With its nationwide reach, Northgate Vehicle Hire is in the vanguard of offering customers a more flexible option than outright purchasing, while it has made digital engagement the driving force for delivering its vision of the future.

This is underpinned by an effective digital marketing mix and multi-million-pound investment in its cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) and IT infrastructure to offer personalised customer engagement through data-driven, digital self-service operations.

Northgate proclaims it is “embracing agile” software development as it shifts towards delivering a digital-first collaboration culture to enhance customer experience. It has also moved to strengthen its local market focus.

Revenue has grown by 9.4% year-on-year in 2019 and the volume of vehicles on hire (VOH) is up by 11.3%. Customers have access to a wide range of LCVs, including electric drivetrains, which are now more available.

During the past year Northgate has introduced 28-day billing, alongside daily rates, to ease payment and processing. It says this offers more transparency and helps forecasting.

Northgate’s team is now trained to instigate a linear customer journey, tailored to suit each one’s particular circumstances. It has also introduced new telephony and a centralised bookings and customer services system to further enhance communication.

“From understanding the task to specifying and supplying the most suitable vehicles, through every step of in-life servicing and management to vehicle renewal, our aim is to be with customers throughout the journey,” says sales and marketing director Neil McCrossan.

An innovative service launched during the past 12 months is the VanHire+ package, which includes an allowance for in-life damage, variable by hire period, which breaks new ground in the sector, according to the firm. Northgate claims the package removes or limits some of the unplanned for end-of-life charges that can push users towards outright LCV ownership.

Another initiative is the provision of fuel cards that offer savings at Esso, Shell and BP stations.

Arguably more radical is Northgate’s We Buy You Rent scheme, under which it purchases, for what it terms “fair market value”, a business’s existing van fleet and in turn provides it with new, economical, fit-for-purpose vans.

“Our holistic service takes the stress of van rental away from customers, so they can fully focus on the work that makes them successful,” says Northgate.

The firm offers bespoke minimum-term contracts ranging from 12 to 48 months, but also makes more flexible deals available to match seasonal demand, for example, and by enabling customers to vary the number of vans they hire, how often and for how long.

In the event of a breakdown, Northgate vows to provide a replacement if it cannot get the vehicle back on the road within four hours.

Overall, Northgate has shown it delivers a range of services covering contract hire, daily rental and fleet management services under one roof.

Highly Commended: Europcar

The focus for Europcar’s van services during 2019 has been on giving businesses a more flexible alternative to LCV ownership.

The main development has been investment in expanding a network of LCV supersites that combine a local service with a comprehensive choice of vehicles, along with a new partnership with BT Fleet Solutions to deliver 24/7 van servicing and maintenance.

The supersites to have opened most recently are located in Glasgow and Purfleet, Essex but all eight centres house facilities for charging electric vehicles.

Stuart Russell, commercial vehicle sales director, Europcar says: “From a customer standpoint, our teams are on hand to deliver a genuinely customer-focused service on the ground that matches a service traditionally offered by smaller, local businesses.

“However, having the backing of a much larger business means they have the resources to react quickly and fulfil customer needs.”

Europcar van services has seen a 15% year-on-year growth in rentals.

Rental HC - Europcar Van class=