Car rental brands need to refine and digitize the customer experience they provide—otherwise they will not be ready to develop into the mobility providers of tomorrow.
To win in this new, more extensive playing field, businesses need to stretch beyond their current comfort zones to participate in new value opportunities.
By 2030, the concept of private vehicle ownership will be nearly a thing of the past, according to predictions of The World Economic Forum. Experts are calling it the “rentership society” which is driven by Millennials and Generation Zers who are less inclined to own things and would much rather take part in shared economies and pay for services instead.
The convergence of the automotive and the mobility industries promises major changes. Powerful forces are driving this shift, including social, economic, and demographic disruptions enabled by technological innovations. But in this whirlwind of change, car rental brands ought not to forget the experience they deliver to their current customers—as those that do remain attentive to these customers will be the ones who will make it to the age of mobility providers.
In the midst of the global shared economy, stands the car rental industry. As new options emerge, the customer management expertise of car rental companies has become more relevant than ever. Decades of customer management experience, a loyal customer base, ownership of vehicles, and the knowledge of how to maintain them gives today’s car rental industry a competitive edge in the emerging smart mobility space.
But something is missing
With today’s advanced technology, fleets can achieve greater efficiency, lower operating costs, and greater customer satisfaction. Those who wish to remain relevant and lead the smart transport revolution, are not only looking to fit their businesses to the new ways that people are getting around, but are also looking for ways to leverage new technologies in the market and operate their existing business in a way that is more efficient and that provides a better experience for their customers.
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One of the areas that has progressed dramatically in the past few years is the availability of multiple data sources due to connectivity, and machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies that provide valuable insights out of it.
Just as real-time data analysis can provide driving advice, it can also help match the right car to each customer. As a result, each customer can receive a vehicle that has been specifically assigned to their needs while taking into account various different parameters such as pick-up time, car type, destination, and even specific requirements such as child car seats, racks for carrying sports equipment and even snow tires.
Why customer experience is key
Car rental companies are in a transformative stage, and are looking to provide an experience that will place their customers first and maintain a long-term relationship with them. New tech can help create this experience by predicting customer preferences and offering recommendations based on them.
One can debate how far these use cases can go, but it’s clear that there’s a big learning curve. Companies that will start using the technologies that enable personalization, usage prediction, and automation which rely heavily on tech will gain a huge advantage in learning the friction points early on and being prepared to lead the market when autonomous vehicles become part of our daily routine.
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While autonomous vehicles, connectivity, electrification, and shared mobility (ACES) will ultimately compel fundamental changes across any OEM’s business model (original equipment manufacturer) its customer experience performance must advance to reflect these changes as they occur.
Various industry sources suggests that millennial's will represent more than 45 percent of the potential car-buying cohort in 2025. They will thereby form the largest new-car-purchasing demographic, making it paramount that OEMs understand their preferences and adapt to them. That is why, over the next five to ten years, automotive players need to look beyond the automotive industry to anticipate the needs of this first generation of integrated-mobility customers.
A good place to start looking for inspiration is the consumer-tech sector, where companies such as Airbnb, Amazon, Lyft and Uber keep raising the bar on what a best-in-class digital customer experience looks like. Today, it includes a seamless and reliable service, competent advisory functions, personalized omnichannel communication, 24/7 support, and relevant social-media marketing.
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The automotive industry has adapted more slowly to these new customer-experience realities than other sectors due to the size of typical OEMs, their complex sales and service networks of independent dealers, and fear of cannibalization.
As a result, the automotive customer experience can often feel outdated and inferior, especially for younger customers, who seem to be losing interest in car ownership and prefer more convenient and flexible mobility options such as ridesharing which might lead to totally new mobility concepts.
Time consuming car service & repairs
A good example for the current disconnect between what customers expect and what they get to experience is vehicle service: rather than a proactive, routine, and seamless experience with benefits such as feature updates, the car-service experience is often a hassle involving nebulously high cost and a serious time commitment that is difficult to plan.
Consumers spend about 15 hours buying a new car but as much as 50 hours having it serviced during the time of ownership.
That makes the service-related process crucially important from a customer experience perspective, since selling the next car to a satisfied customer is far more cost effective (and easier) than selling one to someone new to the brand.
It is likely that the next customer generation, accustomed to instant gratification in the digital space, will potentially opt out of car ownership altogether if it entails a time-intensive and inconvenient service experience.
Common pain points in the current service process include appointment making (which can require numerous phone calls), vehicle drop-off and pickup (waiting times at arrival often exceed ten minutes), and a lack of transparency regarding service completion status, pickup availability, and expected cost.
Now, imagine an entirely different service experience.
These might include either pickup and delivery by the dealership, or self-drop-off and waiting while having lunch at the dealership, or a pre-ordered car-sharing vehicle as a replacement.
If the car needs additional repair digital solutions allow dealers to send videos and explanations to the customer’s smartphone and give a recommendation without losing time or creating any friction.
Likewise, a customer no longer has to wonder when her vehicle is ready for pickup. She receives automatic updates on her smartphone, along with mobility options to get to the dealer. Dealers might even bundle this service as part of a “carefree” package, where the customer pays a monthly fee to cover the vehicle’s lease rate, insurance, and service.
The good news is that some changes can have a sizable effect when it comes to improving customer experience.
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Businesses can deploy existing third-party digital tools that facilitate appointment making or check-in and check-out processes including payment options to provide even greater convenience for customers. These types of integrated solutions enable employees to devote more attention to customers instead of having to complete administrative tasks at their touch points.