Early this year, an invitation was sent with total anonymity guaranteed to fleet managers of mid- to large-size commercial fleets. The message requested their honestly felt assessment of their relationships with fleet service providers, evaluating their satisfaction with outsource suppliers and the quality of their services.

Unfettered by considerations of company politics or reprisals, fleet managers responded via an online survey:

Anonymously, and therefore without concern for political or other implications, how satisfied are you with your outsource suppliers (lessors, fuel, safety, accident management, etc.) and their programs? Are those suppliers completely fair in their relationship with your company?

Respondents’ remarks ranged from complete satisfaction to downright frustration with many interesting observations on the relationship between client and supplier. Presented here in groups of recurring themes are the fleet managers’ voices in their own words.

‘Could Not Ask for Better’

■ The supplier we have is always trying to improve and is very easy to deal with. Could not ask for a better company that is “customer-focused and driven.”

■ Yes, completely satisfied. I believe we are all on the same page with the goal of providing the best services at the lowest costs.

■ The suppliers we partner with are extremely valuable and important to me. If they do their job right, I look great. If they do not, then they are out. It is as simple as that.

Our vendors need to understand our culture and our business completely and the key to that are the people in the organization. I have been extremely fortunate in that our supplier partners have reps who are hard-working, reliable, and are willing to challenge their organization and us to make a better product or fix a process.

If a supplier tried to interfere and bypass fleet to make points with our senior management, they would be out. If they try to cover problems or issues, eventually it will come back to bite them. I think most of the suppliers know this and are, for the most part, super to work with.

■ I sincerely feel that fairness may not be part of the formula when it comes to fleet. All of us are here to get the best deals for our companies/employers, etc., but are we genuinely treated fairly on every deal?

■ My current supplier is completely fair and open in the relationship with my company. However, prior vendors were not and made promises for services and pricing that they could not deliver or did not fully disclose what their pricing was to be! I’m glad to be working with a vendor I can trust.

■ My suppliers are fair with our company because of the straight-forward and direct approach we implement with our vendors from the very beginning. Save the “smoke and mirrors.” I directly ask for what I need and do not let them take control at any time over negotiations or implementation of programs.

Fair, But Not Always Satisfactory

■ I think they are fair, but not always proactive enough in coming to the table with cost-saving ideas.

■ Lessor finds ways to make up for what they think they lost by negotiated pricing in other areas. Programs are handled well, and since all is currently outsourced to the leasing company, that part of the equation seems to run smoothly.

■ My outsourced lessor does a good job for me. I still have issues with accident management and know there is easy money in this area, but can’t seem to get resolution.

■ The fuel program we’re using is top-notch, although at times, like a lot of sales/service-oriented groups, they are a bit slow in delivering on their promises.

■ I believe my suppliers are fair. They know I would speak my mind if I found otherwise. We are responsible for tracking their methods and holding them accountable.

My main concern today is the capability promises my management company has made and currently makes on the processes they can handle. I find mistakes daily in the internal systems, document management, etc. This takes up brain space and administrative time checking and cross-checking work they have done, specifically, document management, title management, and registration renewal.

■ We are satisfied but they could be better. Quicker and more responsive solutions to problems could always be better.

■ Our leasing company is fair, but completely lacking in what they promised they and their IT department could do.

■ As with any business relationship, management of those relationships is key to ensuring that you receive a fair shake. Mine are doing the best they can, but I believe if the fleet manager wasn’t there to assist, some decisions may not be in the company’s best economic interest.

■ We are totally outsourced and I would give the leasing vendor an “A-” only because I constantly monitor and question their performance and hold them to perform to the agreed targets via a monthly “scorecard.”

■ Very satisfied with my fleet lessor and safety partner. I am not so satisfied with my accident management company.


An Uneasy Relationship

■ The motor companies, particularly regarding the delivery of vehicles and production start and stop dates, never consider how seriously an early cut-off or late-start date impacts our bottom line. I don’t like feeling like a victim of what is best for the motor companies, but not best for the customer.

■ I feel the lessors/management companies are two-faced about the business. Dealing with you personally, they are your best friend since you can determine the direction of their contract, but behind your back, they try to convince upper management that they could do your job more easily and fluidly in relation to the lessor function.

Reality is, unless you do not have the knowledge/ability to do your own fleet management, you should not consider outsourcing fleet functions unless you have money to burn. There is no way an outsourced function can save money over in-house, unless you just can’t do it in-house.

I also would say it is close to a conflict of interest to have your lessor providing services and charged with saving a company money, when the fee schedule is based on what you spend.

■ Our outsourced suppliers require management oversight just as our in-house staff members must be managed and supervised. If management/supervision is lax, excellence will not be long-lived.

■ My management team would sooner transfer all the work to [suppliers], and in reality, they are the ones not to be trusted. I'm here only to keep them honest.

■ It is becoming increasingly difficult for providers to differentiate themselves from the competition. While overall I am satisfied, it’s only because what I truly want in fleet management, fuel, safety, accident management, etc., doesn’t exist.

■ Very dissatisfied with our lessor. I feel they do not value us as a customer. We continually see billing problems month after month.

Outsourced fuel is working fairly well, as well as our DOT-required drug and alcohol programs along with MVR. Record-keeping needs some work, but our HR department may be the problem also.

