And to do that successfully, fleet managers need total support from their suppliers. Support which, I would suggest, is not always readily forthcoming.
There’s a bit of a gap in the service. For instance, our own suppliers are often slow to give us the relevant information on new legislation early enough and in sufficient detail, while opportunistic companies touting for business approach us in hordes crying: ‘There’s forthcoming legislation which means you must do this, that or the other. Right now.’
They try to rush us into spending our companies’ money on unnecessary and over-ambitious products. Surely my appointed advisers should be the ones best placed to provide that advice. Early.
First and foremost, we are looking to suppliers for their skills. They have set up in business as a vendor of a particular skill, with all the service back-up that entails. Skill suggests a degree of expertise. The Oxford Dictionary defines skill as ‘practised ability’ and not ‘untrained or amateur’.
And the service which we look for as a part of that skill is defined as ‘expert maintenance and repair work performed by vendor after sale’ and, perhaps more tellingly, ‘at your service – ready to do what the customer wants’.
The supplier must be honest about what they can do. And about what they can’t do.
One of the biggest complaints I hear from other fleet managers is being offered the earth at the outset of a contract and then finding the supplier couldn’t deliver; either due to incomplete staffing or poor supplier management.
So often a supplier’s sales staff are good, but the company is not so strong at employing experienced specialists to set up and run the back office operation. The people dealing with the day-to-day paperwork simply do not have the same vision as those managing the company.
Maybe they are insufficiently motivated to stay with the supplier because the training budget and reward schemes are concentrated on the sales staff?
And if the staff in the supplier’s business are not happy, then the customers will never be happy. The supplier’s staff need to believe in their product, to believe it is the best, to be able to work with it enthusiastically.
As customers, we are looking for real skills in providing particular services which are not core to our own business activity. The supplier must understand its customers’ needs.
Build a relationship with them. Accept that this takes time while trust develops. You cannot build relationships with a customer if you are constantly changing points of contact within your business.
We understand that good employees will be promoted, but customers need continuity from their suppliers. There is nothing worse than an account manager leaving and a new one being dumped on us who knows nothing about what we do, how we operate, our internal processes and who is new to the industry.
In fact, one thing worse is the point of contact leaving and we are not even told! If the supplier has a strong relationship with you, they will come to you, tell you what has gone wrong, and have figured out how they are going to resolve it in your best interests.
They will know, from the relationship how you are likely to prefer it settled. Whatever the size of the supplier my expectation is that their service must be 100% reliable 100% of the time. And remember that once you offer that service, anything less is seen as a loss of service.
A supplier should watch our business trends as well as its own, and predict what our future needs might be. Be proactive, not reactive.