Green Flag started life as the National Breakdown Recovery Club in 1971. It was renamed Green Flag in 1994. To mark its 20th anniversary one of its original employees, Neil Wilson explains how the breakdown business and cars have changed over the past two decades.
“When I started with Green Flag I was an adviser talking to customers over the phone. Since then I’ve held various positions in the business and worked my way up to the point where I’m now running the breakdown side.
One of the most obvious changes is that 20 years ago we didn’t have our own vans. Now, in addition to our huge network of independent breakdown recovery specialists, we have more than 200 Green Flag-liveried vehicles on the road so the business is much more visible to drivers.
Then there are our customers’ cars. When a vehicle broke down 20 years ago, mending it felt much more hands on as technicians would have to do their own diagnosis at the road side. And actually getting the car going again might have involved delving under the bonnet and doing something like brushing up the points. Now we plug a lap top into the car and most vehicles have engine management computers which will tell our computer what is wrong with the car.
Once that’s happened, we stand a good chance of getting the car running again. We manage to fix between seven and eight out of 10 vehicles at the road side so that area of the business hasn’t changed.
However, the cover we offer our customers has altered over the years. For example, sorting out the after-effects of misfuelling vehicles is now a standard part of every Green Flag policy apart from the most basic. It’s one instance of how we’ve offered our members more as time has gone by and how our service has developed so that we can compete effectively with our rivals.
Awareness of breakdown cover has improved dramatically since 1994. Our research shows that 20 years ago, just 53 per cent of young drivers had breakdown cover and nearly all of them broke down within their first five years of driving. Now 85 per cent will have cover but less than two thirds of them will break down within their first five years at the wheel.
Then there’s our pledge to get to customers within an hour of them reporting their breakdown or they’ll get their next renewal for half price. That’s new because attendance time is a vital part of the breakdown industry today. We recognise that for our customers, breaking down is a major inconvenience; drivers are on the way somewhere and they need to get there. We also understand that breaking down makes you feel helpless as you sit at the side of the road. Of course being stuck roadside is a dangerous place to be. And let’s be frank, it’s boring. Go somewhere and sit at the side of the road for an hour doing nothing and it feels like an eternity so we think our service pledge is critical.
What’s changed the most over the past 20 years? Without doubt the nature and type of breakdowns. Now there are a lot more breakdowns caused by electrical failure because cars are pretty much mini computing platforms. Is this going to change? Well 20 years ago, I didn’t even have a mobile phone. Now I have one that’s effectively a mini computer. We’ve already got cars that will park themselves. The technology is there for cars to drive themselves so who knows where we’ll be in 2034.”