The supply chain is one of the essential components of any retail or manufacturing business’s success. A clean warehouse and a clever inventory system are crucial, but the success or failure of that chain all comes down to the wheels. Your fleet and your drivers carry a lot more than your goods, they carry the profitability and the reputation of the business alongside them. Here are a few strategies to ensure they rarely, if ever, let you down.
Know your drivers
Your fleet is only going to be as effective as the drivers you hire to operate it. Systematizing a thorough recruitment process that ensures the safest drivers possible is a necessity. Create consistent standards for all of your drivers and make sure they’re included in the job descriptions on any application ads you post. Take the time to properly verify past safety records, qualifications, and recommendations. Call up any references mentioned in their application. Use background checks to take a closer look and ensure there are no issues with driving safety outside of their employment history, as well. Bad drivers can increase the cost of loss, but bad hiring practices will increase your business’s liability in the event of loss or an accident.
Ensure continuous education
Your responsibility to fielding safer, more efficient drivers on the road doesn’t end as soon as you hire them, of course. No matter how qualified they are, your drivers need to undergo continuous training to always keep their knowledge of policy and best practice refreshed. Create a driver training program that focuses not only on introductory training but looks at the issues that your drivers most commonly come across. If there’s an ongoing issue with fuel efficiency as represented in the data, schedule a session about efficient driving methods. If the data shows drivers aren’t taking breaks when they should, have a session on your break policy. By having a fleet management team tracking your drivers on the road, you can even provide real-time feedback to reinforce rules and responsibilities.
Choose the right car
The drivers are only one part of the equation, of course. The other aspect of your fleet is the vehicles that make up your roster. Whether you’re using company cars, vans, or trucks, make sure you’re not buying the first vehicle with a reasonable price tag that appears. For instance, pay attention to clean fuel vehicles. Vehicles that use cleaner fuel cost the business less in tax. Think about long-term costs, such as depreciation, and the average reliability and repair costs associated with said vehicles. Above all else, ensure it’s appropriate for your fleet. What will it carry? Will you be paying for empty space that goes unfilled every time it goes on the road or are you paying for more trips because it can’t carry enough? Consider not just the costs that come with the vehicle but your delivery needs, too.
Scale your stock carefully
How many vehicles you have in your fleet matter as much as what vehicles you add to the roster, as well. There are two major mistakes that business owners make in regards to scaling their fleet. Some scale too fast, taking on vehicles with overheads and maintenance demands that they can’t meet. Others scale too slow, relying on rentals so often that it becomes cost ineffective. If you find you do need a new vehicle but you can’t afford to eat the upfront cost, consider whether you should finance your purchase instead of renting until you’re ready to take the whole cost. Make sure you consider how often you’re going to use every vehicle you buy.
Create a proactive maintenance schedule
Maintenance is a cost and a responsibility that comes with every single vehicle you own and operate. However, a consistent problem with new fleet management is that maintenance tends to be reactive rather than proactive. Build a maintenance schedule that not only performs full, thorough checks of vehicles when they’re not in operation but one that captures data from the vehicles, too. Start identifying your most common issues and look into how you can prevent them from cropping up in future, rather than having to fix them after they rear their head.
Avoid a reimbursement system
Some smaller companies can benefit from the savings to be made by a reimbursement system in the business. Reimbursement is the practice of allowing drivers to use their own vehicles while paying the operating and maintenance costs for said vehicles. For smaller businesses, it’s a major cost reduction, but as you grow it can end up causing more harm than good. For one, you don’t have full control over the maintenance and operation of the vehicle. You leave it up to the owner to ensure it’s at full strength, which can lead to nasty surprises and downtime down the line. What’s more, it can damage the brand of the business. Customers and clients who see you are unable to field your own vehicles may jump to conclusions about how professional and established your outfit really is.
Keep on top of fuel costs
Fuel is a common concern for fleet drivers and managers alike. Your choice of vehicle isn’t the only way that you can stay on top of the costs of keeping all those vehicles supplied. As mentioned, thorough maintenance and ongoing efficient driving training can help. But when it comes to getting more fuel for your buck, you need to make sure you’re using the best possible payment method. Commercial fuel cards can help you buy directly from suppliers, with special price reductions, rewards schemes, and much more. What’s more, consolidating the invoices for the entire fleet through a fuel card system, rather than reimbursing drivers for fuel use can avoid the not-uncommon issue of fuel theft. A minority of drivers will take advantage of a fuel cost reimbursement system to get more in return for fuel purchases than they should.
Know where everyone is
The better informed you are as to the performance and location of your fleet, the more insight you have into driving habits, efficiency, and costs. No fleet manager should operate without using a GPS tracking system on all their vehicles. Not only do you capture data on driving habits, but you can take a closer route as the most commonly used routes and find alternatives if you discover more efficient ones. It also allows management central to communicate more effectively with drivers since they know where they are and can inform them about roadworks or other issues they might face unawares, otherwise.
Those GPS devices should be connected with a full-fledged fleet management software system, as well. Fleet management software keeps your drivers and the support team more thoroughly connected. A centralised database can help you save time by ensuring that you are always aware of which vehicles are ready to go, which are on the road, and which are in for servicing. You can use GPS and past data to better predict travel times. It even helps your support team stay informed as to where packages are for customer service purposes. If you’re in ecommerce, being able to keep those customers informed is an important part of your retention strategy.
Brand those deliveries
It might sound like a simple point but to some, branding your vehicle is a frivolous expense while, to others, it’s an obvious investment. As mentioned, your reputation can be directly impacted by the appearance of your fleet. Having braining such as your logo and contact details not only creates the appearance of a more professional outfit with a serious company culture. It also serves as another marketing tool. The brand awareness that vehicle marketing creates can pay for the costs of applying that marketing time and time again. Your business needs to take every opportunity it can to stand out. By neglecting to brand your cars, trucks, and vans, you are practically giving up the chance to create your own moving billboard advertisement.
Remember the customer
As mentioned, a fleet management software suite helps not only with internal logistics and time management but with customer service as well. Whatever changes you make to your fleet system, ensure you’re getting customer feedback. Send thank you emails with every delivery urging customers to share their experience of your delivery system. If you run an ecommerce site, ensure the site is directly linked to your fleet management system so that it constantly updates order tracking without relying on members of the team to do it manually. At the end of the day, creating a delivery fleet is all about providing service to the customer, so keep them in mind while making every decision and change.
Proper fleet management has dramatic impacts across the entire business. How well you manage and maintain them can make all the difference in your overheads. Their ability to reliably and consistently deliver builds a better customer experience. Start implementing the tips above into your fleet management processes and get ready to drive your business to success.