AmeriFleet Embraces Customer Experience

By Mike Sheldrick, Senior Edi­tor

“Cus­tomer expe­ri­ence is the sum total of all inter­ac­tions a per­son has with a com­pa­ny,” write cus­tomer expe­ri­ence gurus Jeofrey Bean and Sean Van Tyne in their book, “The Cus­tomer Expe­ri­ence Rev­o­lu­tion.”

Achiev­ing out­stand­ing cus­tomer expe­ri­ence is a con­cept that Amer­i­Fleet Trans­porta­tion has enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly embraced. Amer­i­Fleet opened its Cus­tomer Expe­ri­ence Cen­ter in a new build­ing in Alpharet­ta, GA in March, staffed by 50 employ­ees in an open office set­ting designed to pro­mote col­lab­o­ra­tive efforts among its employ­ees.

John Nor­ris, AmeriFleet’s pres­i­dent, notes the dif­fer­ence between cus­tomer ser­vice and cos­tumer expe­ri­ence. “For most com­pa­nies, he says, cus­tomer ser­vice deals with some key ‘moments of truth’ for cus­tomers. That func­tion is impor­tant in efforts to improve cus­tomer expe­ri­ence. But firms can’t just focus on cus­tomer ser­vice inter­ac­tions or offload respon­si­bil­i­ty for cus­tomer expe­ri­ence to the cus­tomer ser­vice orga­ni­za­tion. The bot­tom line: cus­tomer ser­vice is an impor­tant com­po­nent of cus­tomer expe­ri­ence.”

Chris Zac­caro is a Cus­tomer Expe­ri­ence Own­er (CXO) with Amer­i­Fleet. He explains that title and its role: “A Cus­tomer Expe­ri­ence Own­er takes own­er­ship for each order and makes sure that the cus­tomer is com­plete­ly sat­is­fied at the end. Cus­tomer ser­vice is reac­tive,” he says, and notes that it often deals with some­thing that has gone wrong. Cus­tomer expe­ri­ence, on the oth­er hand, is about a proac­tive stance. “I don’t want you to have that mis­step. We want to get out in front of it and avoid it. This is not with the cus­tomer care depart­ment. The cus­tomer expe­ri­ence is with sales, it is with account­ing – all the way down to the invoice lev­el; it is the total­i­ty of con­tact a cus­tomer has with your com­pa­ny.”

Phil Hen­der­son, also an Amer­i­Fleet CXO, explains that five tenets under­gird AmeriFleet’s approach to pro­vid­ing top-notch cus­tomer ser­vice:

  • Know­ing the customer’s world
  • Cre­at­ing a struc­ture for inti­ma­cy
  • Empha­siz­ing the customer’s well-being
  • Enhanc­ing the customer’s expe­ri­ence at all touch points
  • Mea­sur­ing the qual­i­ty of the customer’s expe­ri­ence and reward­ing those who improve.

“We work with our fleet man­age­ment part­ners and the dri­vers who are receiv­ing fleet vehi­cles to make sure that both par­ties have a great expe­ri­ence,” says Hen­der­son. He points to an exam­ple: “One woman to whom we were deliv­er­ing a vehi­cle had men­tioned that she had a new­ly-born baby and didn’t want us to come to her home and knock on the door or ring the bell. She asked if we could give her a phone call when we were close by that way she could kind of creep out of the house and meet us in the dri­ve­way and not wake up the sleep­ing baby.” Hen­der­son says he is proud they suc­cess­ful­ly met her needs, employ­ing — he points out — the five tenets.

