Fleet News

Demand high standards and boost your chances

FLEET management is all about teamwork. Every fleet decision-maker acts as a hub through which a host of suppliers provide a service to company car drivers, ranging from vehicles to servicing, fuels, crash repair and daily rental.

But the problem facing many fleet decision-makers is that their service levels to drivers are entirely dependent on other people.

So, for example, a company might have the best fleet department in the world, but its service to drivers might be let down by a manufacturer's poor aftersales department. This could lead company bosses to mistakenly believe there is no evidence that the fleet department is running efficiently, which in turn could affect the fleet manager's future career prospects.

So how does a fleet decision-maker go about setting standards for suppliers and companies to ensure drivers receive the support they need?

For many companies, the answer lies in a simple piece of paper. Simply writing down the service standards they expect from a supplier – and making the supplier stick to them or face financial penalties – can make all the difference.

The daily rental industry provides a good example of this. As competition is so intense, suppliers cannot afford to lower their guard in case a rival steps in and snaps up a lucrative contract.

National Car Rental is one of the world's largest rental operators, with more than 3,000 locations throughout the United States, Canada, South America, the Pacific Rim, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Japan.

It has a global fleet of more than 375,000 vehicles with an average age of six months. In the UK, its fleet size is about 35,000 vehicles and throughout Europe it has about 100,000 vehicles.

With that sort of coverage, the company argues, it has learnt valuable lessons about the demands of fleet customers, but also the questions they need to ask when assessing rival products.

At its national contact centre in Leicester, the company employs 200 staff, offering 24-hour service.

It handles about 130,000 calls per month, with 6,000 a month going to specialist vehicle management and 3,000 made out of office hours.

This equates to 55,000 to 60,000 reservations per month and each one represents a potential disaster for customer service if it is handled wrongly. From the first phone call through to the delivery and handling of invoices, accuracy and high standards are vital.

Claire Curley, director of client services, said: 'The days of what has been the call centre are over. We have moved on to the contact centre, with skilled staff who can deal with enquiries and orders by phone, fax or e-mail.

'There is a rigorous training programme. We then have general standards and customers can set their own service level agreements.'

The company puts its money where its corporate mouth is as well, so if it doesn't meet the agreed targets, there are fines and penalties in place.

Among standards the rental company has to adhere to – which could be applied to most areas of fleet supply – are how quickly invoices are issued, how quickly cars are collected and delivered, how quickly the phone is answered and the accuracy of billing.

To ensure customer demands are met the firm has introduced the latest computer technology, backed by new software, which helps provide an in-depth picture of customer requirements, streamline the ordering and booking process for fleet drivers and ensures key performance indicators are met.

It also streamlines the booking service, so that customers with details already on the system could have a car booked in 90 seconds, compared to three minutes in most cases.

This is also backed by carhirebooker.com, its online rental service, claimed to be one of the most advanced in the industry.

Curley said: 'Customers want service and every single day we are interacting with customers. We monitor employees' calls with rental customers and have regular assessments of staff, with training based on a star system.'

All NCR customers are allocated an area sales manager or account director, who works with the rental firm's management team.

'Taking time to understand the customer's requirements helps to ensure we can propose the right vehicle management solution,' she said. We also have our own quality enhancement programme called Vision and we have introduced joint quality councils with major customers covering areas such as purchasing, fleet, accounts and travel to ensure improvements are appropriate to customers.'

John Leigh, senior vice-president, pan-Europe, in a statement to employees as part of a new Vision Plus programme running this year, said: 'Our business relies upon retaining existing customers and gaining new ones from every channel.

'Whatever your role, you do have an impact on our customers and it is important that everyone 'thinks customer' so that we can ensure we are constantly delivering the highest quality standards possible.'

Furthermore, by shopping around, the fleet manager can actually get suppliers to help write the standards themselves, by asking companies what they are prepared to commit to.

Curley said: 'From research, the main message that came back from fleet managers was that they wanted help in doing their jobs. They wanted us to make them look better and take the hassle out of rental. Price will always be an issue, but for many companies, there is more to it than that.'

What you could demand in a daily rental service agreement

The car rental company should make a detailed assessment of the customer's needs before presenting a pricing structure which reflects the requirements of the business. For example, delivery and collection of cars can be based on the number of miles or a fixed service charge.

  • Booking channels & call centre standards
    The rental company should ensure car rental vehicles can be booked via a number of different channels so that customers can make a reservation online, book through a travel agent, use a desktop system or book over the phone.
    When booking over the phone, the car rental company should use its best endeavours to ensure that all calls are answered within agreed time parameters.

  • Delivery service
    As a corporate customer, the delivery service should cover home, business or garage addresses and should be available inside and outside normal branch hours.
    Abortive delivery: As part of the delivery service contract agree if a fixed charge should be made if a car is delivered and is no longer required.
    Delivery time: While a car rental supplier should use its best endeavours to ensure that vehicles are delivered on time, in extreme cases this may not be possible. Under such circumstances a scale of compensation may be agreed, depending on how late the vehicle is.

  • Collection service
    As a corporate customer, collection services should cover home, business or garage addresses and should be available inside and outside normal branch hours. As with delivery services, there should be agreed charges for cancelled collections and a compensation scale for late collections.

  • One-way rentals
    Customers should be able to collect a car from one location and return it to another. This service should be available on request.

  • Queries and complaints
    Where customers have a query or complaint regarding a product or service, the car rental company should use its best endeavours to ensure that such issues relating to rentals are resolved within five working days of receipt of the query.

  • Upgrades/downgrades
    While every effort should be made to provide customers with a vehicle from the group that they have booked, on some occasions this may not always be possible. Under such circumstances the car rental company should provide a vehicle from the next class up where possible.

  • Invoicing
    The car rental company should ensure that invoices are correct and that customers (under normal operating conditions) are charged the rate they have been quoted. Any additional rental days or services that fall outside of the rental agreement such as fuel, child/baby seats, additional drivers or optional insurances are extra and could be paid for if these services are taken at the time of rental.

  • Cancellation policy
    There should be an agreed cancellation policy which will enable customers to change or cancel your reservation within an agreed time limit. If customers do not cancel or change bookings within the agreed period then fail to take up the rental, the car rental company may reserve the right to charge a fee.
    Source - National Car Rental
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