Fleet Speak: How carriers respond to poor customer service from dealer partners

Updated Jul 30, 2020
03.20.Trucks on open lot-min

Yesterday Trucks, Parts, Service shared key insights from the fleet community about how today’s commercial carriers are regularly frustrated by their dealer partners. Participating in Fleet Talk at ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) Annual Meeting last month in Atlanta, the fleet community admitted it requires dealer assistance and cooperation to keep its vehicles on the road and also acknowledged relationships between the two sides have never been weaker.

Today Trucks, Parts, Service shares how those same fleets in attendance at TMC claim they are adapting to this new normal and the stress it puts on their operations.

Everything is a negotiation

With service pricing on the rise, many fleets in attendance at Fleet Talk said they have found the best way to reduce their maintenance costs is through constant negotiation. One fleet representative who relies predominately on a single dealer group for most of its service requested a meeting with the dealer’s executive team to discuss pricing and evaluate if the service provider could make any financial concessions for the fleet due to its loyalty. The fleet said the meeting was ultimately valuable though it was contentious at times.

“You have to go to the dealer and remind them that you are the customer. You are spending all this money and you have a right to expect something in return. Start holding them accountable,” he told his colleagues. “We’re a smaller fleet and our pockets aren’t as deep. We had to remind them that we were spending big money with them.”

Another agreed, adding when negotiating with dealers it helps to come prepared. This fleet said it has started presenting its dealer partner with data on its average dwell time in the dealer’s shop and how much it costs the operation in lost revenue. “Knowledge you can use to back up your argument is key to reducing your costs,” he said.

Be proactive

Another position presented at Fleet Talk that was well received by fleet attendees was proactive maintenance and communication with dealer partners. Two fleets said they have started preemptively replacing wear components during scheduled downtime to reduce the likelihood of a breakdown and costly trip to a local service provider. One fleet representative engaging in this practice said his company’s increased investment in parts has more than been covered by its reduction in downtime for straightforward replacement service.

But several fleets also acknowledged long dwell times at service shops aren’t exclusively the fault of the service providers. Carriers need to do a better job of providing their dealer partners with diagnostic and telematic information ahead of a service event and repair authorization approval instructions once a job is underway. Said one fleet professional, “We cannot blame them if we are not helping them.”

TMC’s fleets also admitted they must be more aware of how dealer operations have changed over the last decade. Referencing parts availability again, another fleet added his company has directly requested its dealer carry a surplus of its most common parts numbers so when trucks are down repair times aren’t needlessly extended waiting for a component. “We have to think ahead so they have what we might need,” he said.

Minimize reliance on dealer channel

Today’s fleet community also is investing heavily in technicians and tooling and attempting to cultivate stronger peer relationships to reduce its dependence on third-party assistance from dealers and the aftermarket.

One fleet professional with a multi-state area of operation said he’s started engaging with similar-sized carriers in the communities where his trucks are housed to develop cooperative parts and service relationships for simple service calls. The carrier said he knows his fleet can’t totally abandon the dealer channel, but it has found fleet competitors are generally more understanding and responsive to his requests for aid.  “We’ve taken the dealer network almost entirely out of the operation,” he said. “It’s okay for us to work together.”

Fleets also are investing more in their technician workforce to combat the industry’s employment issues and reduce the need for outsourced service. The fleets said they believe dealer customer service will improve if the service channel begins to experience a loss in revenue.

“We can stop this nonsense,” said one fleet manager. “We fought this same fight in the 70s and 80s. Back then we started doing more service in-house and eventually the dealers started beating down our doors again to get business.”

This is Part II of a two-part feature from Trucks, Parts, Service regarding last month’s TMC Fleet Talk event. To read Part I, please CLICK HERE.

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