Fleet management companies often view their relationship with the corporations they serve through a hierarchical lens that begins with the fleet managers who hire them. Other stakeholders — such as procurement executives, human relations directors, and ultimately drivers — often play a less-direct role in any dialogue.
That may be changing at LeasePlan USA, the Alpharetta, Ga.-based fleet management company that's been rethinking this connection point.
Since he joined LeasePlan in 2018, Felipe Smolka has been looking at ways to innovate how the company designs and thinks about the hundreds of thousands of daily drivers they manage. As the EVP of digital transformation, Smolka has led the company's initiative in this area.
Smolka, who spoke with Automotive Fleet in August at company headquarters, has been bringing fleet drivers front and center to this design thinking process. Design thinking is the strategic, cognitive, and practical approach brought to bear on a corporate process. Author John E. Arnold coined the term in his 1959 book, "Creative Engineering."
LeasePlan's goal is to enrich the user experience and deliver meaningful exchanges that can result in lower risky behavior and a higher return on the asset for their customers.
"As we talk about innovation, do we know who we serve," Smolka asked rhetorically. "We truly have a good sense of the different driver personas when we're trying to solve things. It's no disrespect to the fleet managers out there."
This year, LeasePlan and Smolka have been charging ahead. New CEO Matt Dyer, who transferred from LeasePlan UK and started work on Jan. 1, quickly embraced the approach and initiative.
Smolka and his team revamped the MyLeasePlan mobile app in February, by rolling out a version that added an intelligent virtual assistant called Elle that it claims is the first of its kind in the market. The voice recognition technology allows drivers to access vehicle- and fleet-related information in real time.
Elle can direct drivers to a service location for a flat tire, help them locate nearby fuel stations, and answer other daily operational questions. Training Elle will never end as the company looks for more ways to add value to their drivers, Smolka said.
"This technology has a lot of potential in the future," Smolka said. "Within the mobile app, drivers can exchange with a virtual assistant to get answers and get the chatbot to take actions too. We can deliver this at a very low cost, given the available artificial intelligence capabilities in the marketplace. The level of richness that we bring, combined with our data, is one of our company's differentiators."
When communicating with the drivers through other channels, LeasePlan aims to personalize the messaging using various technology platforms. Omnichannel messages sent to drivers greet them with their first name and provide content that is relevant and timely.
Some insurance and telematics companies have been experimenting with real-time messages to fleet drivers in recent years to address risky driver behavior with immediate coaching. The messaging can be tied to gamification strategies and driver scorecards to improve expected behavior.
"We are at a time where comprehensive gamification is possible for our drivers," Smolka said. "Our big data can and will benefit each and every client."
As one example, if a driver is running a vehicle with severely underinflated tires, LeasePlan will be able to determine exactly how much that's costing in terms of needless fuel used and additional wear on the stressed tire.
"If you just look deeper at the folks who are doing the riskiest driving or the most inefficient driving and work on that small group of people, you can have a big impact," Smolka said. "We're working hard to create a better connection with our user base that will be more impactful when it really matters."
As LeasePlan takes a data-driven approach that's underpinned with new technology, the fleet management company expects to be able to provide fleet managers with even greater granular-level data points about operating costs, Smolka said.