By Janice Sutton
Whether it is called client relations, customer service or account management, if a company does not get this fundamental right, clients will start searching for a fleet management partner that does get it.
Since its founding nearly 77 years ago, Wheels, Inc. has been an industry leader in exceeding clients’ expectations, and over the years we have interviewed many members of the company’s leadership team for insight into how they do it.
Thus, we were delighted to have the opportunity to talk with Michele Zeiler, a senior account manager at Wheels, about her day-to-day role in helping her clients meet their objectives, as well as some of the issues her clients are most concerned about now.
Michele, tell us about your role with Wheels.
My role within Wheels is to understand our clients. What are they trying to achieve? What are they using their fleet for? What are they doing with their fleet drivers and what is the expectation of how they contribute to the success of the organization?
Then we look at how they are performing, whether from an expense perspective, a productivity perspective, motivating their drivers — or the value that they bring, and then determining what the gaps are. So, understanding where they want to be versus where they are today and coming up with a plan to address those gaps depending on what the long term or short term objectives are, or within a five year plan.
Where are you finding cost savings opportunities?
Where many of our clients are leaving money on the table, and this is throughout the industry, revolves around safety.
Drivers are more distracted today than they ever have been, whether from devices in their vehicle or by the job they have to do. Many organizations are doing more with less, so their drivers are focusing on what they need to do to meet their own goals, whether they are talking with their prospects or clients on the phone or just thinking about all of the things they need to do. It is taking their attention away from what they should be focusing on during that time, which is driving.
These distractions are causing an increase in accidents, which is increasing fleet spend. Injuries to their employees take them out of their roles, causing a loss in productivity, and if there are injuries to other parties, that introduces issues such as litigation and tying up the time of other people within the organization.
It means understanding how you as a fleet department can contribute to changing the culture within the organization; it is having a solid policy, running your MVRs, having safety training in place. It is really more about visibility, talking about it in meetings, having it be an important metric to the organization itself in order to drive change.
How does Wheels help the client get to where they need to be with respect to safety for their drivers?
The biggest challenge in helping organizations change safety is figuring out what is going to speak to their culture. Often when we are talking about metrics within the organization, we talk about reporting on things like revenue, number of sales calls, clients, how many vehicles they have, or billing. That is where the focus tends to be and we miss some of the softer things. So, it means including those safety metrics within reporting or at least as discussion topics.
Do you talk with your clients about negligent entrustment?
Negligent entrustment it is a vital conversation with every client within our portfolio. They need to understand who is driving their vehicles, their driving history and potential risks for this individual driver.
Someone within the organization needs to be responsible for understanding those risks and putting in some type of mitigation if necessary, whether it is not allowing them to drive vehicles at all because the risk is too great or putting in remediation steps. This could include behind-the- wheel, online or classroom training.
It is vital to put those processes in place and, most importantly, adhere to the policies regardless of the performance of the driver, the level of the driver; making sure that everybody is accountable to the policy. Not knowing who you have in your vehicles driving on your company business will come back to haunt you if something tragic should happen.
What are your clients telling you that their biggest concerns are right now?
My clients are telling me that their biggest concerns primarily revolve around managing costs. They have pressures within their own organization to report savings. Vehicles themselves are increasing in cost, whether it is because of the mandatory CAFE standards or the technology to improve safety.
We have organizations that also have sustainability goals so they are focusing very much on things like fuel economy, but at some point they hit a wall. There is only so much that technology is going to do for them from the perspective of driving either revenue or fuel economy in their fleet.
What they need to do then is tackle driver behavior. That is where we are starting to spend more time understanding how the drivers work, how to motivate them to want to do the right things. Things like not leaving your vehicle idle for ten minutes while you go into the daycare center to pick up your child. When you do that over the entire winter, looking across your fleet, you are potentially talking hundreds of thousands of dollars, not only in fuel spend but also in CO2 emissions that could be avoided.
When you talk with a fleet about best practices, what are some of the issues you address?
When we take a look at best practices within the fleet we are really looking at the fleet on an annual basis; sitting down once a year and doing a process that we call business planning. That encompasses understanding what you are trying to achieve and where you want to go this year, and making sure your policy is aligned with those goals. Then, taking a look at what is happening in the market that may either spur changes to what we have in the policy today or change how we address or tackle the goals that we have for the rest of the year.
For example, when we looked at the resale market going through 2013 and into the beginning of 2014, we had clients who were looking to achieve some pretty steep sustainability goals over the next few years. That time period allowed us a unique opportunity to flip large portions of the fleet to really chunk out some of those sustainability goals.
One of the best practices is being flexible; understanding that there are times when you may want to change your policy for the short term in order to enhance or achieve your long term goals.
As a Senior Account Manager, Michele provides strategic consultation to support our client’s fleet objectives. Her consultative support is focused on helping our clients achieve and maintain a best-in-class, cost effective, well-run fleet.
Michele has been at Wheels for five years. In 2006, she joined our Account Management group, where she was named Account Manager of the Year in 2010. Before coming to Wheels, Michele spent thirteen years as a Key Account Development Manager for Nestle Waters.
Michele has a Bachelor’s Degree in criminology from The University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. She has also received her CAFM and TMI certifications.