Joined up thinking
Volkswagen has launched a new leasing programme aimed at local fleets. What surprised me was not how groundbreaking the initiative is, it isn’t, but the fact that it was not already in place. Reading between the lines it shows a change of mind-set and greater focus from one of the leading fleet manufacturers.
All carmakers, from niche to volume, will tell you how important SMEs are to their business and then, mostly, stand back and let their dealers offer a good, bad or non-existent service.
Volkswagen's new package will not allow for that. What the scheme's name lacks inoriginality, the Small Business Leasing programme makes up for in a refocusing of its dealer network by promoting the importance of building and maintaining local business accounts. Perhaps this was an admission that eyes had been taken off the ball.
In a nutshell, the scheme provides SMEs with leasing options across Volkswagen's range with quotes accessed through its website. The service is also supported by a national call centre with cars and related services supplied by the local dealer.
The scheme's not mandatory but, tellingly, most of Volkswagen's 215 dealers have already signed up for it. Previously fleet business had been channelled through 63 accredited dealers, who tended to service the local needs of the bigger fleets.
‘We realised we were not looking after the SMEs,’ admitted Rob Taylor, Volkswagen Fleet Services' customer relationship manager.
‘It’s estimated that around one million SMEs exist across the UK. Even if an organisation only has a handful of cars, it’s important that they are funded and managed correctly in order to ensure spend remains within budget and administration at a manageable level,’ he said.
‘The programme was opened to the entire network and we've had about 200 dealers joining up. It has given us a fantastic geographical representation,’ he told me.
Each participating dealer has nominated a couple of specialists in their teams for training and to concentrate on delivering sales and services to SMEs.
None of this is particularly ground breaking but it does show a laudable joined up approach to addressing a local issue. SMEs need to be able to source cars and services in a painless and cost-effective manner. They don't want to be bogged down in the minutiae of complex funding deals and if they can do this all through their local dealer then everyone is happy.
‘SMEs have always been important to us but now it's a case of our network providing the right tools and offers and bringing them all together in one place. It's a programme run at a national level through a call centre and website and delivered at a local level. It all needed to be pulled together as there were different things happening at different places; we didn't have a unified programme,’ said Taylor.
I asked Taylor how he rated dealers at servicing local fleet requirements, after all they are the final part of the jigsaw and as franchisees they represent the brand while not technically being part of it.
‘When it comes to customer service you will always get, I think, the fantastic and the opportunity to be better. On the whole they have to be the best place to service local fleet needs. It's all about the specialist knowledge and specialist focus.
‘The participating dealers have recognised this as an opportunity to not just grow incremental servicing and sales but also grow their business by building long term relationships with local business partners. We're very conscious of growing these relationships for the long term benefit of our customers and retailers,’ he said.
It’s what marketing types like to call joined-up thinking.