Mark Ashpole, head of operations for BT Fleet, agrees. He says: “A fleet manager should agree a set of contractual key performance indicators (KPIs) and a regular review process.

“This can include driver satisfaction, time to get vehicles back on the road and how quickly phones are answered. All these measures give give a barometer of how well the partnership is working.”

Suzanne Ford, head of customer service at Arval, adds: “When selecting a supplier, a fleet manager should try to assess its service culture.

“Everyone will tell you that they are focused on service but try to tease out tangible evidence such as service-related awards and recognition, customer and driver satisfaction scores, how they invest in the training and development of their employees, and the structure they use.”

Openness and transparency

Why is this important?

Transparency is key to trust and, if something is opaque or unnecessarily complicated, people instinctively distrust it.

Suppliers should show clients how they have saved them money and be able to demonstrate that they have not charged for things they might have or, where they do make charges, why it is a fair charge.

How can a fleet manager achieve this?

If both parties show integrity, suppliers are more likely to be clear about what they have and have not charged buyers.

Setting up clear, shared objectives from day one is essential, so that suppliers know what they are expected to deliver, whether that is service level agreements or overall fleet and mobility goals such as reduced CO2 output, greater operational efficiency or increased customer satisfaction.

Regular, ongoing communication at all levels is essential – not just focusing on what is not working, but also celebrating successes.

“Too often, key people involved in the relationship aren’t aware of how they are contributing to successes. You need to talk about the progress made so far and also what else you need to do next,” says Ted Sakyi, of Wates Group.

Discussion and feedback in your organisation are a useful gauge of the pulse of the relationship, but it is easy to be distracted by verbatim comments or one-offs – the important thing is to have ongoing measures such as customer satisfaction surveys with drivers, especially if these take place after a key touchpoint in the relationship with the supplier such as a service, breakdown, new car delivery or glass and tyre replacement.

The supplier’s view

“All procedures and processes should be discussed with clients to ensure a complete understanding of each other’s business, so that potential problems can be identified and addressed prior to commencement of the contract,” says Caroline Gallagher, sales director of Thrifty.

“This develops trust between the customer and the supplier. Companies should have an account manager assigned to their business who, by conducting regular review meetings, will keep the lines of communication open and guarantee the customer’s voice will always be heard.

“Regular, transparent reporting should also be a given, and should be aligned to the KPIs that are most important to that customer,” she adds.

“This will demonstrate how the leasing company is performing, and how the fleet is performing.”

Streamlined and efficient processes

Why is this important?

The relationship between buyer and supplier should involve quick, simple, easy and well structured processes, whether through technology or people.

Some of these will develop organically, but regular questioning of them will lead to greater efficiencies for buyer, supplier and drivers, saving time and money.

Ted Sakyi, of Wates Group, says: “The more complexity there is, the more things can go wrong, so you need to keep processes as straightforward as possible.”

The FTA’s Liz Hollands advocates meaningful reports, preferably online and instantly available to the customer, who should be able to pull off what they need and interpret it their way.

“There is no point in them giving you their standard suite of reports if that’s not what you need, nor if you have to ask for it and wait for someone to produce it at the other end,” she says. “And I want instant access to real people, I don’t like going through phone menus. I’m lucky in that the team I deal with at Marshall Leasing is very stable, the people have been there a long time and I know who to go to.”

How can a fleet manager achieve this?

It is, however, a two-way street. “For them to provide us with meaningful reports, we have to provide them with accurate information,” says Hollands.

“If we don’t tell them when drivers change cars or don’t provide them with changes of address, the information they supply to us is less efficient.”

The supplier’s view

“The best suppliers will have cohesive flat structures with seamless processes throughout every customer touchpoint and with staff empowered to make decisions and provide solutions,” says Caroline Gallagher, of Thrifty.

“Numerous layers of management within a company will only delay deployment of initiatives and query resolution.

“Using companies who employ all staff rather than use agency drivers and staff allows total consistency in procedures at every touch point.”

