With technology continuing to move toward wireless and mobility, rental agents are completing rental transactions from a mobile device — reducing wait time and improving the customer experience throughout the rental process.
“When it comes to the car rental world, it’s all about a quick return and trying to avoid having customers stand in line to return their vehicle,” says Lori Tennant, director of strategic alliances at TSD, which provides car rental software and technology to independent, franchise and corporate rental companies. “Even if you are fast at the counter, if the customer has to go inside, you won’t be seen as forward-thinking.”
One of TSD’s clients, Clearwater Transportation, an Austin, Texas-based Dollar Thrifty licensee, switched to TSD’s mobile app technology about a year ago. Prior to the present system, Clearwater used proprietary hand-held devices for check-ins, says Rene Mitchell, director of administration and technology for Clearwater Transportation.
Costing up to $12,000 for the first handheld unit, the proprietary devices could only be used for rental returns and had to be configured to receive an Internet signal from an access point. Looking to save money and update its technology, Clearwater was ready to switch to a more universal system with Wi-Fi capabilities, says Mitchell.
“We were tired of the maintenance and non-universal ability of the [older] devices,” says Mitchell. “It was a really expensive way to process returns and we were having issues with the access point signals.”
Initially interested in iPad and iPhone devices, Clearwater decided against Apple products since Apple was compatible with only certain printers. Instead, Mitchell’s team ended up choosing a Windows-based tablet by Motion Computing with a magnetic strip and barcode reader for $1,800 apiece and Bluetooth-enabled portable printers for $600 each.
“We chose the Motion tablet for its durability and its ability to handle the elements,” says Mitchell.
Rental Software Goes Mobile
After clients like Clearwater inquired about a mobile version, TSD started working to develop a mobile application — compatible with Apple and Android operating systems and devices — through its Rental.Net management software. This Web-based program allows rental companies to log into the software from any mobile device, including smartphones and tablets.
“We began to develop the mobile application after we had an influx of customer requests,” says Shawn Concannon, TSD’s vice president of business operations. “We knew technology was headed that way and that mobile would be important to our customers’ business operations. Our mobile app is a customer-driven development.”
A subscription to TSD’s mobile app gives rental companies access to all the app’s features including using signature capture technology, scanning vehicle inventory, checking vehicle damage and emailing and storing rental contracts.
Other major car rental software system providers offer mobile versions as well.
The Mobile Advantage
Though it took time to master the new mobile technology, Clearwater is saving money using mobile equipment — spending only about $5,000 compared to $30,000 for equipment about four years ago — and creating a more efficient rental process for its customers.
Armed with a heavy-duty carrying sleeve, each Clearwater rental agent is able to safely carry the motion tablet and help customers while on foot. And the portable Bluetooth printer conveniently straps onto the agent’s belt, says Mitchell.
Each agent can generate rental contracts electronically, take pictures of any vehicle damage and process credit cards directly from the tablet, all through TSD’s mobile app, according to Mitchell. Once the rental contract is complete, customers sign the agreement on the tablet screen, receive a digital copy or a print version from the kiosk and are on their way.
“Customers like the mobility,” says Mitchell. “The mobile device allows you to have that touchpoint and walk the car with them. It is a good customer service aspect of the business.”