This is Part Two of a two-part Interview with Mike Hardesty, former Motor Pool Manager for Indiana University.
Mike Hardesty is a seasoned fleet manager with nearly 30 years of experience running the motor pool at Indiana University in Bloomington. A Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM), Hardesty is a well-respected member of NAFA, having served as the Chapter Chair of the Tri-State IN Chapter, a Co-chair of the NAFA’s Public Service Committee, and an At-Large Director for National Council of State Fleet Administrators.
If you missed Part One of this series, which covered outsourcing a motor pool in a University environment, read it here.
Part 2: Customer Service Tips for University Motor Pools
Q: What was your philosophy towards customer service at the Indiana University Motor Pool?
A: Personally I don’t purchase a product or service without the expectation of great customer service. If I have an issue and feel as though the organization or business doesn’t really care about me as a customer, I will find an alternative. I brought that attitude to managing a motor pool. Even though the customers are internal to the organization, they have every right to expect great customer service. We never operated a monopoly. Our daily rental customers always had choices. I have found most universities like to encourage behavior instead of mandating behavior particularly with support services like the motor pool. Our customers could drive their own vehicle and receive a reimbursement (usually at a higher cost to the department) or rent from any of the commercial rental agencies in town.
Q: Sounds like it was in the University’s best interest financially to encourage people to use motor pool vehicles instead of their own cars. How did you encourage people to do that?
A: We kept their business by providing similar or better equipped vehicles, maintaining a cost advantage, and providing great customer service. Even when vehicles weren't similar, but close enough, costs were lower. What we could do was excel at customer service making renting a vehicle at the motor pool an easy and a pleasurable experience.
Q: Tell us how you accomplished making renting a vehicle from the University Motor Pool a pleasurable experience.
A: All the systems we had in place added significant service value. We did this by:
- Providing an online method of making reservations and requesting vehicles.
- Providing an online method of requesting and collecting feedback from customers and responding to it immediately.
- Ensuring we handle every request even if we needed to rent outside to handle overflow. If needed, we had private rental agencies deliver vehicles to the motor pool for customer pickup at our facility.
- Providing excellent service at the counter. This meant welcoming the customer to the motor pool by name, and making the interaction quick and efficient. Also, coordinating after hours pick up or return.
- Making sure the vehicle was properly prepared. We included an extra level of garage inspection for long trips.
- Cleaning off and warming up vehicles in inclement weather.
- Delivering vehicles to departments if necessary.
- Taking quick and decisive action with the customer in mind in the (infrequent) case of problem on the road.
- Not billing customers for trips with problems we considered our fault. It is important when this happens that the driver is aware of any credit as well as the account manager or department head.
- Handling returns with ease, and ensuring that employees are trained to make the process smooth.
- Doing simple things such as thanking the customer for using the motor pool.
- Always giving the customer an opportunity to provide feedback on their experience. Any negative feedback got an immediate response. We regularly forwarded monthly feedback statistics from our FleetCommander survey feedback tool to our management group to keep them informed of our customer service progress.
Q: How important was the customer survey tool to your understanding of how the motor pool was doing?
A: When we lost the daily rental pool to outsourcing, we got back in two years later in part because of our excellent customer service. We kept statistics provided by FleetCommander to tell our story to our management team and anyone else asking about motor pool services. We were able to collect quotes from high level University administrators and Vice Presidents about the service they received. One Vice President sent a message though the feedback system stating how he appreciated the service and employees at the motor pool, saying he had never received any better service from a support organization anywhere on the campus. Once, when we still had the outsourced rental pool, purchasing called about a customer complaint and I explained our procedure for handing the problem. The contract officer said we provided too much service and that we coddled our customers! Never thought we’d be criticized for providing good service at a lower cost. But, a few months later we were busy putting our daily rental pool back together so we were doing something right!