Rental car companies compete for customers’ attention on much more than price. In its 20th year, the 2015 North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study ranked pick-up and return processes as the second and third most important factors in determining customer satisfaction (after cost and fees). The rental car pick-up and return processes are particularly painful for customers, and collectively represent a great opportunity for rental agencies to use technology to streamline and speed up transactions.
For the average traveler, plane flights and airports aren’t much fun. It’s a rat race complete with heavy lifting, anxious waiting and harried customer service reps. The last thing anyone needs after surviving the baggage claim hustle is to stand in another long line at the car rental desk. In 2014, JD Power clocked the average wait time at an average of 43.4 minutes. Using advanced scanning solutions, data entry time at pick-up can be reduced significantly.
When deployed at customer service desks and self-service kiosks, ID scanning technology captures data from drivers’ licenses and passports, auto-populating digital forms and databases. This cuts down on customer and agent input errors and eliminates the need for cumbersome paper forms. Scanning solutions recognize IDs from all 50 states and 90 different countries, a significant benefit in an era of unprecedented global travel. In addition, these scanning solutions authenticate IDs instantaneously via connections to third-party databases, thereby reducing fraud (and again reducing transaction time).
Reducing the time required for routine transactions means shorter lines at rental agencies, and the ability to process more rentals per day, both of which lead to competitive advantage. If you consider that an agency can complete as many as 400 transactions per day, even shaving two minutes off each interaction (results documented at agency in international airport) adds up to more than 13 hours saved.
Taking pressure off overworked desk agents leaves more time and energy for pleasant customer interactions and better handling of exceptional cases, which in turn boosts overall customer satisfaction ratings. Having scanning and self-service technology in place supports better agent performance, which can make wait times appear shorter: studies have shown customers who are greeted with a smile perceive their wait time as being almost 10 minutes shorter than those not greeted with a smile.
As the millennial demographic (born 1980-2000) spends increasing amounts of time and money on travel for both business and pleasure, their preferences have greater influence on agencies’ approach. Millennials are a close second to boomers in overall rental business (34 percent vs. 40 percent) and to Gen X in business travel (39 percent vs. 43 percent). But far more millennials (47 percent) post online reviews than Gen Xers (27 percent) or boomers (10 percent). They’re much more likely to post positive than negative reviews, and they teach other generations about using technology to make life easier.
So, if rental agencies can provide an optimal customer service experience to millennial travelers, they win free marketing, word-of-mouth referrals and a large following of loyal customers. There are 80 million potential customers in the millennial demo, and by next year, they will outspend boomers. As they age into full career and family mode, their spending will continue to increase.
Millennials show a strong preference for self-service options (think online transactions, keyless hotel entry, remote check-in, lobby kiosks). (See “2016 Is The Year Of The Millennial Customer: Is Your Customer Experience Ready?” by Micah Solomon, Nov. 14, 2015. Forbes.) As these options become more widespread in airports, hotels and even restaurants and shops, customers will come to expect them and be annoyed when they are not available.
Scanning and self-service solutions also address many challenges (other than long lines of grumpy customers) faced by rental agencies: fraud, language barriers, input errors, staff and space constraints (kiosks can replace agents and desks) and integrated consumer data collection for marketing and loyalty programs.
A fairly simple step toward streamlining transactions with technology solutions can have a cumulative impact that simultaneously makes for happier customers and more efficient operations. And everybody likes a win-win.
Bruce Ackerman is EVP of Global Sales for Acuant. He has over 25 years’ experience in successfully building sales teams and growing the sales of companies. He was part of the sales team at World-Check that successfully grew sales to a point where they were subsequently acquired by Thomson Reuters. Prior to that, he was part of ABN, where he led the SOC program in partnership with the USPS, taking annual sales to $1 billion.