When A-Plant introduced the rental industry's first Customer Extranet several years ago, the company created a new dimension for customer service in the hire market and has continued to develop the Extranet to maintain its lead.
Now A-Plant has announced two new industry firsts with the addition of Extranet facilities for Damage and Loss of Hire Equipment and Pre-Authorisation of Hires that form part of what the company believes is the best customer service package on the market. These form part of an expanding suite of fully integrated on-line services available to customers through the Extranet system accessed via the A-Plant website at www.aplant.com
Managing the damage and loss of equipment is a major concern for plant and tool hire companies. Under the new system introduced by A-Plant, products damaged on site are recorded by the depot concerned via the A-Plant Intranet and the new Damage and Loss feature on the Extranet allows customers for the first time to view a report and images of the damaged equipment on-line. This provides the basis for discussions between the customer and A-Plant to agree on a charge for the damage. This replaces the previous system which involved A-Plant writing to the customer and greatly speeds up resolution of queries of this nature, providing benefits for both A-Plant and the customer.
Many of A-Plant's customers utilise the reporting capabilities available through the Extranet. They can obtain consolidated information for all transactions with A-Plant, regardless of what equipment was hired and which A-Plant location was involved, presenting the information by operating region and by postcode for particular sites. The ability to offer weekly plant reports and consolidated invoices meets industry standards adopted by contractors for management reporting.
As an extension to the consolidated invoice process, the new Pre-Authorisation system through the Extranet allows customers to pre-authorise the hire of equipment they need every week for sites across the country. Instead of a batch of invoices, the customer instead receives a consolidated invoice based on their pre-authorisation of equipment. The new Pre-Authorisation process gives customers complete control of the stock of equipment they have on hire from A-Plant.
This is also intended to reduce queries on hires (eg for the length of hire and the type of equipment involved). As each query involves costs for both A-Plant and the customer, there are many advantages to be gained from reducing queries to a minimum.
The Pre-Authorisation system complements the on-line ordering system for hire equipment on the Extranet. Using a drop-down menu of equipment lists, the on-line ordering system allows customers to stipulate the equipment they need and arrange for its delivery to site. The customer is also prompted for requirements for ancillary equipment; for example, if an order is placed for an air compressor, the system prompts the user to enquire if they need any associated products such as breakers or hoses. To help ensure accuracy when a customer places an order, A-Plant sends an e-mail alert in reply, confirming the order and that the details are correct.
A-Plant has also made a massive investment in theft deterrents including the company's A-Trak system for monitoring hired equipment. With a current recovery rate of 96%, A-Trak has minimised significantly the downtime and costs due to theft for both A-Plant and the company's customers. Customers benefit from both the information and protection provided by the A-Trak system via the Extranet system.
All equipment covered by the A-Trak system remains in contact with the server all year round, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so its status is available at all times. Once linked to the A-Trak system, customers can request positions, ringfence machines (for additional theft protection) and monitor operating hours.
The ability to monitor running hours is one of a number of sensor options that can be provided by using the information ports available on the device at the centre of the A-Trak system. Functions that can be monitored also include fuel and oil levels, battery level, coolant, engine on/off, ignition on/off, engine covers open/closed and so on. These functions are linked to alarms that can be used to inform customers about the status of the equipment they have hired so that they can take action if required, eg when equipment is being used improperly.
A-Plant has more than 2000 employees, over 30,000 customers in the construction, civil engineering and DIY markets and in excess of 110,000 items of plant, tools and specialist equipment available to hire from over 200 locations nationwide - from large plant such as dumpers, excavators and telehandlers, to smaller equipment including air tools, gardening equipment and lifting and safety equipment, as well as specialist equipment including powered access machines, traffic systems, accommodation units and rail equipment. A-Plant forms part of FTSE-250 company, Ashtead Group plc.