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How to make a fast-fit faster

By / 8 years ago / Features / No Comments

In much the same way that Formula One teams have refined the art of the quick pit-stop to give them on-track advantage, so the fast-fit industry itself is investing millions of pounds in making its pit-stop services even quicker.

The aim is to reduce vehicle downtime for fleet operators, an issue which not only hits a company’s efficiency but also impacts on the bottom line. Estimates vary as to the average cost of a company vehicle being off the road for a day, but some van operators put the cost to the business in the region of several thousand pounds when lost business is factored in.

And with such fierce competition in the fast-fit sector, the companies involved are all trying to develop an edge in their service offering. The approaches vary, but the end result is the same – faster fast-fit services and vehicle downtime reduced as much as is possible.

Unsurprisingly, it is technology which is advancing the services offered, with a host of web and mobile device-enabled systems to speed up and simplify the booking and implementation of fast-fit services.

National Windscreens has recently launched a mobile version of its website which can be accessed via smartphones and tablets, giving drivers instant access to information while out on business. It is essentially a stripped down version of the firm’s main website, containing only the essential information needed, such as contact details, branch locator and an online booking facility.

The firm’s fleet sales manager, Graham Furneaux-Porter, said: ‘We understand that a key part of a fleet manager’s remit is keeping vehicle downtime to an absolute minimum, so we’re constantly looking at ways that we can improve our service to help our clients in the fleet sector.

‘The introduction of the mobile website is an extension of our existing service offering, specifically designed to give customers the information they need when they most need it and to enhance our existing booking process.’

Technology is ‘an exciting enabler of change and efficiency’, according to Mark Foster, service delivery director at Auto Windscreens. He said: ‘Our goal has been to develop a smooth end-to-end solution for customers. A salesman doesn’t have time to wait for us to call them back or wait longer than necessary for his vehicle to be fixed. He needs to be back in business as soon as possible and that is what our technology supports.’

Auto Windscreens has created a service management system that utilises an online booking portal, with a user interface providing workflow updates, in addition to a central contact centre and hand-held PDAs. The solution is built around easy integration with mobile apps and partners’ systems to quicken processes, including validations and invoicing. The company also has what it describes as a "one-call" system, where fleet customers with urgent agreements are instantly escalated through to UK fitting centre managers who schedule work, ensure the right technicians are available and order any glass needed immediately online.

Simplifying the process is also key to a new app developed by Fleet Alliance. Compatible with Apple, Android and Blackberry devices, the e-fleet mobile app offers company car drivers a whole suite of applications, including contact details for key support services including tyres, glass, servicing, maintenance and breakdown recovery.

Managing director, Martin Brown, said: ‘This development helps the fleet manager run the fleet more effectively in a number of key business driver contact areas through the more effective recording of vital driver information.’

Meanwhile, Kwik Fit Fleet is taking action inside its branches as it aims to cut vehicle downtime. Following a successful 18-month trial in eight centres, the firm has launched specialist Kwik Fit Plus centres, aimed specifically at fleet operators. These centres feature Hunter wheel alignment machines, scissor lifts (which reduce the time spent carrying out wheel and brake part inspections) and the capability to service the largest commercial vehicles and carry out MoTs on Class 4 and Class 7 vehicles.

Kwik Fit Fleet director Peter Lambert said: ‘We learned a lot from our initial eight-centre pilot project and we will continue to adapt the concept as we receive feedback from the increasing number of fleets using the expanded network.

‘We will continue to monitor business volumes at Kwik Fit Plus centres. But the expectation is that the size of the network will increase and outlets in other parts of the UK will be designated Kwik Fit Plus. We will also look at extending opening hours later into the evening to better cater for small businesses and sole traders.’

It is also using the Hunder Quick Check system at its flagship branch in Slough. This device can assess and report on the condition of a car’s brakes, emissions, battery life, tyre tread and pressure and wheel alignment in less than three minutes – significantly less than the 40 minutes it would normally take a technician to carry out all the separate tests.


To book or not to book?

Opinions are divided on whether it is necessary to book an appointment at a fast-fit or not.

ATS Euromaster believes it has the range of stock in place to service most customer requirements, while Michelin says that making appointments to change tyres is a far more sensible and beneficial approach.

Michelin’s head of fleet, Dave Crinson, believes fleets need to change their buying habits when it comes to fast-fits in order to get the service and product they require. He advocates the approach used on the Continent, where fleet drivers in Europe book appointments to ensure that the depot has the exact tyres in stock.

He said: ‘In the last 10 years the number of car and van tyres available from Michelin alone has doubled thanks to technological developments and the greater diversity of car models and associated load and speed ratings.

‘Nobody wants to turn up at their tyre supplier only to be told that the particular tyre they want isn’t in stock, so they either have to come back later or, worse still, settle for a tyre that wasn’t their first choice.

‘And the stock issue doesn’t just apply to unusual or rare types or sizes of tyre. Our most popular fleet tyre at the moment is the 205/55 R 16, and Michelin has no less than 10 different options in that tyre alone, including Energy Saver+, run flats and those that are specific to vehicle makes, such as Mercedes-Benz or Audi.

‘Tyres are much less of a commodity than they used to be and drivers want to make the most of the wider choice that they now have. To do that, they need to adjust the way they shop.’

But ATS Euromaster believes fleets want immediate action to avoid unnecessary vehicle downtime. The firm’s group sales director, Peter Fairlie, added: ‘Fleets want a service provider which is easy to do business with – and in our experience that means speed of service delivery and technical expertise is crucial. Everything we do is about trying to minimise downtime for our customers.

‘Unlike many franchised dealerships, customers don’t need to book an appointment to visit an ATS Euromaster centre unless they require a full service or an MOT. We carry a comprehensive range of stock and if we don’t have a specific part in stock, we can usually get it delivered on the same day.’


CASESTUDY Landar Automotive Solutions

Landar Automotive Solutions specialises in bespoke fleet management for blue chip clients that have vehicle numbers typically in excess of 300. The company became partners of Auto Windscreens in August 2012, with service speed and the capability for epyx 1link system plug-ins playing a major role in the decision to switch glass provider.

‘We log on to Auto Windscreens’ online portal, quickly entering user details and initiating the repair workflow,’ says Nick Lingard, Landar Automotive Solutions’ operations manager.

‘Through their service management systems, the validation team then addresses the claim, contacting our customer within an hour to schedule required work. This simplifies the process as there is no need for us to make a call, and it ensures quick approval from us, utilising the 1Link system and avoiding unnecessary delays.’

The portal also enables Landar to track each job’s progression and, once complete, technicians use PDAs to initiate invoicing.

Lingard added: ‘Almost overnight Auto Windscreens was able to alleviate any issues with our glass repairs and, through the use of technology, we have a faster service to offer our fleet customers, which is critical.’


Under the weather

Around 90% of the work carried out by Autoglass is mobile, but damp weather can make sticking new glass in a vehicle difficult.

To eliminate the vagaries of the weather, the firm has developed the Vanbrella – an extendable canopy fixed to its vans which means the repair can be carried out in the dry. In the past six months the system has been rolled out across 300 of Autoglass’s vans.

Jeremy Rochfort, the firm’s national sales manager, said: ‘By facilitating mobile glass repair and replacement services in wet conditions, our customers can book their appointment whatever the weather, reducing downtime for fleets by not having to arrange a later appointment in one of our branches.’

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