More than 75% of Thrifty Car and Van Rental’s business is from corporate customers, so for Caroline Gallagher, sales director and Linda Malliff, director, central services, their Fleet News Award win – for the second year in a row – is highly valued.
Fleet News: Why is the award win important to Thrifty?
Caroline Gallagher: It’s such a huge accolade to win for all our branches, and staff in the business who worked towards it. People often think of larger rental companies before us, and so it’s great to be recognised.
Linda Malliff: The corporate sector is our sector – it’s the one we excel in, and drive our efforts toward. We will continue to focus on looking after our business customers as a priority.
FN: How do you ensure the corporate sector is well served?
LM: We pride ourselves on customer service, and the flexibility we can offer. We’re a company that can tailor and adapt our services to suit a businesses objective.
CG: Our branches are not targeted on sales, utilisation or anything else – they’re not cost centres. They just have to collect and deliver vehicles, and provide excellent customer service.
We provide the branches with bookings, vehicles and manage their reporting and staff. It means they aren’t looking at bookings and prioritising those retail bookings that they think are most profitable.
LM: All the branches are ours, not franchised. We’re even going one step further: to take pressure off the locations from retail bookings by opening a retail reservation centre in High Wycombe to reduce calls to the branches, to allow them to focus on the day-to-day excellent customer service we expect, not answering time consuming calls.
The centre is to start operating next month, and we’re quite excited as it will free up branches to focus on the business user.
FN: How do you work differently to support fleet managers?
CG: I think our customers expect us to be proactive, and want us to work with them, not against them.
We’ll look at trends in bookings, and identify users who never refuel vehicles, or high-mileage, high-accident drivers, and advise fleet managers on a duty-of-care basis. We have a new computer system, Thor, that allows a fleet manager dual level authorisation. It means any driver can make a booking, but the system can decide to email a line manager for approval if it is more than three days, or the fleet manager if it is more than five days, for example.
We can also manage vehicle size – giving different levels of staff permissions, so a driver can book a small vehicle automatically, but require permission for a larger car.
It’s about helping fleet managers, so they don’t have to be involved in every single decision in the business. They can see everything in comprehensive reports, but don’t have to manage it all.
We’ll send exception reports so the workload is manageable. Now the level of reporting is a bit more targeted.
FN: How do you look after corporate business through leasing companies and rental brokers?
CG: We’re a big supplier into the leasing and rental broker market, and we’re very happy with that supply chain. In a sense, they act as an extended version of our own sales team, and we support the sector.
We offer their customers the same customer service standards as our own. Where we’re on a panel of suppliers, we are consistently one of the best performers in terms of our service levels. We don’t mind where the customer comes from, as long as they recognise our service is the best – they will then hopefully ask their service provider to use us when they can.
This year, we were extremely proud to win Nexus’s customer service award, and to win LeasePlan’s supplier of the year for the second year in a row, along with the Fleet News Award.
FN: How have last year’s changes to your flexible rental service affected customers?
CG: We changed our product to allow customers to really specify their vehicles – everything from make, model, CO2, P11D and sat nav, and we have seen a massive take-up of that. There’s more and more focus on how much benefit-in-kind a driver is paying. When they get a rental vehicle, they don’t want to suddenly find their car tax has doubled. If they can choose a vehicle by CO2 and P11D value, it becomes a lot more manageable, particularly when it’s not their fault that they have a rental vehicle.
To be able to match or provide something on a par with an ordered vehicle pre-contract has been a massive success for us, and we continue to grow in that area. In terms of total corporate rental, 60% of our rental is now under flexifleet.
We’re not the biggest rental provider out there, so we looked at what we were good at, and how we could develop that offering into something unique. We think we are very nimble, and can change things very quickly. It just worked, for us and for our customers.
LM: We have a new product in trial to benefit companies who offer salary sacrifice and cash options, and hope to bring that to market within the next couple of months.
It’s a little more of a retail proposition but available to staff of businesses – if a driver is pre-contract, or taking cash and needs a vehicle, we can help. Whether a customer is referred from a fleet or a leasing broker, they will come to us and we will provide the systems and vehicles.
FN: Has the move towards longer-term rental affected the make-up of vehicles on your fleet?
CG: I think the only change we’ve noticed is more requests for hybrid vehicles, so we’ve brought more of those onto the fleet. Our fleet was already one of the newest, with five-star Euro NCAP ratings and a high standard specification, to meet customer demand.
We never get asked for pure electric, which is quite surprising.
FN: Are you encouraging customers into lower-emission vehicles?
CG: Drivers at one of our customers didn’t want to drive the new 1.0-litre three cylinder petrol engines. They saw them as a downgrade, and believed they were entitled to a higher grade vehicle than that. We took some vehicles down to the customer and let the drivers test them at no charge, so they could see how powerful and economical they were, and help them understand it wasn’t a downgrade.
Things like that mean a customer can choose a more environmentally friendly vehicle – sometimes even go down a group – but still get the same power because of manufacturers’ technological developments.
Helping customers and providing good levels of service is the overriding factor in the business initiatives Thrifty is pushing forward. Spotting potential opportunities that can make life easier for both fleets and drivers has led to high take up of the the flexible product in particular, and reduced some of the frustration points that drivers experience when taking a rental car for an extended period of time.
“Thrifty prioritises fleet rentals and has opened strategic locations specifically to support existing fleet customers.
It operates extended opening hours, as customer demand dictates, and it can meet vehicle requirements at short notice. Thrifty is hot on customer service and its flat structure makes it easy to get straight to the people you need to.”
Company: Thrifty Car and Van Rental
Sales director: Caroline Gallagher
Director, central services: Linda Malliff
Branches: 97; six planned
Corporate business: 75%
Average vehicle age: Three to four months
Fleet size: 20,000