Building Trust: Fleet Management and Maintenance

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A few weeks ago, we started a mini series about building trust in your car sharing operation.  We’ve talked about making marketing congruent with member services and how your business philosophy will affect your decisions.  Our next installment has to do with your organizational attitude towards fleet and fleet management.

Who’s your customer?

It’s been shown in multiple studies that the CSOs remove privately owned vehicles from the roads (see work by Shaheen).  Sometimes these studies will consider a delayed purchase of a vehicle or the ongoing refusal to purchase a vehicle a removed vehicle; it depends on the methodology.  However, no one will contest that having access to a fleet of conveniently accessible and affordable vehicles will discourage the desire for a private car.  While car sharing’s appeal continues to grow for a wider audience, the “bread and butter” retail user your CSO is likely to target is an educated, under 45-year-old working professional who probably already doesn’t own a car.  For your own information, do poll your applicants about their car ownership and their average vehicle miles traveled (VMT) each year.  We’ll have to write another post about data soon!

Fleet Design and Management

Assuming the majority of your members are already infrequent drivers, is there anything useful you can do with this information? Yes!

You want to populate your fleet in such a way that vehicles feel “easy-to-use”, even the first time they’re accessed.  Infrequent drivers are people who simply don’t interact with cars very often, and the more futuristic your vehicles, the more likely a brand-new member frustrated because he’s unable to find the switch to put the windows down (they’re on the dashboard and inexplicably not the doors, on older Minis).  While sometimes the fleet mix is pre-determined by factors outside your control, you should always err on the side of acquiring vehicles that are simple and intuitive to use.

The debate on the following subject has raged for years among CSOs:  Is it better to have a wide variety of vehicles in your fleet or just one or two vehicle models?  While a wide variety of vehicles could allow your CSO to appeal to a wider variety of potential customers (think BMWs or Audis to attract more affluent users), the variety of vehicle experiences could also prove confusing to your less-vehicle-literate or easily overwhelmed drivers.

Non-Urgent Maintenance

Our business vernacular is full of idioms like “what you see is what you get” and “perception is reality” and the like.  We suggest you apply this to your vehicle maintenance program.  Your fleet manager, their crew, and even your member services team, all know your fleet mix like the back of their hands.  They know it takes exactly 3.5 seconds of simultaneous brake and power-button pushing to fully turn on the Prius.  They know the gasoline door release button is in the door pocket of the Audi A4.  They also probably know that a high-pitched squealing sound after the engine of a gasoline engine turns over is just a loose belt and nothing to worry about.

Your not-quite-vehicle-literate member won’t instinctively know this.

Cleanliness is one thing, and we’ve never known a CSO to avoid fretting about keeping vehicle interiors acceptable.  But mechanics and safety is another issue entirely.  For the sake of the easily-overwhelmed or those unfamiliar with the eccentricities of combustion engines, it behoves your fleet manager to keep vehicles devoid of any noticeable issue that can be construed for something more major.  Executing on minor and non-emergency repairs must be built into your maintenance budget.  Train your fleet field staff to think like a non-regular driver whenever they visit each and every car on their daily list.  If they do so, they’ll be able to catch many “squeaky wheels” and avoid a mediocre experience; lest you think this doesn’t matter, think of what a member who drove a vehicle with a squeaky belt and with the Check Engine light illuminated might say when asked about their experience:  “Eh, I don’t know how I like the service, I’m not sure how safe the car was.”

Avoid this!  Give your members reason to trust your vehicles and by default, your CSO.

Final Word

Drivers will remember the experience.  Even if nothing was technically or mechanically wrong with the vehicle, it’s possible for the member to have a less than stellar experience simply by being worried or overwhelmed by factors outside their control.  Preempt their experience by providing them with well-maintained and simple vehicles all across your fleet.  Give them reason to trust that each reservation will go down like the one before:  solidly and reliably.

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