If independent car rental operators continue to ignore the critical importance of having a professional Web site, they could squander their greatest opportunity to ensure competitiveness for the future.
The Internet can provide operators new reservations from previously unreachable markets. The Web also can give operators direct access to customers to develop a lasting and continuous dialogue. Moreover, a Web site gives a company complete control of the brand message. By taking control of their online presence and using the unique features of Web communications, operators can help ensure a bright future. The can grow their customer base and improve their brand’s value.
If you asked independents what their Web site does for their business, most would say it provides online reservations. Most wouldn’t tell you anything more than that because that’s all they expect. Because of this limited perspective, many operators have actually reduced their chances of remaining competitive and prospering over the long term. They don’t fully understand what a Web site can do for their business.
The Internet has given rise to a number of ways for operators to acquire online reservations. These include the global distribution systems through sites like Orbitz, alternative brand-sharing sites like www.foxrentacar.com, and consumer comparison sites like www.carrentalexpress.com. These online models supply significant streams of reservations to the independent car rental operator with varying degrees of risks and reward. The mistake that most independents make is that they become over-dependent on these channels for their online presence. Operators can actually set themselves up for failure on the Internet if they fail to base these legitimate revenue stream initiatives around a strong proprietary Web site and marketing strategy.
Use Your Brand’s Web Site to Create Customers
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that the Internet is a unique communications medium. It’s unlike other communication formats such as broadcast radio, television, newspapers and Yellow Pages advertising — they only distribute information from the publisher to the consumer. The Internet can distribute information, collect it and allow consumers to publish in response to this information — all at the same time. Compared to other media channels, the Internet is more like face-to-face communication. This characteristic, combined with an audience of over 750 million people online, creates a formidable communications medium in which to conduct business.
One of the world’s leading authorities on business management, Peter F. Drucker, once said, “The purpose of a business is to create a customer.” Many car rental operators assume that getting a new rental booking is like creating a customer. But quality customers offer more than that. They are loyal and want to do business with you again and again. They will recommend your company to friends and offer constructive feedback to help improve your services.
Whether operators want to believe it or not, Web visitors researching the Web are intent on finding a company they can feel confident doing business with. Yes, they’re looking for a good vehicle, fair price and agreeable terms. But more importantly, they want to trust the company they choose to purchase these services from. A savvy car rental operator understands this and makes every effort to address these issues and connect with the visitor.
Nationally syndicated columnist and sales trainer Jeffrey Gitomer has written a book titled, “Customer Satisfaction Is Worthless, Customer Loyalty Is Priceless.” The book is based on the premise that making sales and satisfying customers with your service isn’t enough. You need consumers to make an emotional connection with your brand. Otherwise, they have no reason to recommend your business to friends and family, and they’re still open to trying your competitors. If you fail to connect, you fail to reap the lasting benefits of a loyal customer.
Many companies create loyal customer bases by offering valuable consumer experiences in the offline world. But Internet customers are more desirable because of their choice to use e-mail and your Web site. They come into the relationship fully accepting of the idea that you’ll continue to communicate with them in the future. This enables you to service and nurture the value of the business/consumer relationship and realize the true long-term value of that customer. Independents who believe that accepting reservations is the sole goal of an Internet presence may be limiting their own prospects for growth.