As the industry saying goes, if customers had been questioned 150 years ago about how they wanted transport improved, they would have asked for faster horses.
So if a company is trying to improve the service it gives to customers, it can’t simply rely on the people it serves to come up with the best solutions.
They can explain what they think of the service they currently receive and suggest how it can develop, but for revolutionary thinking, a broader approach might be needed.
At LeasePlan UK, one of the biggest contract hire and leasing firms in the world, the search has gone global.
Earlier this year the international leasing giant revealed it was involved in a global search to gather best practice in outsourcing as part of a commitment to improving service to customers.
The investigation will target some of the largest outsourcing organisations in the world and will uncover common themes among all companies that provide outsourced services.
It will look at what works well with customers as well as common pitfalls among providers in a wide range of industries.
The results are then expected to be used to influence a new suite of products for LeasePlan customers throughout the globe.
For Kevin McNally, managing director of LeasePlan UK, the ultimate goal is a much more in-depth understanding of the potential for outsourced services in the fleet industry.
The UK contract hire and leasing industry is already at the forefront of this market, accounting for the funding of about half of all vehicles that join fleets each year, but he sees the opportunity for even greater expansion of services.
He said: ‘The fleet and leasing industry have a lot to learn about outsourcing. ‘We have the skill to be an expert fleet service outsourcing organisation offering added value advice and support in addition to what we have already achieved.’
However, one of the important lessons already embedded in the company’s philosophy is that an addiction to simply promising to deliver anything you are told to do, without checking whether it is in the best interest of the client, is a recipe for disaster.
Instead, according to McNally, the secret of outsourcing is a basic understanding between supplier and customer about the economies of scale.
He said: ‘Successful outsourcing companies don’t simply promise to do what the customer wants to do. They look at their key service areas and how they can use their service most efficiently to deliver the services they are able to.
‘We say we have the expertise to identify common threads in your requirements and then put them through our processes to deliver your service.
‘But the fleet world is not particularly good at that aspect of the job. ‘We deliver a good level of service and my plan is to turn us into an expert outsourcing company that is efficient, scalable and focused on customer service.’
As part of the international search for best practice, a review of services is also being carried out, although any new products are likely to be delivered globally, rather than being specifically developed for the UK.
McNally said: ‘We are investing in the future of car fleet management and looking at what customers will value going forward.’
Another lesson in business is that as soon as companies consistently provide exceptional service, that very quickly becomes what is seen as the standard offering, so suppliers must constantly improve and innovate to remain ahead of the competition.
McNally said: ‘Customers expect the basic service delivery to be flawless. In our case, if everything goes right 99% of the time, that is a fantastic achievement, but it would still mean that our service is going wrong on 1,000 cars a year and that is not acceptable. If we are at 99% then the next step is 99.99%.’
As part of the drive for service delivery with a fresh vision of what outsourced services to fleets should become, the firm has employed a new service improvement director to the board, Matt Cranny.
It has also recently given all staff two extra days’ training, with all managers receiving four days, in a move designed to put customer service at the forefront of people’s minds.
McNally added: ‘We really need to investigate as a business how to create a 21st century product for the marketplace and ensure that our employees have expertise that is sufficient to add value.’
Study shows fleet trends
LAST year, a new study from LeasePlan showed why outsourcing is becoming such an important issue for the fleet industry.
Finance and human resources executives are playing a major role in company fleet management decisions, it found, and they are turning to outsourced services companies for help in day-to-day management of fleets and helping them formulate policies.
The aim of the LeasePlan study was to assess the role of HR and finance executives in fleet decision-making and to identify how and why their fleets are managed and funded.
The study found most companies outsource at least one aspect of vehicle management – commonly the day-to-day running of the fleet, their purchase and disposal.
Three out of four of the fleets surveyed are leased – mainly through contract hire – and fleets that are owned, mainly within bigger companies, are largely purchased with cash.
Although HR and finance executives have an input in the fleet decision-making process, the survey found their awareness of fleet management suppliers was limited, with two in three unable to name any suppliers.
The survey contacted professionals involved in making fleet decisions in companies with 100 or more cars. There will be a full survey analysis in next week’s Fleet News.
Many brands tailored to the needs of different customers
A KEY factor in LeasePlan’s approach to good service is the way the company is structured, with the fleet split into brands serving key market segments.
So Automotive Leasing serves the public sector, Network is a business run through independent brokers, LeasePlan focuses on two areas, covering 100-plus and 1,000-plus fleets. In addition, its Fleetline business provides dedicated support to smaller fleets of less than 100 cars.
McNally said: ‘The common thing for each brand is that the expectations are high, but the products that meet each market’s needs are different, so this solution is more effective, efficient and scalable for customers.
‘We have to spend some time on next steps, looking at quality management systems, processes and future product platforms.’
While the future may bring new products, the potential for the arrival of new rivals is slim, McNally thinks, because the cost of entry to the fleet supply industry is so high.
He said: ‘I think we undervalue our trade and the expertise in this industry. We effectively manage the cost expectations of nearly 20,000 customers and there is a huge range of backgrounds and industry knowledge.
‘The key thing is how does a big business deliver small business interactions and we have segmented into several channels which creates exactly that service among customers. We are trying to get the best of both worlds.’