This ongoing series will provide car rental operations best practices based on seminars presented at previous International Car Rental Shows (ICRS). The 2019 ICRS convenes April 15-17 at Paris Las Vegas.
Mobile technology is evolving rapidly, often faster than car rental companies and services can keep up. As technology continues to shape the on-demand nature of the industry, more customers, especially younger generations, are looking to make on-the-go rental reservations using smartphones or tablets.
In fact, 48% of travelers use their mobile device for the travel experience, from researching and booking to in-destination planning, according to new research from Google.
So, integrating mobile solutions is crucial for the future of rental customer development.
During a seminar at the 2018 International Car Rental Show, Shawn Concannon, executive vice president of management and software solutions company TSD Rental, advised companies to get onboard the technology train, build sustainable tech management practices, and develop an effective mobile strategy.
“Your website has got to be slick, it's got to have live availability, and it's got to have rates on it,” Concannon said during the seminar “Meeting Your Customers’ Mobile Expectations.”
“Long gone are the days of ‘we’ll send in an email request, and you’ll call me back and I’ll wait for you.’”
Streamlining the Process
Think about the amount of data car rental operators need before a customer can complete a single rental reservation. Now, look at mobile technology as the data entry point to streamlining that process.
The do-it-yourself approach of mobile devices provides customers a seamless check-in process – avoiding long lines, small talk with rental agents, or fiddling with kiosks.
“When you greet somebody with a mobile device, they feel like the process is going faster and smoother,” said Concannon. “When you have someone standing behind your counter, counting the seconds and minutes going away, it's kind of a little bit archaic nowadays, and the pressure is then on the counter agent.”
It’s all about perception. Customers want to feel like they are able to get in their car and go upon arrival.
Whether this requires your agency to inform customers via mobile device the night before or even a week prior of reservation information, it can ultimately save a lot of time in the rental process.
Create a Tailored Experience
It’s important to note that even with technology, not all customers have the same wants and needs. The switch to mobile may be beneficial for customers at one rental agency, and different for those at another.
“If you're in a niche market and your customer base is based on relationships, going mobile may hurt your business,” Concannon said. “So you really [need] to determine, ‘Is it going to improve my operational process in the business?’"
Recognition of customer expectations and feedback are two ways agencies can assess their tech management practices.
There is a reason customers are reaching out to you for a mobile experience. Concannon encourages agencies to acknowledge that by sending customers an email or text, a day or two beforehand asking them to verify their rental reservation.
Concannon also said there should be a constant feedback mechanism in place throughout the entire rental process.
“While somebody has the car, do they have the ability to give you feedback on the car? Do they have the ability to swap the car?” Concannon asks. “Can they do that through a mobile device, their own mobile device today?”
By offering a constant, convenient feedback mechanism for customers, especially if they’re already using a mobile device to access your service, agencies can minimize the amount of face-to-face interaction and also protect against damaging reviews online.
Even if the feedback is negative, “what you do with the feedback is what you do with it,” said Concannon. “But acknowledging that someone actually used your service, thank them for it, it’s a key part of the piece.”
Going All or Nothing
From facility changes and Wi-Fi availability, to making sure all staff and software vendors are onboard, employing a successful mobile plan requires a flexible management system.
Concannon said that operators need to be all in on a mobile rollout. “The worst thing you could do is pilot a mobile program with 10 cars of your 200-car fleet, and only use one service person or counter agent to do it.”
Operators should be flexible in thinking about how customers will discover their business now and in the future, while also keeping up with the latest advancements in tech — new data tracking systems, mobile apps, and even social media.
“The millennial generation is using social media four hours a day,” said Concannon. “If you can't get to them on social media, you might have a problem in the future.”
The biggest risk for adopting technology in the rental process is going mobile; it demands quick funding, extensive planning, and tech-savvy manpower. But, the cost benefits of going mobile greatly outweigh these challenges.
Assess your investment in technology with adequate tracking of return rates and customer retention. This will certainly highlight the differences between the mobile write-up process and the use of over-the-counter agents.
“You have to have the ability to reassess your plan,” Concannon said. “Just because you've written at a counter for 10 years and you've gotten away with it for the last 10 years, doesn't necessarily mean you'll get away with it in the future.”