Donald B. Stephens is a 30-year senior customer service engineer with the Xerox Corporation. Here, he reminisces about some of the awful jalopies he’s seen (and driven) on the job — and weighs whether company fleets are a worthwhile investment:
A filthy, rust bucket of a van pulls into your driveway, belching black smoke and looking as if it just rolled off the set of “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Out jumps a man who says he’s there to fix the air conditioner that you called about last week. Do you call the police immediately, or wait until you’ve checked his credentials?
There’s a lesson in there for field service leaders wondering whether company fleets are worth the cost.
A customer’s confidence in your company’s ability to service equipment can be undermined by your technicians’ (and their vehicles’) appearance. Sure, maintaining a company fleet is a huge expense — and one that many companies forgo in favor of reimbursing employees who use their personal vehicles. But there are a few things to consider before putting your company vehicle program on the chopping block:
Pro: Company Branding
Service leaders aren’t the only people looking to cut costs. Employees who buy a new work vehicle will eventually figure out that their spouse’s clunker will work just fine — and save a ton of cash. And they’re likely smart enough to let the boss see them driving only the nice vehicle. A company vehicle, meanwhile, ensures that the business’ image is maintained 365 days per year — and you can slap a logo on the side for free advertising.
Con: Image Isn’t Everything
The vehicles your techs drive won’t impact their skills, and existing customers might not even notice. But if your employees consistently visit new customers, a hunk-o’-junk service van can blemish your company’s reputation.
Pro: Reliability Matters
Left to their own devices, techs will likely buy cheap, high-mileage vehicles that are prone to breaking down. An unreliable vehicle will effect your entire service team, forcing other techs to scramble to take calls missed by the tech who’s waiting for the tow truck to arrive. Company-provided fleets do not guarantee 100 percent reliability, but service leaders can at least decommission high-mileage vehicles and lemons.
Con: Fleets Are Expensive
A lot of resources go into a company car program, from the upfront investment in new vehicles to ongoing maintenance and tracking. It’s the reason some service leaders choose to put the transportation burden on techs. If your business is struggling, doing so is one way to cut costs.
Pro: Outsource Fleet Management
Fleet management companies have taken the hassle out of maintaining a fleet of service vehicles. Employees work directly with the management company to handle all maintenance needs, and there’s swift and seamless substitution with a rental vehicle should anything go wrong. You’ll pay top-dollar to outsource fleet management, but as a manager who is marketing a service, you likely understand the advantages of subcontracting.
Con: Finding Space to Store a Fleet
Not many businesses are prepared to house a fleet of service vehicles. The obvious solution is to let your employees take the vehicles home each night, but that presents new problems from potential misuse and added wear and tear. GPS solutions can track usage, allowing service managers to ask employees to pay for any personal trips. (Or, consider improving morale by letting employees drive the vehicles for personal trips once in a while.)
In my 30-year field service career, I’ve driven company and personal vehicles. My take? Company-provided vehicles are best for field service personnel. I can attest to the fact that a company vehicle takes a lot of stress off service techs. And when a company invests $30,000 (or more) in a new service vehicle and allows techs to take them home, the gesture gives techs a sense of importance. But there’s no denying times are tough. Consider the pros and cons above, and the financial strength of your business, when deciding whether to provide techs with vehicles.