Technology & Mobility- Reshaping the Travel Itinerary
By Gerard Insall, EVP & CIO, Avis Budget Group
We operate two of the best-known car rental brands in the world, Avis and Budget, as well as Zipcar, the world’s leading car sharing network.
Mobile apps and websites have been reshaping the mobility landscape by giving customers more control over their car rental bookings for years now. Offering these features has become a necessity as many customers find them to be a great help while traveling, and they expect to have access to this functionality. But that’s just the beginning.
Today, the customer can make, check, change, extend or cancel a booking from anywhere, at anytime. In addition, these same mobile app capabilities are available via voice recognition to provide a frictionless experience by voice activating our mobile app features.
We are partnering with digital wallet providers such as American Express, Master Pass, Apple Pay and others to offer a range of digital payment options for car rental reservations in the future. This, in turn, provides greater protection of our customer’s credit card information as it no longer requires providing the physical credit card number.
We are leveraging our partnerships with Concur and TripIt so that the customer’s travel itinerary is available in our mobile apps for a customer to complete the car rental booking with a few clicks. This system utilizes the travel dates and destination information from the itinerary and the customer’s vehicle preferences from their profile. This simplifies the car rental booking process for our corporate travelers. Our frequent travelers will also be able to save their favorite trips within the mobile app, and replicate the car rental booking with a few clicks.
Technology has also been at the center of our efforts to enhance Avis Preferred, the Company’s express rental program. Customers join for free and create a profile online that enables them to complete rental bookings faster and without having to stand in line at the rental counter. Avis Preferred customers go straight to their waiting cars and drive away faster, and they also receive rewards for their repeat business.
Payment technology allows us to simplify the Avis Preferred sign-up process by having customers link their account with digital wallets and or with corporate travel partners like Concur. These links enable customers to keep their Avis Preferred account up to date by automatically updating travel preferences, address and credit card information.
Our frequent travelers will also be able to save their favorite trips within the mobile app, and replicate the car rental booking with a few clicks
Technology also enabled the offering of Avis Preferred Select & Go, the Company’s vehicle selection service, available at top airport locations in North America, which allows customers the option to keep the car they reserved, change to another car in the same car class at the same price, or upgrade to a higher car class vehicle such as a luxury car.
Earlier this year, Avis Car Rental announced major new technology enhancements to Avis Preferred to respond to customer demand for a rewards program that is simple to understand, makes it easy to earn benefits, and has flexible redemption options. Now, Avis Preferred members are eligible to earn Avis Preferred Points — one point for every dollar they spend on vehicle rentals and two points for every dollar they spend on optional products such as GPS, satellite radio and child safety seat rentals. Earned points can be redeemed for complimentary Avis rental days, upgrades and select optional products.
Putting more information at customer’s fingertips, providing car assignments and offering other value-added services via SMS push notifications will greatly enhance the customer’s rental experience from the outset. And if a customer requires roadside assistance and uses our Avis mobile app, the app can automatically send the vehicle’s GPS coordinates (with the customer’s permission), to our roadside assistance dispatchers, who can send assistance faster to the exact location. In this way our mobile technology is not only improving the customer experience, but is also enhancing our customers’ safety.
In the future, when a customer’s travel is disrupted, Avis customers will be able to opt in through our mobile apps to receive notifications through SMS and push, which will enable them to make alternate arrangements to reach their ultimate destination. For example, a customer whose flight is cancelled due to an extreme weather will be notified in advance so the customer can extend the rental or return the car at an alternate destination.
At our busy airport locations, we are providing our rental agents with tablet apps, creating a mobile car rental checkout process that reduces counter wait times and gets customers in their vehicles and on their way to their destination faster. Our rental agents can use their tablets to come out from behind the counter and act as customer service advocates to help customers exchange or upgrade their car, as well as assist customers in familiarizing themselves with their car and their destination area.
We are also using technology to enhance the customer experience at the end of the rental. For example, we are deploying geo-fencing technology to simplify the car rental return process at busy airport locations, which will allow customers to complete the check-in without waiting for a return agent. We can utilize geo-fence capabilities when a customer is in the proximity of our location just prior to check-in to send relevant push notifications to the customer. We expect mobile technology will play a role strengthening the processes related to vehicle damage claims. And, importantly, customers will be able to provide instant feedback about the car and the rental experience through the mobile app, which enables us to constantly improve our customer service.
Technology is also enabling greater levels of self-service options for car rental customers. It will soon be possible for Avis customers who are enrolled in the Avis Preferred program to be able to complete their entire rental without having to wait in line or speak to a representative. From booking to selecting or exchanging the car at the location, to accessing the vehicle to returning the car and receiving an itemized receipt instantly via the mobile app, they have full control over their rental from anyplace at any time.
We see self-service as the future of our industry. New customers will always require personal service and attention, and we will always provide that, but tech-savvy customers and frequent travelers typically prefer to manage their arrangements by themselves.
We are constantly innovating the car rental experience by offering customers easy access to their booking details and past rentals through many mechanisms and devices such as the Apple Watch and the iPad. We expect in the future to be able to provide options to the customer to further control the car rental experience by enabling the customer to turn on Sirius XM satellite radio with the push of a button in our app, or by sending an SMS text message.