Technology Supports Fleet Management Best Practices
It does not matter if a pest control company is large with a fleet of service vehicles in the hundreds or small with a dozen or fewer trucks, the reality is that the fleet is one of the most significant investments for the company and a key to successful, sustained growth.
Not only is a company’s fleet one of its largest investments, but it is also the only way a service company can provide services to customers, said Brooke Freeman, corporate fleet manager for Arrow Exterminators. "Service professionals in any industry make multiple stops during the day, travel urban and rural roads, and need to know that their vehicle is in good working condition," she explained. Just as important, company owners and managers need to know that employees are driving safely, taking care of the vehicle while it’s in their possession and representing the company well while they are on the road, she added.
Ashley M. Marratt, CEO of Red Coat Pest Solutions, considers her fleet to be one of her marketing tools. "Branding is the other piece of the return on investment puzzle that is often forgotten," she said. "Our vehicles are on the road all day with our company name clearly displayed."
Because the fleet is a traveling advertisement, Marratt does not want company vehicles to be dirty or in disrepair. Technology is used to track maintenance for all vehicles. Red Coat technicians are responsible for simple maintenance such as oil changes, tire rotations and vehicle cleaning, so an app on their phone that tracks mileage and maintenance records for each vehicle alerts a technician when maintenance is required.
"We all are focused on providing services and during busy times, and it is easy to put off maintenance as a lower priority," said Marratt. "The phone app reminds technicians so that maintenance is added to their schedule for the week." Technicians have the information on service centers or mechanics that the company has contracted with to provide maintenance and repair, so they know where to take the vehicle. "We also require technicians to wash the vehicles weekly to maintain our professional image."
Marratt also relies on technology for her fleet of vehicles and large trailers to maximize route density to save on fuel expense. "GPS technology lets us know where all of our technicians are during the day, which gives me the opportunity to add new service calls to the person who is closest," she explained. In addition to location, the device, an OBD reader that is plugged into the vehicles, also tracks and documents speed of vehicle, idle time, fuel level, battery life and time onsite for service.
"We track idle time because technicians who leave the truck running while servicing customers are literally burning the company’s money," said Marratt. "We also had another cost savings when we replaced a battery, then saw reports that the newly-installed battery was low on power." The documentation from the OBD reader report supported her claim when she asked for a new battery to replace the "lemon" she was sold, she added.
Arrow’s fleet is significantly larger than many pest control companies—155 service centers throughout 12 states with a total of 2,800 vehicles on the road. A staff of five people manage fleet operations for the company, but technology plays a critical role in fleet management.
"Our fuel costs are over $500,000 per month, so we encourage service professionals to find the lowest priced gas in the area," said Brent Purcell, SVP of risk management and shareholder relations for Arrow. The company utilizes a third-party tool that tracks fuel prices by zip code for each team member. In addition to the tool, the company also runs a quarterly contest at each service center to change behaviors, looking for lowest price versus most convenient, with gift cards awarded to those who consistently found the lowest priced gas for the quarter. The contest is effective at changing behavior, not because of the value of the gift cards, but because, "everyone loves competition," he added.
Even when maintenance records automatically generate alerts for routine maintenance or when a vehicle needs major repairs, there is always the need to verify charges for services. "We have two team members who review about 2,000 invoices each month to compare charges to the rates we negotiated, and dispute them if prices are incorrect," said Freeman. "We have just implemented technology that will automatically integrate information from service contracts we’ve negotiated with the software authorizing service or repair to compare invoiced amounts with contracted prices." Once the technology is fully deployed, team members will only have to review invoices that are from small service partners without the capability to integrate and invoices that require follow-up or dispute.
The fleet management software also automatically updates vehicle records, supports routine vehicle inspections by service center managers and produces reports on driver behavior, among other features.
Because Red Coat’s smaller staff has been 100% paperless since 2005, and employees were accustomed to using software, phone apps and digital communications throughout the day, there is no hesitance to use of new technology. However, Arrow’s conversion to a more robust fleet management technology required more effort to create awareness of the benefits.
"For 57 years we’ve done things the same way, but we had tons of buy-in to move to a digital, automated process to manage the fleet," said Freeman. Several corporate teams comprised of multiple departments and disciplines were involved in the evaluation and implementation phases. "We wanted to make the transition comfortable for service professionals, service managers, safety coordinators and all other team members," she said. "The group reviewed different applications and made sure that all of the components they needed were included."
Finding the right technology and creating the best processes for fleet management takes time, but is worth the effort, said Marratt. She often turns to NPMA colleagues from her 2019 NPMA Executive Leadership Program class as well as other members on the NPMA Online Community for help. "I like word-of-mouth recommendations—or warnings—from people who are using technology the same way I do," she said. "When I am on the hunt for a specific product, I talk to my peers and explore the vendors at PestWorld conferences."