Senior Vice President, Sales & Marketing, AmeriFleet Transportation
Steve, AmeriFleet conducted a number of focus group sessions at NAFA Institute & Expo this spring. What did you seek to learn?
What we’re doing at AmeriFleet is revolutionizing our industry — not just evolving, but really taking a big step forward. We feel that we did that about fifteen years ago when we started as an organization. We started a revolution for what we do – truly professional transportation services. We have evolved over that time into so much more, offering many true turnkey services whether it be asset storage, title and registration service; anything to really help keep a mobile professional productive.
That being said, we can’t truly revolutionize our industry unless we understand what our customers want. It is really about the experience that they, their people and their customers want to have. One of the things we are doing in order to gather that information is through a “voice of customer” effort via focus group sessions and surveys. We started our first session at NAFA I&E and we had a great group of individuals that had agreed to come in early to spend some time with us. It was unbiased; no one from AmeriFleet was actually represented in the focus group. Patsy Brownson, who has been a legend in the fleet industry for many years, has agreed to lead that effort for us and gather the voice of the customer.
It’s nice to receive a lot of validation of things that we are doing well, but we are really interested in the things that we can improve on or some new challenges that our clients cannot find quality solutions for.
I think it is most comfortable to spend time with your closest partners and your closest business relationships to do these types of sessions. We enjoy the valuable feedback those relationships provide; however we are really seeking out those customers and those individuals that we really haven’t done a lot of business with. And there’s usually a reason for that. We simply may not have connected before or maybe they had a bad experience, or maybe they don’t really know what a transportation provider like us can do for them.
AmeriFleet’s partnership with fleet management companies has been significant as the company has grown. Tell us about those relationships and touch on the remarketing services you are providing.
Our relationship with fleet management companies is incredibly important to us and beneficial to our shared fleet customers. They are a true partner. We do a lot of best practice sharing, a lot of give and take and in doing so, we are an extension of those companies.
The fleet management companies do a great job of understanding their clients and passing that information on to us. Our field customer service representatives (FCSRs) receive the vital information about the needs of the customer at the pick-up point or delivery point. The situation may be a terminated employee; armed with that information, we understand that we may need to handle the situation delicately. It is a good partnership with the fleet management companies and something that we will continue to value and keep as a top priority.
With respect to remarketing, many times there is necessity to pick up a vehicle that is going to an auction or to a dealer for resale. We do a lot of that for the fleet management companies today and have programs built to handle more in the future.
We will pick up a vehicle for remarketing and we will diagnose any problems in the pickup stage so the fleet management understands the situation before they send the vehicle to auction. Sometimes that can change the direction they decide to go. We may need to get the vehicle serviced before we transport it to auction. We happily take care of those services for them before they send it to auction. Or, if they decide not to repair the vehicle, they know where to direct it. We put on our fleet management company hat and represent them out in the field.
Do you have examples of regional moves and how it works?
We are actually getting into relocation of corporate employees. If you have an employee that is being relocated with a company car we can certainly handle that move. We have programs where we drive the vehicle all the way to the final destination or we use a hub and spoke model. The hub and spoke model may involve a local, uniformed employee picking up a vehicle and taking it to one of our local hubs. At that point, a truck picks up the vehicle and takes it to the regional office closest to the delivery point. Then you will have the experience on the back end where a uniformed FCSR brings the vehicle to your home. Often we deliver a vehicle to the residence so it important that we are uniformed and have the proper identification. It’s important to our customers that we deliver a safe and professional experience.
Some of the other situations that we are running into on the relocation side are personal vehicles. We may be moving your company car but your spouse may have a vehicle or maybe you have children that have vehicles. We are starting to do some of that as well. We can handle that as an individual transaction.
You were talking a little bit about technology beyond just the straight fleet function.
I’ve seen a lot of new faces the fleet industry. That’s welcomed and with it comes new expectations and new demands for solutions that are technology based. We had a concerted effort to get some of those individuals in our focus groups. They are looking to understand things and not only to just learn best practices, but to take it to the next level and think about things a little bit differently.
