An all-tech super panel at the 2014 ILCT Show hosted by LCT Publisher Sara Eastwood-McLean (L) included (clockwise from top right): Apurva Patel, CEO of GroundWidgets, Amy Harris of Deem Ground, Chris McCrae of RideCharge/Taxi and Sedan Magic, and Doug Anderson of Limos.com.
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — The proliferation of mobile ground transportation apps sparked this warning from Chris McCrae, senior director at RideCharge/Taxi and Sedan Magic: “The past is done. . . You need to start thinking about things differently.”
McCrae’s remark was echoed by a panel of technology experts during a packed general session Feb. 18 at the International LCT Show in Las Vegas moderated by LCT Publisher Sara Eastwood-McLean.
In short, the panel advised operators that the traditional ways in which consumers and the corporate world manage transportation needs are changing. Today, the consumer and corporate traveler have the authority and control to manage their individual options via smartphones or tablets — anyplace, 24/7.
Consider that 67% of corporate travel managers want employees to be able to benefit from faster service and last-minute bookings, according to a survey of Fortune 500 travel managers presented by panelist Amy Harris, senior vice president and general manager, Deem Ground. The survey also found that 50% want their employees to receive real-time updates from transportation services that their rides are en route.
In addition, Harris pointed out that the survey indicates corporate travel managers want simplicity in that transportation apps need to be integrated with other booking tools such as OBTs (online booking tools), GDSs (global distribution systems), TNCs (transportation network companies) in a seamless app that manages all aspects of a traveler’s itinerary. If anything, the customer is pushing the technology on the industry, and the panel’s message was in sync that the smart phone is now the tool of choice for business travel. “The results found that 76% of respondents want an integrated app, and it is becoming the first-choice booking tool,” Harris added.
Apurva Patel, chairman and CEO of GroundWidgets, told operators in his opening remarks that “mobile is the future of our industry. There is no doubt.”
He explained that the shift in consumer and business expectations on the private transportation industry is already here and will have a dramatic impact on our business. “Think about it,” he said, “95% (corporate and retail) have smartphones; it is a revolution for our industry. There has been nothing like it in the history of commerce.”
Patel urged operators to embrace mobile app technology, not just for the sake of adopting new technology, but because it is a better way to engage customers 24/7. “Before mobile apps, you would have to rely on phone calls, emails, letters, and advertising to reach and engage your customers. Having a mobile app is a must for business,” he added.
Supporting Harris’ point about integration, Patel concurred that integrating mobile apps with dispatching systems and/or CRM (customer relationship management) tools is vital.
Patel referred to mobile apps as improving customer “stickiness,” adding, “We now have the unprecedented access and ability to talk to our customers about their ride experience. We can ask, respond to a question, take care of a problem, tell them where the car is, or handle ‘on demand’ orders.”
Citing the fact that there are more than 3,000-plus apps available for on-demand car service throughout the world, Patel noted that although the apps are targeting specific consumer segments — traditional taxi, black car, and share riders — what they lack is the vehicle and the driver.
Reinforcing the point that mobile apps and mobile technology are game changers, Patel made the analogy that mobile apps are similar to websites of the 1990s — an extension of your company.
McCrae added that the mobile transportation app space is crowded, and with limited real estate on a smart phone for apps, customers will only want one app that meets the needs of corporate customers and supports ASAP bookings.
Responding to the industry notion that corporate and business travelers won’t use the new wave of taxi, sedan and ride-share mobile apps for transportation, McCrae said, “Well, guess what — they do.” He added that we are in the midst of the “consumerization of business travel.”
“Look at it this way,” McCrae said.
According to a Market Research Survey of Fortune 500 travel managers, respondents reported that they expected a major shift in using on-demand mobile apps for transportation needs.
“Years ago most businesses employees were issued a Blackberry. Now companies won’t waste the money because people use their own device for personal use, travel and work because it is easier. They know the corporate travel and expense policies, so they just book a car themselves and it’s easier because they can just bounce in and bounce out without even having to use a credit card — no surprises and no surges,” he explained.
McCrae added that as more consumers embrace transportation apps, if ground service operators do not offer the technology, “they’ll find somebody who can … Business-to-business is becoming business-to-consumer and this is what is driving people to choose.” McCrae urged operators to think about how they can use technology to change their businesses to keep customers and attract new ones. “You’ll need to keep them happy with your relationship through mobile apps,” he concluded.
Harris agreed, pointing out that “ease-of-use and reliability” are the highest priorities when travel managers select a mobile app for employees, according to the survey. She also noted that an integrated app is becoming a major factor. In fact, 36% of respondents want an integrated solution for on-demand and advanced reservations, and 31% want a company that is well established in the travel management industry to enable integration with all travel and point-of-sale applications.
In order for transportation app providers to sync with the growing demand of both consumer and corporate clients for an integrated app, operators need to be aware of some of the core technology requirements that must be embedded in emerging transportation apps, Harris said.
For example, app providers will need to “operationalize” current advanced reservation systems with on-demand capabilities based on driver availability/downtime (‘distressed inventory’). Furthermore, app providers (may) need or desire the capability to have different pricing models for various service levels, and the app will need to facilitate both scheduled and on-demand customer request by returning real-time driver and vehicle status updates. Harris noted that the app should be able to handle an automated (and global) affiliate network system that supports back-office integration.
Patel added, “Mobile apps need to have a fully integrated solution to empower customers and drivers who need to stay in touch with back-office systems in order to move to a real-time, on-demand order. If you don’t do it, your customers will find somebody who will.”