■ Of the Big Three domestic manufacturers, one has tried to undercut the others, while the remaining two have always behaved ethically. Lessors generally do a good job. One leasing company could improve its truck department.

While one well-known leasing company is very fair and honest with great customer service, another is just the opposite. It offers great closed-end lease rates, but, for example, denies or fails to pass through property tax credits to the customer. It strains the business partnership when the supplier’s credibility is constantly questioned.

Further, when an issue or change is requested they, this same management company, won’t react until we threaten to pull the business (aka “brinkmanship”).

Oil companies could do 10 times more in terms of offering fleets a rebate or discount for fuel purchases. I manage a Top 500 private fleet, and it has taken more than 18 months to even receive a 30 basis-point rebate.

American auto manufacturers must overhaul their business models to compete. If the major Japanese brands offered commercial incentives at the level of the Big Three, it would be game over with Detroit the big loser. I’m very concerned Detroit is about 10 years behind the power curve with vehicle quality and efficiency.

Customer Service Lacking

■ We use a fleet management company that, for the most part, is on top of its game. However, I do get frustrated with fluctuating customer service to myself as well as my drivers. Don’t tell me the 800-number hold time is less than a minute when I’ve called in several times and had to wait longer just to be told vacations and holidays are hard to account for.

It all comes down to customer service — and I am the customer. I often have to defend this supplier internally. It’s a very uncomfortable situation. I do have several fleet management companies knocking on my door, but I think if you are using one of the top three, it’s not worth the effort to change.

■ Our fleet maintains most operations in-house. However, when we have to outsource repairs, many dealerships try their best to make the most money they possibly can with unnecessary repairs without concerns of the customer or “customer service.”

■ Customer service from our leasing company is nothing compared to what it used to be. There is a total lack of communication from the lessor to the lessee. There is no accountability for the lack of service. No one wants to take responsibility to the process, nor do they want to follow up on tasks.

It appears to me they are more interested in the “yield” of the account rather than sustaining the quality of service they provided 10 years ago. I believe if they worried more about the quality of service, the “yield” of the account would take care of itself.

Because the quality of service has diminished, we have unbundled many services we received from the leasing company and have outsourced them to independent companies that are eager to earn the business, flexible in the processes, and willing to listen to the concerns/difficulties we fleet managers face on a day-to-day basis.

■ As with other industries, the leasing company expects their people to do more with fewer resources.

Our account rep has several accounts and does not handle my requests in an adequate time frame. My e-mails and requests had been handled, in most cases, the same day. Now it takes several days for me to get things done.

Also, the leasing company staff are often tied to their computer processes, and when something happens out of the ordinary, or if I need something done that is not in the normal process, they often make serious errors.

Managing Services In-House

■ Don’t lease, buy fuel curbside, and have an in-house self-insurance section.

■ We own the vehicles and are self-insured. Maintenance is mostly honest, only rarely will someone try to fix a nonexistent problem.

■ We do not have outside suppliers for leasing, safety, and accident management. Fuel is handled mainly through a good fuel card program. The outsourced approved-repair vendor program could be much better if we paid faster and did not limit approval to only those vendors with the lowest rates.

■ We manage our fleet internally and do not use a fleet management company. We’ve run the numbers; it would be much too costly, not to mention our fleet’s customer service requirements are more than any supplier is capable of handling at a cost that would be worthy of consideration.

Our fleet department is the customer service nerve center for all fleet-related matters. We employ an unbundled solution that utilizes strategic outsourced providers:

• Lessor (funding only) — very satisfied.
• Vehicle procurement — very satisfied.
• Fuel —very satisfied.
• Maintenance — very satisfied.
• Safety, accident management — managed internally by our risk management department. I'm told they are very pleased with their program.

We feel all our suppliers are completely fair in their relationship with our company. We ensure that by continuous process review and periodically bidding out our business. This is extremely effective for us because there is no middleman. We deal direct, which gets a quicker and a much higher-quality response. It also removes from our pocket the middleman's hand that is connected to the hand in the supplier's pocket.

Our suppliers are very willing to share with us what they typically share with fleet management companies. In exchange, they realize the upside of our allegiance and the direct relationship we enjoy, and we get lower pricing. It works for us.

Costs & Fees are Issues

■ Less then satisfied; lack of new ideas; adding fees without additional services; lack of creativity. Develop new programs that don’t just add additional costs, but reduce costs.

■ I’m not opposed to companies making a profit; that’s what we are all in business for. However, pricing schemes should be straight-forward. It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how interests and fees are calculated. In addition, take time to really understand the customer’s needs. Don’t promise the moon if you can’t deliver. Customer service is just as important as pricing. We expect our vendors to be partners, not just suppliers. They are supposed to be the experts, so act like it and help us make our business better.

■ The only problem area we have is accident management, which is done in-house by the Risk Management Department. It is so convoluted with such issues as non-collection of accident costs or lack of awareness that a vehicle was in an accident. A lot of room for improvement here.

■ Overall, I would say quite satisfied. My only concern is what is our lessor really making off of us? I believe they most likely have deals with their vendors and the manufacturers that yield big profits to them for utilizing our volume.

■ The problem is I don’t know. I really don’t know the true cost of their items. The true cost is hidden and confusing.