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12 Jul 21

Why psychology is an under-used tool in fleet management

As any fleet manager will confirm: you don’t need to be a psychologist to work here, but it helps! Yet in the fleet manager’s toolbox, ‘fleet psychology’ remains an under-used instrument. Perhaps that’s because a bigger question needs to be answered first: do you use psychology simply to nudge behaviour, or rather to change corporate culture itself?

On the one hand, fleet management is a people business. It’s actually not so much about the cars (or other mobility modes), as it is about the people they move. But on the other hand, because employee mobility is costly, fleet management is also a numbers game. That’s why the attention to cost reduction and efficiency gains is pervasive, and permanent. 

Two realities

Fleet managers find themselves at the crossroads of those two realities; but lately, all the traffic is coming from one direction. The rise of telematics, connectivity and Big Data is providing fleet managers with a growing range of metrics to optimise. While that certainly provides plenty of opportunities for improvement, both in terms of cost and efficiency, it risks relegating other, less quantifiable fleet management skills to the background.

To clarify, let’s focus on the crucial initial stage of the relationship between corporate driver and company car: vehicle selection. Driving is an emotional topic, and drivers leafing through a prospectus are likely to make decisions based on how they feel about cars (pictured), rather than what is the level-headed best choice, either from the perspective of their own driving needs, or regarding the company’s CO2 reduction goals, or both. Perhaps an EV would do the trick, but drivers crave the comfort of familiarity, and choose a petrol or diesel car. Or perhaps they do choose an EV, but go for the one with the biggest battery, which serves as an unnecessary and cost-inefficient security blanket. 

Clear policies

According to fleet experts, as few as 10% of fleets have clear policies to bring to bear at this stage of the company car journey. This might be because those who do, have a choice between two options. And that’s a choice that is not theirs to make; it reflects a much more fundamental positioning of corporate culture, specifically in terms of corporate social responsibility, and how it relates to the environment.  

One option is purely behavioural: use stimuli to ‘nudge’ the drivers into making choices that conform more closely to the optimal conditions from their own perspective, and/or a company perspective. This can be done by introducing elements of gamification, whereby drivers are rewarded for making the right choices; or by offering mobility options according to a credits system. 

The other, more fundamental option is to create a corporate culture in which care for the environment and the ambition to reduce harmful emissions is not just a concern that is limited to certain stages of the fleet journey, but is central to the ethos of the company as such. Awareness of and engagement with green issues at this level will necessarily create a different mindset among employees, and optimal choices will not have to be ‘nudged’, as the advantages they will generate have been internalised and understood at the level of the individual employee. 

Positive image

Creating a corporate culture that can replace ‘nudges’ at the symptomatic level is a task that, at present, seems the preserve of large, multinational companies that have a large interest in projecting a positive corporate image – think Google, Apple and similar. 

Other companies often lack the bandwidth to implement a similarly coherent and comprehensive culture shift. Switching to a climate-positive paradigm is a lot harder for smaller corporates. From a practical perspective, their way forward is to use a mix of both approaches: use ‘nudges’ to generate individual behaviour changes, while counting on their cumulative effect to create a change in corporate culture, albeit a gradual one. But that’s okay, as long as drivers are steered towards making the right choices: for the right type of vehicle, or the right kind of mobility mix. 

De-emotionalising choice

One possible path forward: de-emotionalise vehicle choice. For comparison’s sake: there’s nothing emotional about the way we choose our energy providers. Why not apply the same rational criteria to choosing the powertrain, model and options of a vehicle? This could be done by establishing a tailored mobility profile for each individual employee. For those living within a certain range of the company – say, 10 km – it will make perfect sense to choose an EV. That range could be the criterion that eliminates other options for them. 

But until we reach the perfectly rational approach of choosing vehicles, let’s not forget the psychological tools in the fleet manager’s toolbox. This is to everyone’s benefit, because ‘nudging’ can be an emotionally satisfying experience for the driver as well. Facing the choice between a vehicle the employee wants versus one better suited for them, perhaps the offer of, say, an iPad to sweeten the deal is just what the driver needs to make the right choice… and feel good about it. 

Image: Shutterstock

Authored by: Frank Jacobs