Exceeding expectations: Developments in leasing
Savvy contract hire and leasing customers now expect a level of service that extends far beyond access to vehicles. Katie Beck talks to suppliers about how they aim to provide support and added value for fleets.
With so many fleet performance indicators now available, from driver profiling to in-built vehicle telematics data, a onesize- fits-all approach to leasing and contract hire is no longer adequate.
Greater insight calls for a bespoke solution to meet the fleet’s specific needs, and a more collaborative approach between the supplier and customer to pinpoint the leasing solutions that best fit the aims and budget of an organisation.
Providing an in-depth consultation process is key to building a successful working relationship between fleets and their leasing supplier; as Richard Hipkiss, operations director at independent fleet management specialist, Fleet Operations, explains: “When a new customer comes on-board we’ll always go and speak with them – there are many departmental stakeholders involved in fleet, and this is significantly higher than it once was, with different people involved with dictating fleet policy and costs.
“At stakeholder level, face-to-face meetings are vital to implement processes. Once everything has been agreed, services can be driven more by online reporting, but for the initial scoping phase getting round the table with stakeholders and having a detailed discussion is crucial.”
“It is very easy, especially with smaller customers, to forget that they are still people and they do still like to sit down and talk things through,” agrees Matt Dale, fleet consultancy manager at ALD Automotive. “You can miss so much when interactions are taking place exclusively online, and face-to-face is vital to dispel any confusion.”
When the contract terms are agreed, it is imperative the communication channels remain open to address any emerging issues or fleet concerns. “We’re seeing a greater expectation about levels of service– part of what a customer pays the leasing fees for is for the leasing company to function almost as the fleet department,” reveals Jon Burdekin, head of consultancy services at Alphabet.
“So, to take the example of which vehicles are on order, which vehicles are coming up for servicing or replacement – for all of those ongoing maintenance issues, all the customer wants to see is the exceptions. They expect the rest to run without them doing anything, and only expect to hear if there are problems.
“Another example might be checking driving licences; it is becoming an increasing popular option for us to carry that out on behalf of the customer. If there are 100 drivers and 99 of them have no points, or maybe three points, on their licence, they don’t need to know that. It’s when we come across the one driver with 12 points on their licence or a ban for drink driving that we then need to step in and alert the customer with some recommendations.”
Most suppliers now offer an online element of the service as standard, with many providing access to an online Portal containing contract information and features such as automatic alerts when a vehicle is due for a service.
As well as helping to maintain a clear overview of the fleet, access to a Portal service can also help to reduce administration time; “Traditionally, the fleet manager comes up with a choice list and decides which cars he wants to offer to his drivers, the driver selects one, and the form is sent off to the leasing company and it proceeds from there,” says Burdekin.
“In today’s market however this isn’t really acceptable anymore; customers will expect some form of online option to make the ordering process easier and that online option needs to accurately reflect the customer’s policy. For example, if the customer only wants to select Volkswagen, BMW and Audi (which is a fairly common mix) the ordering system needs to be restricted to those models, or if the customer’s fleet policy restricts orders to particular lease cycles or a CO2 cap, the online service needs to be flexible enough to show just that. This takes away extra work and simplifies the entire process.”
Access to online services on the move is also vital for the modern fleet manager, as Hipkiss explains: “Many fleet managers manage their processes with ‘three clicks and a swipe’ these days, which leads us down the app route. All our services are fully mobileenabled so that services are not restricted to a desktop; the majority of people will now catch up on their fleetrelated tasks when they’re sitting on the train or waiting for a meeting, so it’s important to facilitate this option.”
Exploring alternative options
The fleet industry’s growing interest in alternatively-fuelled vehicles presents new challenges for suppliers, chief among them the responsibility to provide clear and accurate advice about available models.
“The problem with electric-fuelled vehicles is that customers often aren’t receiving enough knowledge and information to help them fully understand them, so we are very focused on that,” says Dale. “Not only have we brought in TCO information, but we’ve brought in real-life MPG as well. We have done an element of testing for electric vehicles and put a model together around being able to build that into TCO considerations.
