24 April 2008

Hugh Cole of Nationwide Access in the UK.

Hugh Cole of Nationwide Access in the UK.

You’re can never be sure what customers will say when you ask them about the quality of your service. One company that does is Nationwide Access in the UK, having earlier this year undertaken a major customer survey that generated over 350 responses.

The two big conclusions, says managing director, Hugh Cole, were that customers are most concerned about getting their equipment when they ask for it, and, second, they want more reliability from the machines when they get on site.

This first finding has prompted Nationwide to invest in its transport fleet and also to investigate tracking technology so the company will know exactly when a machine has been delivered. “You can tell customers ahead of time if there’s a risk of late delivery”, says Mr Cole, “[It also means] that I will be able to say, yes, we did deliver at X time - that’s a very important thing.”

Mr Cole says he hasn’t decided exactly what technology will be used, but it will require a “fine grain” system, able to locate a machine, in real time, down to a delivery point on a large site. Nationwide is still “exploring” the technology and talking to suppliers, but says it is committed to doing it.

The transport fleet itself, meanwhile, has been the subject of a pretty hefty investment, with 59 new rigid trucks costing around €5.5 million (US$10.5 million) - that’s the entire rigid truck fleet - and the company’s 19 low-loader transporters are also likely to be replaced early next year.

This renewal has had a significant knock-on benefit, in that the new trucks have helped Nationwide retain its drivers. For the year to date, driver turnover has halved to 9% compared to last year. “It has obvious benefits for us”, says Mr Cole,“Drivers are very important - they are the interface with the customer.” The key role played by drivers is now being reinforced by printing the driver’s name on each truck.

First day problems

The question of reliability of equipment - the second more important customer issue - led Nationwide to look in detail at instances where equipment had problems. What it discovered was interesting, in that a significant proportion of problems happened on the first day after delivery.

“We concluded that a lot of that is down to poor PDIs (pre-delivery inspections)”, says Mr Cole,“Now PDIs are machine specific - previously they were generic. It’s a matter of raising awareness of quality in engineering. I think it’s going to pay dividends.” Around 85% of service engineers had received training on the new PDI programme by mid-September, with the remainder to be completed by the end of the year.

Nationwide thinks this approach will help it reduce the number of rental days lost due to breakdowns. Before the PDI initiative, 1.4% of rental days were lost, and Mr Cole says the initial target is to reduce that to under 1%; “Then we will set a new benchmark.”

There are some other initiatives underway at Nationwide. One of these will have a direct impact on equipment reliability, with Nationwide undertaking a refurbishment programme on 1500 of its Genie self-propelled platforms. Investment in this will amount to around €1 million ($1.9 million) this year alone, with €8000 ($15200) worth of work done on each machine.

“There’s still a lot of life left in the platforms”, says Mr Cole, “it is rather wasteful to let them go.” The refurbishments will extend their working lives by around five years.

The company is also planning to extend its training programmes beyond the operator training it already offers. Mr Cole says some if its larger customers have responded positively to the offer of MEWP training for site managers.

“We’re interested in saying to customers, if you’ve got more than a certain number of MEWPs on site, we would offer MEWP management training.” The course would look at how best to manage, store and maintain platforms on site. Mr Cole says he hopes the courses will be offered before the end of the year.

Nationwide’s example shows the benefits of talking to your customers. You may worry about what they say, but you can’t improve without asking.

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