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Optimizing Utilization in University Motor Pools: 5 Strategies for Demand Management

University and government motor pools play a crucial role in providing convenient and cost-effective transportation solutions for staff, faculty, and students. In the university or public setting, fleets are consuming scarce resources to meet a distinct stakeholder need and fleet managers do a great job focusing on fleet health and cost management. However, poor utilization can mean that need goes unmet, funds are wasted, budgets get cut or programs dissolve. To ensure great utilization and a successful motor pool program, some university and government fleet managers pursue a customer focus with the same energy as a for-profit mobility startup.

In fact, private industry can teach us a lot about maximizing user value. We’ve run high-utilization mobility operations ourselves, and we provide the technology solution that powered many others. Here, we share some observations from private industry that apply just as well to university and government motor pools trying to enhance their utilization.

1. Location, Location, Location.

You built your motor pool for utilization, and you manage it to operate cost efficiently. To do so, fleet managers often seek out the lowest cost, readily available locations to place their motor pool. When vehicles are parked in remote locations, this may conflict with what your user is looking for: convenience. As a result, getting to the vehicle may be extremely difficult for them. There is a maximum amount of time a user is willing to travel before the inconvenience outweighs any benefit.

The worlds of real estate and retail have three simple rules: location, location, location. Simply put, the closer you can place your vehicles to where most of your customers are, the better. It may cost a little more to source the right location for your motor pool. You may have to push through some red tape to claim the right spots. But if utilization is your measure of success, the benefit might outweigh the added costs by a long shot.

One more rule of thumb - the shorter your users’ typical booking, the more important a convenient location will be to them. Consider what kind of usage you envision when picking a location that works.

"The shorter your users’ typical booking, the more important a convenient location will be to them."

2. Make Reservations and Checkout a Breeze

Even when you have the right location(s), if vehicles are difficult to reserve, are not reliably available when promised, or take too long to check out, then you’ll lose your users. What’s worse, without a structured process, users may start abusing the system - and the fleet. This is a vicious cycle that leads to an even worse experience, as well as safety and security liabilities.

Private companies focus an incredible amount of time on refining the user experience, and so can you. Technologically savvy motor pool operators digitize their experience and offer an automated app, website, or some other simple experience for reservations, checkout and any other process in your desired user flow. Users can check in and out remotely, which provides the added benefit of saving management heaps of time. Remote access and management features also allow you to further optimize your vehicle footprint.

3. Build a Service that Earns Loyalty

We’ve been talking a lot about increasing utilization. In reality, you may not be trying to maximize, but rather optimize utilization based on how much value you can create for a customer over their total use of your service. You already know this: at 100% utilization, vehicles are not being maintained and safety may be compromised. Generally, fleet managers do a great job of maintaining vehicle condition with a focus on safety and asset value.

"Consistent utilization from loyal users over time will dwarf the value of jamming a few hours or days of utilization into a packed schedule and ruining the user experience."

In addition to safety and cost management, customer-centric companies concern themselves with how maximum utilization might affect their customers’ lifetime value, or the revenue that they can earn from a customer over their entire engagement. If users are being turned away from your service because no vehicles are available, or if they are disappointed by the condition of a vehicle, they’re not likely to return. Consistent utilization from loyal users over time will dwarf the value of jamming a few hours or days of utilization into a packed schedule and ruining the user experience. On the other hand, if your vehicles are in pristine condition, but never available, users will lose patience with your offering.

The “right” utilization number will vary a LOT depending on the length of your typical booking and other factors. Once you identify an experience that delivers customer satisfaction, keep it up and drive utilization within those service quality parameters.

4. Follow the Data

Fiercely customer-centric companies invest in collecting and analyzing the data they need to make informed strategy decisions. As Clive Humby said, “Data is the new oil.” Companies that successfully capture and refine this precious commodity can extract a lot of value that benefits their customers and their businesses.

Do you have a reliable method for collecting and analyzing data? With the right data engine and tools, you’ll have a deep well of information to refine. There are so many pieces of data that can inform you about your fleet utilization and customer satisfaction. For example, beyond all the details of when, where, and by whom your vehicles are being used, Launch Mobility can deploy cleanliness surveys and damage reports that will provide valuable insights on both a quantitative and qualitative basis. These results, together with straightforward uptime and utilization reports, will help you track and improve your fleet performance over time.

5. Talk to your Users!

You are confident that your fleet meets a significant organizational need, but users are still not signing up. Is there something about the service itself that does not appeal to them? The best way to find out is to ask! Try setting up some interviews with people who have registered but never completed a booking. For example, you may learn that your customers typically need a longer rental period than you offer or a different vehicle type given their typical use cases. The feedback you receive may be extremely valuable for finding product-market fit, which Marc Andreesen defined as, “being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.” Nothing beats good advice straight from the source.

In order to get the most out of your motor pool, it is important to build toward an optimal utilization rate. Private industry offers a number of insights that stem from its laser focus on the customer experience and need. By incorporating these lessons into your university or government fleet, you can deliver maximum value for your stakeholders.

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