Keeping Focused on Internal Customers

May 18, 2016

Reprinted with the permission of Equipment Manager magazine, the magazine of the Association of Equipment Management Professionals.

When it comes to delivering high-quality, customer-focused service, fleet managers many times feel they are being pulled in all directions.

And it’s no wonder, because internal customers—owners, management, finance, operations— frequently have various and conflicting objectives.

Putting the customer first and exceeding his expectations require that you establish repeatable processes and procedures. Although those processes themselves will be different for every company, there are some basics to think about when developing them with a “customer-focused” slant.

  1. Make sure you do what you say you will do. This simple action will go far in establishing your department as the “go-to” organization that can be counted on to get things done, encouraging a high level of trust and reliability.
  2. Good communication. Keep management informed of your plans, actions and any significant issues that may cause problems in the future. Communicate with key operations personnel regarding the fleet plan during plan development. This promotes cooperation and support by making them part of its creation.            
  3. Sense of urgency. Both the fleet manager and department personnel should always exhibit a strong sense of urgency when presented with a customer problem. Operations personnel tend to not expect this and are often pleasantly surprised (“expectations exceeded”) when they are recipients of a problem-solving attitude.
  4. Efficient work process. Whether or not written procedures manuals will be necessary depends upon an organization’s needs. It is desirable to have clear procedures in place for at least the following: machine rates, operator responsibilities, damages, hours, utilization, pre-delivery, delivery, work orders, maintenance, tracking and fuel.
  5. Chase feedback on your performance. Rather than waiting to hear about what your customers think of your department when a problem occurs, it is better to proactively chase their feedback on a continuous basis. This can occur with the use of written and phone surveys, but an occasional unexpected call or visit to ask, “How are we doing?” provides important insights. Visiting job sites is another important feedback mechanism that provides information and promotes good communication.
  6. Handle complaints promptly. Although encouraging a sense of urgency to react to customer problems is important, it is also important to provide a full solution quickly. Dragging out a solution, no matter the cause, makes customers feel underappreciated. Following up on the resolution process and making sure the issue does not sit in someone else’s mailbox are key.
  7. Provide training on procedures and processes. People in the fleet department should receive training on customer service, including all the topics discussed above. They need to be trained on how to treat operations personnel as customers and not just as co-workers. This is the fleet manager’s responsibility to provide.
  8. Process dealing with emergencies. Emergencies require some special treatment. It is important to define what is or isn’t an emergency or to define specific levels of emergency. The expected procedures should then be outlined for each level. These definitions should be agreed upon between the fleet manager and operations management. Once that agreement is reached, everyone in both departments should be made aware of management’s expectations.

When a defined emergency condition arises, the fleet department is prepared to “drop everything” (within reason) and provide a workable solution. A sense of urgency is important to solve the problem quickly and to maintain trust between the departments. At the time of reporting, the fleet should ask operations these four questions, then provide solutions to best meet the need:

  • What are the details?
  • Is production severely impacted?
  • Does operations have any options?
  • What option does the fleet have?

Defining ahead of time what constitutes a true emergency and reacting quickly to manage it will help define a true customer-focused fleet department.