“This allows us to give the customer a detailed break-down of the real-world costs of running an electric fleet, even down to building in the cost of a home charge, and an insight into the potential cost savings.”
As well as providing advice on the real-world cost considerations of alternatively fuelled vehicles, leasing suppliers can also help to ensure that financial incentives are being channelled back into the fleet budget.
“Manufacturers are pushing these products quite hard, and keeping up-todate with the grants that are available and which vehicles are covered can take a lot of work,” Dale continues. “It’s here that we can help. There are also concerns that some drivers might be taking hybrid vehicles for the BiK incentives, but not charging them. This is very inefficient for the business, and maintaining a clear overview can help to reduce this kind of abuse.”
Suppliers can also offer practical support for the integration of electric vehicles into the fleet; “We also offer assistance with installing charging points and implementing the booking process to get vehicles that are fully charged off the charging point so the next vehicle can use it – which sounds straight-forward but it really isn’t,” adds Hipkiss.
Car sharing platforms
Interest in car clubs as an alternative to the traditional fleet model is also growing.
Fleets are waking up to the fact that they need to explore new avenues to save money, and attitudes towards car sharing models are changing.
“There’s a growing awareness to the fact that just because 100 cars are needed to keep a business running at the moment, the same might not be true a couple of years down the line,” says Burdekin. “Looking at cutting costs for those 100 cars, you could switch all the models on the fleet for Ford Mondeos, for example, but that might not go down too well with some. You could keep looking for a cheaper deal here or there, but that’s not really sustainable either.
“We’re finding that people are more open to finding different ways to make savings outside of the traditional methods.
It needs a completely different approach to do that, and that’s where car sharing can come in.
“Most of the industry sees a development where we move away from one car per person, to a mobility scenario where they aren’t necessarily interested in how many cars are on the fleet, they’re interested in how much does it cost to get employees from A-B to do their job,” he continues.
“We’re seeing a bit of a widened approach to this and there’s lots of buzzwords around mobility solutions. It is something that we’re keeping an eye on for future development without losing track of the services we’re providing now.”
“From an end-user perspective, there’s certainly a need for car-share solutions,” agrees Hipkiss. “I think the perk of having a company car will eventually disappear, but there will still be a lot of occasional and grey fleet users, and a lot of travel spend that can be controlled by car-share solutions and solutions that involve keyless technology, and so on.
Focusing around big customer sites and big city areas, there’s the footfall in their employee population to make these solutions effective and we’re keen to support where we can.”
Alongside alternatively-fuelled vehicles and car clubs, some leasing suppliers are looking to extend their mobility offerings even further. “From an overall mobility point-of-view, we are starting to launch a scooter product now as part of our Corporate Mobility solution,” explains Dale.
“We’re saying to our customers, “why do you need a car to go to the station?”; why not give a bit less road space, a bit less CO2 and a bit more fuel economy using a scooter, for example. We are also looking at public transport alternatives such as using the train or bus and offering facilities to get the employee from a public transport hub to the office. What we are trying to do is to get people to think about different ways to handle staff transport and to see where we can help and assist with advice.
There’s also the conversation about working from home. “These are the sort of things we have to be discussing with customers to get an insight into their experience,” Dale continues. “If you’re only going into the office once a week because you’re working from home the rest of the time, maybe car club membership can be a solution here, or the use of a scooter to get to the station – it’s about connecting the dots to find the most practical and efficient solution.”
However, while the option to take advantage of diverse mobility options are attractive to fleet customers, the knowledge that the basic elements of their leasing contracts are being looked after is still the leading concern.
“If you ask a customer what the most important thing is for a leasing company to provide, they are not looking in the first instance at the innovations that are 10 years down the line, such as driverless cars or automatically charging electric vehicles – what they are looking for is for a company to make their job easier, and to have someone to talk to about any concerns,” says Burdekin.
“The quote needs to be right, delivery of the vehicle needs to be got right, the invoice needs to be correct, any concerns need to be communicated – these are basic pillars of managing a fleet. Our customers want to be secure in the knowledge that the basic stuff will be taken care of, and then we can talk about the future.”