In the new digital landscape, what advanced technologies make sense for non-major car rental operators to start using?
That's a vital questions given that picking the right technology tools can help improve the customer experience and increase loyalty.
At the 2023 International Car Rental Show, a panel of rental software experts discussed new cloud computing, connected devices, and telematics technologies, and how they support systems around mobile apps, self-checkout/check-in, phone-as-a-key, and location.
Rental operators who choose to ignore these new technology tools could be hurting the growth and success of their businesses in the future.
“If you ignore all the new technologies out there, you will stay where you are and won’t evolve or grow,” said Naomi Virgo, managing director of RENTALL Vehicle Rental Solutions, a car rental software company comprised of Thermeon, Bluebird, and Navotar. “The technology programs can help businesses become more efficient and run better to help increase their revenue.
“But I think the biggest cost of ignoring the new technologies is that your competitors will take that step before you do and will reap the rewards the technologies bring,” Virgo said. “And that’s going to give your competitors an advantage over you.”
How to Start Adopting New Technology
For Virgo, she has seen many of RENTALL’s rental car clients feel overwhelmed by the number of new technologies flooding the market. Choices vary widely from telematics to rate usage type tools to direct assessment tools.
“Many of our rental car clients have operated for a long time without these new technologies,” she said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty. Can these technologies increase our revenue? What’s the value to investing in these new technologies?”
Since technological choices abound, rental operators should start by identifying their business pain points — or pinpointing problems they are trying to solve.
“It comes down to understanding your business,” Virgo said. “If reviews from your customers are important to your business, consider a technology solution that helps address that area. Or if price is important, choose a technology that assists in that.”
After identifying a business pain point, operators can address it with a new technology service. Virgo recommended trying one new tool at a time.
“You don’t have to implement all of them at once,” she said. “Our customers will see the value that one technology service brings and then try another new tool. Commit to that one new technology service, roll it out, see the benefits, and then start exploring other ones that could assist you in other areas of your business.”
The initial price of the technology tools also can be intimidating for new rental clients.
“It’s not just understanding what it will cost me to implement this new technology tool,” said Colm Brady, CEO of RentalMatics, a telematics and mobility provider for rental companies. “It’s looking at that initial price against what the tool could achieve for you — the value it’s adding in terms of potential vehicle damage or vehicle theft and operational efficiencies. It’s understanding the real value that these tools could bring to your business.”
When ready to implement a new technology tool, Virgo suggested talking to another rental company already operating the technology.
“It’s helpful to be able to ask those questions about the specific technology,” she said. “You can ask questions about real-life situations and how the service has been helpful to that rental company.”
Popular, Valuable Technology Services
Among RentalMatics’ car rental clients, the single feature that’s used the most is “where’s my car?”
“Our biggest use feature allows rental car operators to quickly locate their vehicles,” Brady said. “Some rental employees waste time daily walking up and down the lot looking for single vehicles. With this technology feature, they can just type in the vehicle’s license plate number and then walk straight to that vehicle without wasting time. It can be seen as a small value, but when you multiply the time saved over a monthly period, it builds more efficiency into your business.”
Brady has seen more rental car companies using telematics.
“Rental car clients are becoming more aware of what telematics technology can bring in terms of efficiency for running their businesses,” he said.
When asked about what technology has been creating the most value to RENTALL’s clients, Virgo responded that it depends on the customer.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all technology solution for all rental companies,” she said. “It depends on where the rental company is trying to position itself in the market and what pain points that they’re trying to fix.”
Future Technology Potential
With all the new technological advancements of the past few years, more will be developed soon.
“I hope there’s more uptake for these technologies because we really do see how much they help when rental companies put them into practice,” Virgo said.
New technology tools are providing more opportunities for rental companies to move toward a car sharing model. Such tools allow customers to go directly to their rental vehicles.
“For a rental location, it could be easier to give the customer the car key through a mobile app,” Virgo said. “You don’t have to worry about customers losing car keys anymore and you don’t have to meet them and greet them at the counter. But the challenge is most customers aren’t unlocking their cars at home with their phones yet and aren’t familiar with the technology. There’s uncertainty about taking these technologies in that space.”
Brady said he’s excited to see the next versions of products like telematics.
“A product like telematics is only starting,” he said. “We are constantly coming up with new use cases. Being able to track your vehicles is just the starting point of a telematics solution. We have recently filed a patent pending regarding hail damage and how to identify vehicles that have been through hailstorms. All the future technology features come from direct interaction with our rental customers.”