Douglas Schwartz (l) and Mark Gentry (r).
As the Fast40 seminar at the LCT Leadership Summit approaches, I’ve been having operators posit questions to industry experts to help them gain insight into different aspects of their limo business.
Recently, Douglas Schwartz of Executive Limousine in Bellmore, N.Y., wrote some questions asking how technology can best be put to use in today’s limo fleets to help maximize efficiencies during operations.
Mark Gentry, president of Limo Anywhere, wrote out some general guidelines for limo operators to keep in mind when it comes to using technology for their business.
Here is their Q&A:
Schwartz: What are some examples of products and services that are useful but often operators don’t take advantage of?
Gentry: The two that are most obvious to me in terms of low usage but high business value are driver apps and automated customer notifications (primarily text and e-mail), which are completely intertwined. In 2015, it’s tough to compete if you can’t give consumers real-time visibility into the ride – and these two products are your best friends when it comes to providing that information to clients.
Automated or scheduled notifications are important. They allow you to send updates for things such as a booking confirmation, when driver is on the way and on location, and for receipt at the end of the ride, and no additional human intervention is required. As soon as you update the trip in your software, the notification goes out automatically.
The driver app streamlines the otherwise very manual process of managing trip data between dispatchers and drivers and it’s the easiest way to gather and centralize the data that consumers want to see. GPS, status updates, billing info, and more – all automatically sent back to dispatch.
One of the biggest challenges we face is trying to adapt “old-school” processes to “new-school” technology. What’s your take on this, and what advice can you offer?
First, if you are still managing your business by phone, pen, and paper, it’s a great time to start taking a look at technology options. Even for the startup operator, technology is an invaluable tool.
For those that are already leveraging a technology solution, two things really stand out to me, and that’s the low penetration of the online reservation systems (for every operator) and passenger mobile apps (for larger operators). And by penetration I don’t just mean operators purchasing the products, but also adoption within the end customer base.
There is a very large cohort of customers – including Millennials, time-challenged business travelers, and harried executive assistants - who simply do not want to call for rides, or are only doing it because they haven’t seen the ease of booking a good website or app provides. So operators are either missing rides, frustrating customers, or the cost per booking is inflated – none of which are good problems to have in what has become a hypercompetitive marketplace. And today, the good online reservations systems help you compete for corporate business as well: there is no better way to win over a travel manager or executive assistant than to show them a slick ride dashboard where they can watch all of their travelers’ ongoing rides and manage their passenger profiles and spend levels.
Pushing these products into a customer base takes a concerted effort over a long period of time – evolving the product and promoting usage / marketing the benefits to your customer base – but that effort pays off in the long run.
What are you seeing around the ways people use data to grow their businesses?
I think most operators have a good handle on the meat-and-potatoes when it comes to data and customer analysis – understanding how frequently retail customers and corporate accounts book with them, what the lifetime value of the customer or account is, and how that compares to the cost per acquisition. I’ve also noticed that most operators I speak with do a good job of understanding corporate account “health” and where missed opportunities might lie – data points such as whether you’re getting good penetration into the account in terms of rides and active employees, and whether you’re servicing all of the markets where employees travel.
That said, sometimes it can be hard to consistently execute the action step on certain items. For example, in my experience, the most successful operators constantly adjust their marketing spend levels and messaging on a channel-by-channel basis. They maintain very aggressive e-mail marketing and retention programs, and they consistently run targeted digital promotions to up their utilization and stay in front of customers. It can be hard to stay diligent with this, but in an age where search engine marketing interfaces are intuitive and free, and e-mail marketing can be done via cheap services such as MailChimp, it’s not as hard or time-consuming as it sounds.
On the operations side, data-driven management is still quite underpenetrated. Driver scorecards and affiliate scorecards are an absolutely critical best practice for any mid-sized or large limousine operator. Tracking number of jobs, on-time percentage and how well drivers are using your driver app are huge benefits – you’ve got to know who your workhorses are and who is delivering the consumer experience you want. And if you really invest the time, you can even work with your affiliates to only have rides served by certain drivers whom you approve and who are delivering that experience as well. But it’s even more valuable if you can tie a driver’s performance to customer satisfaction – that is, collecting driver ratings on every ride, collecting net promoter scores on every ride, and tracking that back to each driver on a per-ride basis. If you can do any or all of these things, your ride quality will take off. And if you have the tools in place (a driver app and management software that collect the driver data points, and a customer app or e-mail process that collects the customer data points), it’s not as difficult as you might think – and it’s worth teaching an employee to run that analysis frequently.
The best brands in this industry employ full-time analytics employees to organize data into meaningful relationships which business owners can use to make decisions. While that’s not an option for everyone, basic analytics are certainly a best practice, and something that becomes easier everyday as technology advances.
As a limo operator, it’s hard to keep up with all of the new technology out there, not to mention the best way to leverage it to help grow my business. What’s the best option for the operator who doesn’t have a dedicated executive who can constantly review the market for new products and services to keep up?
I’d give three broad pieces of advice for the smaller, time-strapped operator.
First, centralize your core technology services with one vendor if you can – find a company who can offer a passenger app, website and online reservations system, management software, and driver app.
Second, look for a provider who is committed to updating and innovating and can prove it to you.
Third, ensure you take the time to really learn the product you are using. If the best investment you made is the technology itself, the second-best is in the training, in whatever format your vendor provides it. Often operators don’t use their technology products to their fullest potential, even as it relates to free services – and trust me, as a technology vendor, there’s nothing more frustrating than that.