The technology sections of LCT’s most recent Fact Book shows 50% of operators surveyed still fail to take advantage of the Internet and online reservation booking technologies.
If you are among these operators, this article will help explain the advantages of moving to web-based reservations.
Such operators are missing a significant revenue and reservation resource. Many millions of reservations are being booked online with transportation companies each year.
A web reservation system is an Internet site that presents fares and vehicle service options to clients and allows them to place an actual online reservation and complete payment. A form on a website, where clients are submitting a request for information or rates, is not considered an online reservation system. Here are 12 reasons why you should consider putting the power of the Internet to work for your business:
1) A company website is not required in order to accept online reservations. A web reservation provider will build the site and tools you need to accept online reservations. If you already have a website, all you will need to do is add a link from your home page that will take your clients to the Internet reservation system.
2) Web reservations can be integrated with your office database. This means that reservations that are booked online can be automatically downloaded into your back office system. Ask your office software provider for help with this. There’s no problem if you do not have a back office system. Most Internet reservation systems can stand alone. You simply log in to a website and retrieve or download reservation details. Most stand-alone systems will email you with alerts when new reservations have been made.
3) Web reservations are inexpensive. Think of a web reservation system as a vast team of multilingual reservation agents on duty 24 hours a day. They don’t get sick or take vacations and they work on holidays. Most providers of web reservation systems charge a small monthly fee for the use of their system and/or a minimal commission per transaction. Review the cost and fee structures carefully, but generally when you compare the costs, you will find that they are substantially less than the typical agent-entered reservation. Most estimates for the cost of an agent entered reservation are from $8-$12, which includes salary, benefits, payroll taxes, utilities, etc.
4) Web reservations can reduce overhead. As a follow-on to the point above, if you can convert your phone, e-mail, and fax-based reservations to web reservations, you will be able to reduce the number of office staff that are required to be working at any one time to enter reservations into your system. If staff and cost reductions are not a concern, then diverting phone reservations to the Internet will allow your staff to re-focus their time and efforts on elevating customer service levels or other internal tasks.
5) Increased accuracy and speed. When clients place web reservations, they typically take 90-120 seconds to book a round trip (two reservations) to the airport. If the web system stores profile information and remembers previous visitors, that time can be cut in half as the system knows their address, contact information, and preferred payment methods. When clients enter their reservation details, the likelihood of miscommunication and transcription errors is eliminated. If there is ever a question about the accuracy of the reservation details, it falls back to the client.
6) Clients can manage their own reservations. Most web reservation systems permit clients to login and then manage their reservations. If there is a change in flight details, for example, this can be managed by the client without involving a reservations agent. Giving clients greater control and responsibility for their own details tends to reduce the number of missed pickups and no-shows. Also, clients often can log in and issue themselves pre-travel confirmations or post-travel receipts. Corporate travel managers can have the ability to login to the system and monitor or manage their company’s reservations, saving time and phone calls to a call center.
7) Reserve to capacity without overbooking. Whether it is an airport, hourly, or point-to-point reservation, your web reservation system can check instantly for availability before accepting a client reservation. Many systems have this function. When the client specifies the type of service (airport, as-directed, etc.) and the date and time of travel, the web system can validate, in real-time, whether you have seats/vehicles available. In this scenario, if sedans are already reserved, the client may be presented with other vehicle options (e.g. van, limousine). If you are doing a shared ride or coach service, the system should be able to determine the number of remaining seats available, and allow only that number of seats to be sold. This maximizes your revenue and vehicle usage.
8) Web systems remember to “upsell” your clients. When using a web reservation system, the passenger typically sees a list of the different vehicles and fares available to them. A passenger may easily consider upgrading to an executive sedan or limousine from an economy car when they see it as an option. Whereas your reservations agent may forget to mention the additional vehicles available, your web system never forgets. This is also a very effective way to promote and educate your clients regarding new vehicle types that may have been added to your fleet. Internet shoppers will often consider selecting an upgrade when one is presented while these same people tend to “resist” the sales efforts of a telephone agent.
9) A web reservation system gives you a “global” appearance. Whether your fleet size is five or 500, a web-reservation system gives clients the impression you are a substantial business. Web reservation sites may be translated into multiple languages, allowing non-English speaking companies and travelers to reserve with your company. Confirmations and receipts can be easily generated back to the client in their native language. While the website displays reservation details in other languages, the details all come to you in English. A few web reservation systems also will handle currency conversion for you. This would allow clients to reserve and pay in their familiar local currency (e.g. Euros, Pounds Sterling, etc.), yet the system will send you all reservation details and proceeds in dollars.
10) Customized web systems increase client loyalty. When you offer your corporate or hotel account a slightly customized web reservation site that has their company logo, colors and language, they tend to feel that it is “their” reservation system, rather than that of the transportation company’s system. When the customized “portal” looks and feels like their own, accounts will use it more often — increasing the number of reservations booked with your company and making your system preferable to those of competitors.
11) Capture payment in advance. Most all web reservation systems can be connected to online credit card processors. This allows the transportation provider to either pre-qualify or pre-charge the person who books online. The result is that the web reservations you receive have either been pre-authorized or prepaid. This eliminates the number of credit card declines your office handles while reducing charge backs. People who place a transportation reservation by telephone expect to be charged at or after the time of service. People who shop for goods and services online (including hotels, airlines, car rentals, etc.) expect to be charged at the time of purchase. This can help an operator reduce receivables by collecting funds in advance of client travel.
12) Web reservation systems are secure. When capturing private details and data about your clients, including names, address, phone, email, credit card, and other billing information, this must be done over a secure Internet connection, i.e. the site URL begins with https://. Any information which is entered on a site that begins with the normal http:// is transmitted in the open and subject to interception. A good web reservation service will ensure that ALL your business and client data, including payment transactions, remains encrypted and secure.
TIPS: How To Drive Your Business To The Web
The following suggestions can help you drive more clients to your web reservation system; offer a savings, discount or other benefit to those who book online; and then promote it repeatedly.
• In your recorded phone greeting, include: “Thank you for calling ACME limousine. For our best pricing, please reserve online at www.acmelimo.com. To talk with our reservations staff, press 1…”
• When your reservations agents are taking calls from clients, they can gently offer at the end of the call: “Don’t forget, you can make your next reservation on our website at www.acmelimo.com and save a few dollars, or earn points toward free travel.”
• In any confirmation, invoice, newsletter or other document that goes out to clients, ensure you are mentioning that “Our best pricing is available online.”
• Consider offering a Frequent Rider Program for those that use the Internet to make their reservations. For example: “Reserve online and earn one frequent rider point. When you have accumulated 10 points, you will receive a $50 discount on your next reservation.”
If you are now a bit more receptive to the concept of Internet-based reservations for your business and are interested in investigating if this is a good fit for your company, call software/technology providers. Then look carefully to ensure their system fits your current and anticipated needs. If you don’t have a technology provider, the Suppliers Directory of the June 2009 LCT Fact Book is the best place to start. Look in the Software and Technology listing. Soon, you may be able to claim that a significant percentage (25-35% or more) of your reservations are coming to you via the Internet.
Lyndy Burnham is in special projects, product development, documentation, and marketing at The Hudson Group, based in Boston. He can be reached at Lyndy.Burnham@hudsonltd.com and www.thehudsongroup.com