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Successful Fleet Managers Excel as Servant Leaders

September 25, 2017, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

Being a fleet leader is more about serving than being served. It embodies the concept of being a servant leader, a term which originated in 1970 with the publication of Robert Greenleaf’s classic essay, The Servant as Leader. It was in this essay that he coined the terms “servant-leader” and “servant leadership.” In my opinion, servant leadership is the bedrock of successful fleet management.

Internal users are too often treated by some fleet managers as a captive audience that can be dictated to and shown little respect; however, it is important to remember the reason your fleet department exists is to support user departments. You are the business partner of these departments that rely upon you to provide superb customer service to help them fulfill their daily tasks. From a corporate perspective, there is a dollar value associated with customer service – every hour of downtime costs your organization real dollars in lost productivity.

Establishing a customer-service mindset within a fleet organization creates customers satisfied with your services – who view you as a true business partner. Nothing creates more credibility for your team than for senior management to hear user departments compliment you on the quality of customer service they receive. But to earn the praise, you must walk the walk and talk the talk.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

Promising good customer service is not the same as delivering it. To be successful in today’s fleet environment, it is critical to create a shop culture of providing high-quality service that provides an unwavering focus on the customer. Not only does this entail understanding customer needs, wants, and expectations, it involves having an almost obsessive desire to fulfill these needs.

To develop a service mindset, you need to view work from the customers’ perspectives. Define your functions with the customer in mind. As fleet manager, you have to understand service technicians aren’t the first line of defense in raising the customer service bar – you are! The fleet manager is responsible for creating a culture that values internal customers, even difficult ones. As a leader, your success is based on growing others in your operation. It’s all about making the people who work for you customer-oriented, more resourceful, and dependable.

However, the most important aspect to superb customer service is consistency. By providing consistent customer service, it will result in customers complaining less and complimenting you more. The same applies to your staff. If you’re consistently listening to their needs, employees will come to you with ideas and solutions to help improve job satisfaction and customer service.

To provide superb customer service, it is important that a fleet manager is a good listener. You must also listen to your users and staff. A good listener is balanced, open to opposing perspectives, has an attitude that they can learn from others, and is open to new ideas. Listening is often an underutilized part of fleet communication. Listening intently and devoting your time to people’s concerns or opinions goes a long way in building a great team and cultivating outside support for the fleet department from users.

Everyone Singing from the Same Hymnbook

The most important (and perhaps most difficult) task is getting your team, as a whole, to develop a customer service mindset. You need to develop ways to get your team excited about customer service. Motivate them to get passionate about satisfying others. Help them understand the internal customer is their No. 1 priority. You need to constantly recommunicate this message so it becomes part of fleet’s everyday operating procedures. But, a customer-service mindset is created by actions, not words. Emails and presentations touting “best-in-class service” don’t mean a thing unless the fleet organization lives, breathes, and delivers it.

To build a customer service mindset, you must employ both formal and informal metrics to measure progress. Solicit regular feedback from user departments using customer surveys, but also use informal methods as simple as conversations and direct observations. These informal methods will alert you to service deficiencies. By not using informal metrics, you run the risk of detaching yourself from discovering unreported customer-related issues.

The job of a great fleet manager, or servant leader, is to inspire a team toward a shared vision of providing best-in-class customer service. You must be committed to leadership by example and consistently demonstrate a passion for customer service.

In the final analysis, you are the role model.

Let me know what you think.

[email protected]


  1. 1. Tim C. King [ September 25, 2017 @ 07:05PM ]

    Mike, this is so true. These are several of the best practices I'll be presenting at the ICUEE conference In Louisville on Oct. 4th. If you're attending, I hope you can make it.

  2. 2. Bruce Ottogalli [ October 03, 2017 @ 12:54PM ]

    I couldn't agree with you more. Being a fleet manager for a water utility and having my own repair shop, I always stress customer service at all department meetings. We have to go above and beyond what the outside vendors would do. That goes for ordering new vehicles as well. Whether it's a company vehicle for management, or a CMV for operational purposes. I need to get input from the drivers, you can't ignore what they need to make their job more efficient and safe. While cost is a factor, you also have to realize that you need to spend money to make money. Since we are a water utility, we are a customer serviced based company, with our main focus on our paying customers. My department however deals with our employees, and I stress to my department that our employees are our customers. Making sure that vehicles are taken care of on a timely basis and to go above and beyond to show that this department is an asset. Sometimes doing the little things that you don't get on the outside can make all the difference in the world. Here is a quote from one of our senior VP's who has been here for about 2 yrs.on the work that we do;
    "Over the past 18 months this team has shown absolutely outstanding customer service. With all the vehicles you are managing for the operations business, doing a service for my corporate vehicle is never a difficult task, you are always communicating what’s happening, offering to bring the car back to the corporate office and helping out in any way possible. Even detailing it without me asking. Some other parts of our business should take a note out of your customer service playbook!"

    Michael Salas
    Senior Vice President & Chief Information Officer
    SUEZ North America

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Mike Antich

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Mike Antich has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted in the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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