In these days of increased focus on risk management and health and safety issues, the role of a vehicle's windscreen, and its condition, is often overlooked.
Autoglass has spent several million pounds on drumming home the importance of safety of windscreens through both television and radio campaigns, internal training and issuing stringent guidelines on the type of glass it uses for windscreen repairs.
This safety drive and a direct approach to customer service were two of the factors which helped the group grab the attention of the judges and secure the title of Best Glass Repair/Replacement Company at this year's Fleet News Awards.
For managing director Nigel Doggett, the win provided the best possible start to his new role, when he was promoted to head up the company after four years as the group's operations director in May.
Improving both Autoglass's safety levels and its customer service operation remain at the top of his 'to do' list and Doggett cannot stress the importance of optimising safety for fleets enough.
A vehicle windscreen provides almost a third of the car's structural strength, so in the event of an accident it can prevent occupants from being crushed.
Doggett said: 'A screen needs to be fitted to the best standard. We only use original equipment – glass which is approved and used by manufacturers. It is crucial that the glass is right and the highest quality bonded systems are used.
'We also want to drive the safety message internally so everyone in the business understands the message. We are investing in internal branding and providing safety training courses for our staff.
'We want to highlight safety. As windows and glass become more complex it becomes more difficult to fit. Therefore, training, technology and fitting becomes more difficult.'
Maximising safety is not the only item on Autoglass's agenda. Improving customer service has also been one of Autoglass's main achievements during the past year.
Doggett added: 'We are focusing hard on customer service and have been over the past 12 to 18 months. Business has grown by 10% and capacity has increased.'
Autoglass has moved its contact centre to an in-house operation, creating an additional 80 jobs in Bedford, another move intended to improve customer service.
However, Doggett continues to strive for perfection. He said: 'There is always more we can do, even though our customer satisfaction scores are 95%.'
The Fleet News judges noted the group's enthusiasm towards customer service and safety measures. They said: 'With high invoice accuracy, a wide range of services and speedy response to customer calls, backed by a 'Right First Time' and 'Repair First' motto and commendable involvement in safety and anti-car crime campaigns, Autoglass put itself in front in this category.
'From simple measures, such as its steering wheel wrap to show drivers when they can safely drive a car after its windscreen is replaced, to an extensive network of branches and mobile units, it offers a truly fleet-focused proposition.'
Doggett also seems keen to keep his staff happy and has managed to keep employee turnover levels to a minimum.
Autoglass now has more than 1,100 mobile technicians on call 24 hours a day, alongside a robust back office team. He credits the employee reward scheme as being one of the factors to reduce staff turnover, an initiative he introduced in his previous role as operations director.
He said: 'Our scheme and our investment in the skills centre has led to reduced staff turnover. The employee rewards scheme has been successful for technology, business and customers, including fleets.'
Autoglass has also linked its employee bonus scheme to the levels of customer service achieved by staff. This helps to ensure satisfaction remains high and employees are rewarded for their efforts.
In terms of its customer base, Autoglass claims it is continually increasing its share of corporate business. The majority of its work is generated through the insurance and fleet markets, with more than 90% of business coming from these sources.
According to Doggett, fleet drivers are three times more likely to have a windscreen problem than other drivers, because of the increased mileages they cover. So with business booming from the fleet market, Doggett says one of Autoglass's main focuses is the issue of driving down costs for fleet customers.
And one way of doing this is through its online invoice and account management system, according to Doggett.
He said: 'Our new booking system gets people appointments and is the first point of contact. Customers are not passed to a branch, they are handled in approximately four minutes from the first call and we have found that fleets just want to make one call.
'We take away the hassle from fleets including processing and administration. Price is a factor. Fleet managers want immediacy and strength of service and they want to get the vehicle back on the road as soon as possible. We will invest in service standards in the future and continue to grow dedicated night and after hours teams.'
New technology is important and the group plans to focus on its online operation.
Doggett said: 'We are investing more in the ability to book online. We have some fleets up and running with integrated online systems. BP started with this and any of its drivers can access it online.'
However, the uptake of the system has been slower than expected. Doggett added: 'The speed of growth of the online system has been different to what we anticipated but it can help reduce costs for fleets.'
Looking forward, Doggett foresees Autoglass's main target areas as improving safety, customer service and continuing to drive fleet costs down.
The group is also expanding across Europe, including its services for fleets. The total number of European countries in which it operates is now 24. To prevent inconvenience for fleet drivers travelling abroad, the group uses a European hotline which enables drivers to liaise with an English-speaking adviser – another step which takes the stress out of a potentially stressful situation.