Mark Ashpole, head of operations for BT Fleet, adds: “Fleet managers should continually review their processes and, if they feel there is a way to do something better, this should be shared with their supplier.

“It’s very easy for suppliers to become complacent, so it’s imperative to challenge them to deliver efficiency and innovation throughout the contract, not just at the beginning or at the end when it’s up for renewal.”

Access to knowledge and support

Why is this important?

Fleet managers appreciate a swift response to changes in legislation. What will compliance require? How will it affect them? How is the leasing company going to implement changes? What will it cost?

The supplier needs to have comprehensive information about the client at its fingertips and supply regular reviews with valuable data.

“You’re buying in knowledge that you don’t have within your business, as well as the operational scale, which means they can take care of issues for you – enabling you to concentrate on the day job,” says Ted Sakyi, of Wates Group.

“Our role then becomes more strategic in terms of steering suppliers and driving the fleet/mobility strategy within the business.”

In addition, where fleet managers are making long-term decisions that can have a significant financial and operational impact, the input of trusted experts is imperative.

How can a fleet manager achieve this?

“I get the leasing company to understand the business they are supporting,” says Simon Binks, fleet manager for Innserve.

“We do this after we have got down to a shortlist of three to five potential suppliers, to give them a very detailed insight into our business and our customer requirements.

“We can then drill down to the details to get the best possible support from any supplier we select. While it is a big investment in our time to undertake this with our chosen few, it pays dividends in the long run.

“A key issue is to know and understand the Innserve business,” says Binks. “We operate a large van fleet but a small car fleet, which is unusual as most are large car, small van. So we select a partner who has a large van fleet.”

He also has pre-agreed processes for issues that have come up in the past.

“Make sure you have selected a supplier that has resilience and breadth of resources,” says Mark Ashpole, of BT Fleet. “You should aim to partner with an industry leader that has a culture of analysing and sharing knowledge company-wide to make improvements. With the increasing adoption and use of self-serve portals, it’s good to know you can still speak to a team of experts.”

Caroline Gallagher, of Thrifty, says: “The fleet manager should endeavour to meet senior people from different departments within the supplier’s company.

“This will provide comfort that the various departments can deliver the service being sold by the sales person.

“It may require additional time at the beginning, but will more than make up for it further down the line if the fleet manager knows the fleet team is operating in the client company’s best interest, the reservations team understands all the nuances of the organisation’s rental requirements or if something does go wrong, there is a team in place who understand how to address the issue.

“Communication is always the key.”

Prompt resolution of complaints

Why is this important?

“If something goes wrong, I like my supplier to ring me up, tell me and present a solution at the same time and then see it through, whether it is something a contractor has done or they have done,” says Liz Hollands, of FTA.

“They should talk to the driver and make sure they are happy. They could also add a bit of value, add something extra as well to make up for the trouble or problem that happened.

“I don’t want to have to beat them up to do it, it should be something they do as part of their customer service ethos.”

How can a fleet manager achieve this?

Do not be afraid to challenge suppliers if things are not right. But it is a two-way street: as the buyer, it is important to make it clear that there is a problem, so you give suppliers the opportunity to put it right. And if they don’t, follow it up robustly.

Dialogue is crucial, ideally discussing issues early, before they become a complaint. Fleet managers and suppliers need a strong working relationship so that people know each other well enough to pick up the phone and deal with it personally.

“It is important to have a partner that takes a driver complaint seriously and treats it forensically,” says Ted Sakyi, of Wates Group.

“It’s amazing the turnaround in attitude you can achieve if people handle complaints in the right way. From a relationship perspective, they are important as an opportunity to see where you can make improvements in a process and improve the experience and satisfaction of your drivers.”

The supplier’s view

“Fleet managers should always ask to review a rental company’s internal service failure reporting, which must be monitored and progressed through to resolution; all of which must be auditable and available to the client,” says Caroline Gallagher, of Thrifty.

“The information should be used proactively to identify trends and recognise where training or indeed system changes may be required.

“A rental company should never be afraid to share this information, which could also be used by the client to better educate the end user and manage their expectations realistically.”


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