As someone who has been doing customer service in this industry for 40 years, I’ve had the opportunity to witness a lot of changes in my career. One of the biggest changes I’ve noticed—and perhaps you’ve seen it too—is how much customers know before they contact sales.
Fleets used to turn to customer service for everything—from service recommendations and creating tailored packages to answering general questions. Customer service can still provide all of those things, of course, but now people are turning to the Internet first to find information. I recently read that 67% of B2B buying activity happens online. So people come to the table with all of the research done, and that is way before an RFP.
The question I get asked a lot is: How has service adapted to a more engaged customer?
Interestingly (and unfortunately), I’ve actually seen a decline in the industry’s service levels. As technology moves into the spotlight, I have noticed that some elements of customer service are being replaced by apps. And I think it’s a mistake to look at technology and personal service as an “either/or” scenario.
Apps aren’t necessarily bad—some are pretty helpful—but if something goes wrong with the app, or if it isn’t giving your drivers the information they need in the moment, they are typically being directed to outsourced call centers. And we all know what call centers are like! If your drivers need maintenance help, it can be frustrating to wait for a call attendant to help.
Another issue I’m seeing with increasing reliance on digital information is that companies are making assumptions about their customers’ knowledge. The thinking seems to be: if my customer knows everything about fleets, why have a team of people to answer questions?
To me, this is a dangerous notion. While customers do have access to more information, I’m not so sure that everyone has time to read and digest everything available to them.
In my experience, when there is a dedicated fleet manager in the company—and there usually is if the fleet is larger than 200 vehicles—then that person has a thorough understanding of what fleet leasing entails. But if the fleet is smaller, chances are that person is doing two other jobs. Sometimes we’re talking with controllers, or HR (who manages the benefits package), or sales administrators. These customers have been tasked with leasing vehicles, but fleet management isn’t their primary function. For these busy people, a knowledgeable customer service team is not only valuable, it’s essential.
Even with a dedicated fleet manager, I still believe customer service needs to be available to troubleshoot, consult, and to ensure you get a tailored package that makes sense for your situation. Customer service is a valuable partner for helping you achieve your goals, and for reminding you when to replace your vehicles, at the right mileage.
Do I think customer service is still important even now? Of course. Maybe even more so: When 67% of the buying journey is self-directed time on the internet, it leaves a lot of room for stumbling on incomplete or incorrect information.
When you have a dedicated customer service partner who gets to know you, and stays on your account—not someone who signs you, gets commission and moves on—you build a relationship. And when you’re working with someone who gets your business, they make better recommendations. They save you time, and ultimately, their insights save you money. They become an extension of your fleet office.