Richard Schooling, commercial director at leasing company Alphabet UK, says: ‘Customer service is one of those really nebulous things.
‘It’s difficult to describe. You can say anything and no-one will know whether it’s true or not because they’ve not experienced it. It’s a difficult thing for a prospective customer to be able to quantify.’
Greg Taylor is commercial director of ING Car Lease and is well qualified to know what customer service is – ING won the post-sales side of this year’s Landmark Customer Satisfaction Index Survey.
Taylor believes customer service is as simple as keeping promises.
‘It’s about doing all the things you promise that you’re going to do when you get the business in the first place,’ he says.
‘It’s about not just meeting, but beating the expectations of the customer, surprising them to a certain extent.
‘Broadly speaking, the products and services are fairly similar in our industry and at the end of the day it comes down to the people and the personal contact that you insist upon or manage in your organisation.’
Fleet managers would do well to carefully examine the structure and reputation of service companies that they are considering working with. Taylor adds: ‘When you outsource, you are throwing yourself at the behest of your supplier and need to develop quickly a strong element of trust.
‘It’s a fairly significant part of your business that you’re outsourcing to a supplier and from a competitive point of view it’s a key differentiator.’
Schooling, who saw Alphabet win this year’s pre-sale section of the Landmark survey, says: ‘The marketplace is so mature these days that there’s not much that people can say to differentiate themselves.’
Jo Gough, quality manager at Masterlease, agrees. She says: ‘Unfortunately it is only when a fleet manager has chosen to work with a supplier that they get a true picture of what the customer service is really like.’
A good indicator of how seriously a firm takes its customer service is how it is set up for contact with its clients.
Schooling thinks clients should have a dedicated contact, specifically responsible for their business and available as a first port of call for any enquiries. This should be someone within the running of the business, in addition to an account manager. Also, the rest of the team should have a working knowledge of each client’s business, just in case the dedicated contact is not available.
‘You want to feel when you ring up that you are not just a number or another customer, but that someone knows you and cares about you,’ he says.
Alphabet has internal workshops where the team that handles an account briefs everyone else about the latest goings-on. It also conducts regular surveys of clients and their drivers to check for deficiencies in the service.
Of course, no-one can ensure that things always go perfectly smoothly, but it’s when things go wrong that customer service can come into its own.
Schooling again: ‘Often it is only when things go wrong that you can show how good your service is. People only notice bad service, so if something goes wrong the real measure of good service is how you manage it.
‘It’s important for us to learn from our mistakes. There may well be one-off things that could be human error, but mistakes could also be a methodical thing that can be improved.’
Jo Gough adds: ‘Dealing with complaints quickly and proactively is a critical part of good customer service.
‘While we try to minimise any complaints through good service, too many companies shy away from them. Complaints should actually be seen as an opportunity to improve something about a product or service.’
Masterlease once claimed 95% of complainants renewed their contracts, but it retained only 88% of those customers who hadn’t complained – that’s a compelling argument for handling complaints well.
Greg Taylor adds: ‘When things go wrong you have to react quickly. I will quickly get on the phone to the customer and explain what’s happened and discuss an amicable solution.’
He believes that dealing with a problem quickly and efficiently, and keeping the customer informed of progress, is a sound mark of good customer service.
‘Customers appreciate that things do go wrong from time to time,’ he says. ‘Service companies should learn from their mistakes and be honest.’
While a number of firms are putting serious efforts into ensuring customer service is as good as it can be, their reputations across the industry are mixed. As firms merge and the ground beneath fleet managers’ feet constantly shifts, it is all too easy for the needs of the clients to be overlooked.
Taylor says this view reflected his experience and he issues a warning to the industry’s suppliers to clean up their acts.
He says: ‘Customer service in this industry is varied.
‘As we’ve seen more and more consolidation in the industry over recent years there does seem to be this polarisation appearing.
‘We get a lot of people coming to us saying ‘I’ve been a customer of XYZ leasing company and I can’t remember the last time I saw my account manager’.
‘That state of affairs is getting worse.’
Customer service checklist