In addi­tion to those tenets, Zac­caro empha­sizes the impor­tance of three guid­ing prin­ci­ples behind AmeriFleet’s dri­ve to improve its cus­tomer expe­ri­ence:

1. A struc­ture for cus­tomer inti­ma­cy: Know how they think, how they feel and under­stand every aspect of their expec­ta­tions. Each cus­tomer is unique; under­stand­ing their unique­ness is the key to deliv­er­ing a world class expe­ri­ence
2. Out­come own­er­ship: Some­one must be respon­si­ble to insure we deliv­er the best expe­ri­ence in every inter­ac­tion (if every­one owns the order no one owns the order). “Who Owns the Order?” is a ques­tion for which Amer­i­Fleet must always have an answer.
3. Cus­tomer well-being empha­sized in all deci­sions: Our nat­ur­al ten­den­cy as human beings is to focus on what might be eas­i­er to exe­cute; that can mean more effec­tive exe­cu­tion but it may also mean that what we deliv­er is not what the cus­tomer tru­ly wants. A great cus­tomer expe­ri­ence requires meet­ing each customer’s spe­cif­ic expec­ta­tions and striv­ing to give them exact­ly what they want in every pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tion.

The phi­los­o­phy embod­ied in the five tenets and the three guid­ing prin­ci­ples is also man­i­fest­ed in AmeriFleet’s 26 behav­iors. These doc­trines are dis­played on a wall in the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence cen­ter, and one of these 26 is the focus of behav­ior on a peri­od­i­cal basis. Cur­rent­ly, the behav­ior focus is “Look and Act Pro­fes­sion­al.” A sim­ple, decep­tive­ly com­mon sense pre­cept, but as Zac­caro notes, spot­light­ing these behav­iors is a key part of AmeriFleet’s cus­tomer expe­ri­ence efforts.

As empha­sized by all Amer­i­Fleet employ­ees, a sig­nif­i­cant part of achiev­ing out­stand­ing cus­tomer expe­ri­ence is hir­ing employ­ees who bring the right char­ac­ter­is­tics and atti­tude, says Chris Car­roll, Senior Vice Pres­i­dent of Human Resources and Orga­ni­za­tion­al Devel­op­ment. “We look for employ­ees who embody the spir­it of Amer­i­Fleet – want­i­ng to help the cus­tomer, the will­ing­ness to help the cus­tomer; a real cus­tomer focus. That is how we inter­view. We put a lot of time into our selec­tion process by hav­ing them screened by our recruiters, inter­viewed by the mem­bers of man­age­ment, and even at the top lev­el some of our senior lead­er­ship team also gets involved in the hir­ing just to make sure that we are get­ting the per­son that embod­ies the Amer­i­Fleet spir­it.”

Rich Pin­nock, Senior Vice Pres­i­dent and Chief Infor­ma­tion Offi­cer for Amer­i­Fleet Trans­porta­tion points out that cus­tomer expe­ri­ence res­onates in the IT depart­ment. There are three IT-based ele­ments to cus­tomer expe­ri­ence: “The first: is the sys­tem fast?” he says. “The sec­ond is whether the user is get­ting the infor­ma­tion he needs when he access­es our sys­tem. We have to be sure the infor­ma­tion is both accu­rate and applic­a­ble.” Not only that, he says, “Cus­tomers want us to pro­vide more sup­port for them than we ever have. Infor­ma­tion is a key dri­ver in their busi­ness and they want us to sup­port those goals – get­ting more infor­ma­tion and get­ting it faster. Final­ly, he says uptime is even more impor­tant than ever: “We have to make sure that our sys­tems are up. The expec­ta­tion used to be 99.6%. Today, the expec­ta­tion is near­er 100 per­cent. Things hap­pen, sure, but that shouldn’t impact our cus­tomers’ abil­i­ty to do their busi­ness, just as it can­not impact our abil­i­ty to do our busi­ness. Our sys­tems have to be designed that way.”

The last word, fit­ting­ly, belongs to John Norris, who is the dri­ving force behind the imple­men­ta­tion of the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence ini­tia­tive at Amer­i­Fleet: “Cus­tomer expe­ri­ence, in its essence, is the feel­ing a client has through every inter­ac­tion with your orga­ni­za­tion, through­out their ‘jour­ney’ with you. In some busi­ness­es that jour­ney may be sim­ply a one-off trans­ac­tion. In our case, the jour­ney is over many, many, many years. We build cus­tomer expe­ri­ence, not just through the cus­tomer ser­vice reps that are a com­po­nent of cus­tomer expe­ri­ence, not just through the billing depart­ment, not just through the order entry folks, but at every touch point through­out the jour­ney.”

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