Can the car rental business be reinvented? It’s been done before! Every major multinational car rental company has dabbled with a self-serve kiosk, spending millions in research and development, software and hardware.
Long before the airlines perfected their check-in terminals at airports using kiosks, car rental companies envisioned a self-serve machine that would alleviate the dreadful lines at airports’ peak times. A gold rush ensued to be at the forefront of innovation.
Yet today, while most majors offer kiosk service in various forms, the percentage of transactions done through kiosks is still small.
First-generation machines offered keyboards that required clients to type in their credentials. They later had touch screens — imagine keying in data from a driver’s license one letter or number at a time! Clients were quizzed and funneled through more than 20 decisions, ranging from additional drivers to coverage to upgrade options and more.
What was supposed to be a time-saving, innovative solution soon became a frustrating experience.
The traveling public in the ‘90s and into the last decade was immature when it came to this type of technology. For years (and in some cases until today), airline staff were hovering on standby to assist clients on using kiosks for simple tasks such as printing boarding passes. Even the gizmo-loving types struggled.
In the case of car rental, the questions were many: “Er….wait what happens if I….?” and “Does the coverage I bought….?” Before you knew it, you were back at the line waiting to speak to a real person at the rental counter to get an answer to your very important question.
We often forget that the car rental agreement is a complex document, especially for the inexperienced renter. And it gave the rental companies pause knowing that a machine is handling the transaction of a $25,000 asset while the company is collecting a few hundred dollars or less for the service.
A Sales Drop
When it came to incremental sales, clients were presented with a dozen random text-on-screen options followed by “accept/decline,” and almost 100% chose to “decline” all. Without a live agent able to understand body language and the purpose of the rental, incrementals disappeared, cutting sales in half and putting a serious dent in profits.
As fast as the kiosks were installed, the faster management unplugged them when they saw their numbers fall like a comet to earth.
Without a membership program or a live agent interaction, security was a big issue. Organized crime rings were quickly beating the system. They could easily impersonate a renter with fake documentation, and vehicles would be on their way to the port and into a container destined eastward.
Most executives and visionaries gave up. The few that didn’t went back to the drawing table. Second-generation kiosks with live agent and dual interactive screens were born. This improved the user’s experience tremendously. Renters now get answers to their questions immediately just as they would at the counter. Best of all, the agent is back in control of the process and incremental sales are back on the table.
Today, interactions with intelligent kiosks are everywhere. For example, Case Financial Bank now offers an interactive screen with live agent technology. Banks in the U.S. and elsewhere have already moved into transactions using 3-D imaging and communications and will soon serve you remotely in the comfort of your home or business.
Nonetheless, in spite of this new technology, kiosks in car rental still haven’t caught on.
Two years ago, Globe Car Rental saw a prime opportunity at a time when others were already losing patience. We embarked on the challenge to repackage the kiosk solution locally and invest into taking it across Canada. But first, we needed to understand why others failed.
The first realization was a common, unsurprising problem — we found most call center customer service experiences to be awful. Agents were ill-trained and puzzled at simple and routine questions. The experience was something akin to “just take the car and go,” without an offering of coverage or other ancillary products and no return instructions. Nada.
At Globe, we cherry-pick our best car rental agents; they have already passed a typical call-center aptitude test and have surpassed their GSEi (Globe Service Excellence index) by 87%. These superior performers then go through rigorous training on both sides of the machine, including taking a written exam of more than 30 questions and getting grilled by mystery shoppers. Only the fittest survive.
After implementation, Globe’s kiosk agents have achieved an 85% satisfaction rating over the past six months, which sends a strong signal that we are moving in the right direction.
We then set about contracting the job from a U.S.-based computer hardware, software and electronics company. From the outside, a project of this magnitude would seem daunting, and it is. But being a small company worked to our advantage — we are agile and able to make quick decisions, led by a strong IT and marketing team.
The Key Question
The second issue was keys. Other car rental agencies’ kiosk systems had a very painstaking solution for keys, especially at non-airport locations involving third-party personnel, where we found it took an average of 22 minutes just to get the keys and the car. The jockeys at hotels and garages didn’t care about the car rental client because it was a headache for them. Why should they? Car rental clients never tip the driver.
Feeling abandoned, the client was often back at the kiosk or counter complaining about the process, damages, the gas level, the key return and a dozen other issues.
Globe embarked on customizing a separate key dispensing machine that is deployed near every kiosk. Clients press their unique codes, and the keys drop like a can of Pepsi. It’s easy to use and does not require an app to download.
The third issue was getting out of the parking lot. Harsh Canadian weather calls for underground parking. Currently, Globe Car Rental is the only company with customized kiosks that are able to dispense garage exit passes directly into the hands of clients with a click of a button.
The last issue was security. Globe’s vehicles have theft deterrent stickers on the windows, warning thieves of technology in the cars that they won’t be able to tamper with. Furthermore, at the kiosk, everything is recorded via audio and video.
In March 2015, Globe deployed three of its first car rental kiosks in Montreal. Five are in operation today, both in-store and at standalone locations. Four more kiosks are slotted by the end of year in Montreal, while 20 are planned for Ottawa and Toronto in 2016.
Globe believes this initiative will expand its reach through partnerships with hotels, shopping malls, parking garages, universities, hospitals, dealerships, body shops and other interaction points.
The future? Five years or so from now our industry will likely see mobile phone authentication, Apple Pay, digital car keys and other innovations — making the car rental process even easier and making the kiosk perhaps disappear altogether. Until that happens in a sustainable way, Globe is geared to take advantage of available technologies in the current marketplace.