Focus on maximizing uptime rather than minimizing downtime

Let's look at trends in the commercial vehicle industry that might have a positive impact on your fleet. One of the most significant and refreshing approaches being adopted by several major truck OEMs - as well as forward-thinking maintenance executives, for that matter - is a new focus on maximizing vehicle uptime.

For years, many fleets and their suppliers operated by using a downtime-based approach with customers: Bring us the problem and we'll fix it. Refinements to this approach, including adequate inventory, prompt and courteous service, and competitive pricing, have served businesses and their customers well. But times are changing; customers need and demand more.

The problem with this paradigm is that the supplier/customer transaction is exception-based, i.e., it's usually triggered by a worn out part, component failure, or some other problem that's initially recognized and acted on by the customer, or end user. The relationship is defined by problems that need fixing.

An alternative approach currently gaining momentum in the commercial marketplace is one that focuses on maximizing vehicle uptime. I first heard the term "uptime management" several years ago in a speech given by Marc Gustafson, president of Volvo Trucks North America. It goes beyond basic preventive maintenance and listening to customers.

Uptime management really involves stepping into your customers' shoes, adopting their perspectives, responding to their pressures, and using their preferred method and frequency of communication. It means working to understand more about your customers' businesses, and making a conscious effort to create successes for them.

Flexibility is crucial to a successful uptime management system since excellent service means different things to different customers. You no longer have the luxury of using a standardized approach - no matter how good you think it is.

Fortunately, today's computer systems make it possible to tailor services such as automated follow-up, delivery and billing schedules, and inventory management to each customer's needs.

Take an example from the supplier side. Your tire dealer could agree to maintain a minimum quantity of specific tire sizes and designs for use on your fleet's steer, drive, and trailer axles in exchange for a commitment of business. It could also involve establishing a relationship with another supplier or delivery point if a customer occasionally needs products or services outside of their regular dealer's geographic area.

The main goal of this approach is for customers to think of their suppliers as integral to their business.

Uptime management also means expanding the definition of "quality." According to James Hebe, president and CEO of Freightliner Corp., "Quality relates not only to the craftsmanship and reliability of a product, but to every aspect of the customer's ownership experience."

Suppliers want fleets to see them as "quality suppliers," not just as suppliers of quality products. And, in turn, you want your customers to see you as a general source of support and resources, not just a company that hauls their freight.

If you can establish this kind of relationship with customers, you'll be rewarded with increased loyalty and a willingness to work through problems when they do occur.

Although periodic service and component replacement is inevitable, if your general approach is based on a framework of maximizing vehicle uptime, the result will be a more efficient fleet. More business opportunities are sure to follow.