In our regular feature, Nigel Trotman, Fleet News Hall of Fame member and two-time Fleet News Award winner, gives advice on your fleet challenges and queries.
Q: For a while now, I have had concerns about the performance of my fleet management provider. There has been a gradual decline in service levels. And now my account manager, who has built a really strong relationship with us, is leaving the business. How do I decide whether I need to look for an alternative or just manage my current supplier differently?
A: In my experience, all relationships with suppliers go through peaks and troughs and are never consistent. This may reflect where you are in the contract, what is currently happening within the supplier’s business, or indeed the loss of a key staff member. What is important is to understand why you are experiencing a dip (we happily accept the peaks, of course), and to manage the situation accordingly.
In your position, you know that a change of account manager is imminent, but if it is part of a wider trend, then you need to know what that is. For example, one of the consequences of some mergers has been a lack of focus on customers, leading to service issues.
Your first step should therefore be a frank and open exchange of views with the most senior contact you have at your provider, underlining your concerns and agreeing an action plan, with regular reviews, to resolve them. For example, with one provider where I was losing an account manager I was part of the process to appoint the new one – and it worked really well. It may well be that this is sufficient to reassure you until such time as the existing contract expires and you can take a fresh look as part of a tender.
However, if you cannot reach a solution where you are comfortable that the issues can be resolved, more drastic options should be considered.
Historically, fleet managers have not looked to change provider mid-contract, as the relationship is almost certainly going to need to continue until all the vehicles on contract are replaced. However, I have noticed a greater willingness in recent years for fleets to be prepared to make a change at contract review time so, depending where you are in the current arrangement, you may wish to start preparing the ground for a potential change.
Unsurprisingly, advising a current provider that there will definitely be a tender and they are at risk of losing the business will concentrate their minds.
However, if you currently have a single provider, as your question suggests, you may wish to consider introducing an additional supplier to provide competition – both on price and service quality. Again, this may well provoke your current provider to up their game. It will also provide useful intelligence.
I have always felt that having the right relationship with the right provider is one of the keys to success in fleet management, as you can then face issues together and resolve them. My principle was to always be my supplier’s favourite customer, and that worked well for me.
Perhaps this approach could work for you and you could use it to resolve your current concerns.