There are different uses or different views on technology. Today’s fleet manager is wearing a lot of different hats and it is our job to provide useful information, but we strive to understand how they want that data and how they will use it.
We spent some time talking to a client who said, “I love your reporting but really, here is what I need – I just need this eyelevel dashboard. If you can just push that to me on a weekly, monthly – whatever the intervals will be – I can do something with that data and I can show that to this person in our organization and everything is good.”
We are finding people wearing more and more hats and they are looking for technology to help them make that easier. We are spending a lot of time building systems that are easy to use and discovering opportunities that we can push information so you just have to tell us just once and we will push it from here on out. It will also give people an opportunity to drill in to some of the data. Most people in business enter multiple systems daily and they have to remember IDs and passwords, so we are finding ways to make it simple for them so they don’t have to relearn a new system every time they get information from us.
What about safety?
We publish a safety newsletter through Automotive Digest to help us promote safety best practices. We are a member of NETS, which is an employee transportation service organization. We are on the Board with that organization. We actually sponsor the Novice Driver booklet that was put out by NETS most recently and that is to help new drivers with safety tips and tools.
A lot of our effort is really trying to help educate fleets on how to perform safely and protect their employees and assets and provide a good experience – protect those people on the road. There are thousands and thousands of vehicles out on the road every day and it is our responsibility to be safe. There are negligent entrustment issues but more than anything else it is the right thing to do.
What are the best ways for fleet managers to deal with the challenge of drivers with poor driving records?
I think the best way to do it is have a strict policy. No tolerance is the best approach because when you open the door to exceptions then you open the door to a lot of potential issues. What we found is to continue to talk to your peers and continue to talk to companies that are experts in that area and get best practices to put together a really solid policy. Do up-front, in-depth vetting of the employees. It is more than just running an MVR; maybe take a look at the criminal background. With social media today, you can get a lot of information on individuals to determine if this is the right profile for a driver that we want to represent our organization.
We take a lot of time and effort to do that in our own company. All of our FCSRs, our drivers, our employees of the company; they are uniformed and they have to pass a very vigorous test. They get tested annually to keep certified with us. We also make sure that everybody has a DOT certification. You don’t need a DOT certification to move a sedan or an SUV but a DOT certification is something that we can use for best practices and to help enforce the safety side of things for all of our drivers. I would encourage people to have your drivers DOT certified, as well.
That is CDL that you are talking about?
That is actually not CDL. DOT covers vehicles that are below 26,000 GVWR but over 10,000. A CDL is usually the bigger 26,000 plus trucks. The DOT is a good best practice because you can apply it to sedan and SUV drivers. It is just typically used for service vehicles where you have somebody that is going to be carrying some sort of cargo. We require all of drivers to be DOT certified just as a best practice. I would encourage people to check that out. Maybe there will be legislation one day with a requirement for business drivers.
You were elected Vice President of AFLA at the recent Annual Conference. Tell us about your role and give us some idea of what you are focusing on next year.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being both a member of AFLA and a volunteer on the Communications Committee, and I’m equally excited about filling my new leadership role and helping to shape the future of the organization.
Among other duties, my new role includes co-chairing the Sponsorship Committee. In order to continue attracting new sponsors, as well as motivating current sponsors to continue pledging their support, we plan to add new sponsorship opportunities. We’ll try to find even more novel and unique ways to promote our sponsors. We’ll reach out to a broader range of sponsor candidates, including those that aren’t directly related to the fleet industry but may provide influence or support. We’ll also continue to deliver a positive ROI to sponsors and promote that to prospects we identify.
The entire leadership team will continue to assist in driving membership growth by a responsible number — not just growth for the sake of growth. We’re especially interested in attracting proactive individuals who will commit to the education and professional development of our entire membership.
As part of AmeriFleet’s senior leadership team, Gibson is responsible for new business development, sales, client relations, and marketing. Previously, he served as director of fleet administration at ServiceMaster where he oversaw management of more than 15,000 vehicles. Gibson’s background also includes the position of regional sales manager at Wheels, Inc. and as financial solutions manager with GE Capital Fleet Services.