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Double interview: Els Descamps, Commercial Director and Herman Yperman, Operations Director

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Athlon Belgium
Flexibility, transparency and thorough digitization to achieve the best possible customer experience are characteristics ingrained in Athlon’s DNA. “If our clients hardly notice any difference in our level of service today, it’s for the most part thanks to that. But what characterises the company even more, is looking after each other and solidarity,” say the Commercial Director and Operations Director at Athlon Belgium & Luxembourg. A double interview.

Maintaining a maximum level of operation and accessibility in these times, how does Athlon achieve that?

Herman Yperman: “Because 95% of our processes are digital, our staff do not necessarily need to be in the office. We have invested heavily in our ICT infrastructure to support employees working from home, so we were actually well-prepared for the current situation. However, it can be stressful for some to get everything done during normal business hours, especially if they have kids to attend to, so we allow flexible working.”

Els Descamps: “Still, it is important that our customers can get in touch with us at all times. If everyone is working from home, that presents new challenges, but we have found a way around most of them. For instance, we have provided extra laptops to staff if they work from home together with their partner and if they also have children of school age who need a computer to take classes and do homework.”

Certain practical aspects must surely be less straightforward now?

Herman Yperman: “Managing number plates and end-of-contract vehicles is indeed difficult or even impossible. But you need to be creative and resolute when you have a crisis on your hands. The other day, for example, we had no other option but to send someone to the post office to have the number plates of returned vehicles cancelled one by one – laborious and time-consuming, but essential to stop the road tax from being billed.”

Els Descamps: “Our people’s creativity and perseverance were demonstrated last week when we delivered 60 vehicles to the carsharing platform Poppy. Thanks to our excellent collaboration with Van Mossel Group, Athlon succeeded in getting 60 new Opel Corsas on the road. These will be offered, free of charge, to healthcare works, alongside some of our own Athlon Rent replacement cars.”

How do you keep your spirits up in these times of confinement?

Els Descamps: “I believe human contact is very important today. That’s why I spend more time on the phone – and on Skype, of course. We keep our spirits, and those of our colleagues, up through all kinds of initiatives, such as the creation of an Athlon dance playlist and a montage of funny home office photos. We also check in on colleagues who live by themselves and young parents at regular intervals. Breaking through loneliness and supporting each other, that’s also what makes us a close-knit ‘family’ and I am particularly proud of that.”

Herman Yperman: “As ‘designated survivor’, I am often the only person in the Athlon offices in Machelen. It allows me to act quickly and prepare the relaunch of our activities. If there’s one thing I have learnt in these times of isolation, it is to take up my pen less frequently. In a sea of emails, a phone call can often make a difference. The value of a voice should not be underestimated. I have learnt to use the phone again.”

What do you hope to take with you in the ‘post corona era’ and what are you looking forward to?

Herman Yperman: “It is fantastic to see how everyone is playing their part and I hope this solidarity will live on. Obviously, I will be happy to see everything go back to normal. Going from one Skype meeting to the next, that’s far from ideal…”

Els Descamps: “I love being able to spend the time I used to lose in traffic on things that are more useful. Half an hour of yoga, a more elaborate breakfast, … So I hope traffic jams won’t return to the pre-corona level. What am I looking forward to? Seeing my colleagues again!”

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