Asset Protection: A 5-point plan for improving your vehicle sharing and rental business

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In the rental business, nothing tarnishes a company’s relationships with its customers more than disputes around damage. It’s simply a CRM black hole. Whether arguments about existing damage at check-out versus check-in, different rules about what constitutes damage, or disagreements around costs, it’s always a lose-lose situation costing millions in lost claims and lost customers. Plus, disputes revolving around damage impact customer relationships, hurt customer service, and expose rental companies to negative press, ratings and reviews.

Ask any rental executive about the challenges they face in managing this side of the business (I know, I was one) and you will hear that it is a consistent problem in nearly every rental business. No matter if you’re renting cars, trucks, light and heavy equipment, machinery, recreational equipment, etc., this is an ongoing and difficult to overcome.

Fleet management systems only manage inventory, not damage. Moreover, asset condition and claims management processes dependent on paper or low-fidelity digital reporting are clearly outdated. The ubiquity of mobile devices has created an opportunity to catch up without having to make massive investments in new systems or revamp tried-and-true processes. Today you can find mobile-based technology platforms that enable companies a quick and cost effective upgrade to their processes.

For example, Road Machinery LLC offers rental of heavy equipment including bulldozers, excavators, and loaders, with 14 locations throughout Arizona, California, and New Mexico. Missed or disputed damage has been an ongoing pain point for their customers and employees.

The company recently implemented a system that allows managers on-site to inspect vehicles using smartphones and tablets to document pre-existing conditions with time-stamped photos and video which are acknowledged by both parties at time of rental. By digitizing and streamlining what had become an obsolete process, the company is now saving time and money and more importantly preserving their customer relationships by avoiding needless disputes.

Going enterprise-mobile has additional advantages including analytics and reporting tools that provide insight into customer and employee behavior. But more important, consider also that any renter under 40 (ok, 30!) expects all paperwork, receipts, etc. to be delivered via mobile. That’s just good CRM for creating new customers.

There are a number of practical ways that rental companies can protect themselves from the financial losses and negative consumer impacts associated with an inconsistent damage documentation process.  Here is a five point plan to get started:

1. Your fleet/assets are a reflection of your organization. Ensure your entire team understands what the condition of your fleet/assets says about your business. The condition of your fleet matters and reflects your company culture and values. When your employees do an exceptional job documenting vehicle condition during check-out/check-in, (a) this tells your customers you care about the product you are renting and you take pride in your business; and (b) it encourages your team to hold responsible parties accountable for damages which ensures necessary repairs are done and your fleet stays in top condition.

2. Create a consistent inspection process. Every vehicle needs to be inspected the same way throughout your organization every time. Inconsistent processes lead to poor fleet condition.  When one employee misses damage, the next employee simply rents the vehicle again with the missed damage, thereby creating a culture that “accepts” renting vehicles with damage. Over time this degrades the condition of your fleet and negatively impacts customer experiences and costs the organization money at time of disposition.  Instead, operators can greatly improve the condition of their fleet by implementing a trunk-to-trunk check out/in where you start the inspection by opening the trunk and do a full walk-around of the vehicle and end the inspection by closing the trunk. This consistency provides employees the confidence to engage customers on new damages noted on check-in. In fact, we can go way back to this article from 1968 that details how for Hertz, two words defined its maintenance inspection process: “Checking” and “Uniformity”. No wonder Hertz became Hertz!

3. Define “damage.” One man’s ding is another man’s dent. Many travelers complain that the check-in attendant’s filter on damage is much more stringent than what was communicated to them upon check-out.  Are you going to charge a customer for a tiny ding on the bumper and risk losing the customer over a damage dispute?  One suggestion is to standardize the “definition” of damage throughout your organization.  As an example, Dings/Dents smaller than a quarter are not considered damage, scuffs/scrapes on the bumper that don’t go through the paint are not considered damage. Commit to your definition as an organization and tell your customers about it at point of rental. Companies that have deployed this sort of “definition” experience fewer disputes and have happier customers.

4. The check-out/check-in Environment. So many operators set their team members up to fail by neglecting to consider the lighting and space of their check-out/check-in areas. As a result, damage often goes unnoticed at check-out only to create a dispute situation when a customer returns during daylight hours.  Ensuring you have a well-lit environment to perform inspections will greatly improve your process and reduce the number of damage disputes. A great example is the rental car check-out and inspection area at Vancouver International Airport which is very clean, well-lit, and offers a consistent opportunity for solid inspection processes.

5. Go digital: As mentioned before, consider replacing decades old paper reporting with a platform like Record360 that streamlines the process of documenting and time-stamping the condition of vehicles/equipment, hotel rooms, and property. Tools like this provide organizations with the ability to (a) implement and consistently monitor their inspection process; and (b) support their customer service and business objectives by maintaining indisputable records of condition, viewable from any mobile device or web connection to resolve disputes as they arise. Other inspection apps include ASAP Rent and Inspect2go.

A solid and consistent documentation process speaks volumes about your organization!  After all, what customers would return to a Rental agency that is haphazard about condition reporting and policies?  A well-defined and executed inspection process tells your customers and employees that your organization is committed to excellent customer service and earning repeat business and referrals.

– Shane Skinner; also published by Vehicle Service Pros.  Learn more at http://www.record360.com.