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With each new year, the limousine and luxury chauffeured vehicle industry becomes more high tech.
The list of techno-conveniences keeps growing, with digital communications, Wi-Fi, GPS tracking and navigation systems, online reservation systems, interactive websites, and software systems becoming the most prevalent.
However, with all this new technology, many smaller “mom and pop” operations have found it difficult to get up to speed with all of this gadgetry. LCT’s Fact Book this year shows that 91% of all operators have websites; 52% offer real-time reservations on those sites; 64% use livery software. Among livery software users, only 46% of operators with 10 or fewer vehicles use software.
“Many of the older operators are either unable to learn the new technologies or unwilling to try,” says Roger Hamelin, president of Prospect Limousine Service in Prospect, Conn. “For many it’s tough enough to turn on the computer, and for others it’s just that many of the newer gadgets are too complicated.”
Hamelin cites the example of the many people who still have the time display on their DVD player flashing 12:00 because the instructions on the unit are too complicated. “Now picture these same people trying to use reservation and dispatch software,” he says. “It’s like oil and water.” With this scenario in mind, many manufacturers have created basic function technologies or even live tutorials for their products.
CAN INDUSTRY SOFTWARE ACTUALLY BE EASY?
“It’s all about creating a product that anyone can learn with little or no effort,” says Dennis Adams, President and CEO of Livery Coach Software in Malvern, Penn. “We’re in the process of creating a new product called Livery Coach Lite, which will be an easy-to-use, basic software system.” Adams says the system will be expandable so operators will be able to upgrade it as needed as they get more used to the functionality of it.
Adams adds that as technology gets more sophisticated, it also becomes easier to use. “User interface becomes more efficient with each new upgrade, which allows the controls to become more basic,” he says. “Look at how other difficult technologies have evolved into common everyday items that require no more effort than pushing a button.”
Mike “Thriller” Jackson, sales manager for LMS (Limousine Management Systems) in Whittier, Calif., says the best way to allay people’s fear of technology is to provide proper training. “We’ve restructured the training components for our software to make it so anyone can learn it,” Jackson says. “It’s a matter of offering live personalized demos using a remote Internet link-up. If a person knows how to go on the Internet, then he can learn the software.”
Jackson says the operator simply sits in front of the computer and the interactive tutorial is communicated live over the Internet. A technician on the other end can answer any questions or concerns, and remains with the client until everything is understood. “The system can also be set up as a basic installation with add-on modules that can be attached as needed or wanted,” he says. “It’s basically the art of advancement — making difficult technologies more basic.”
FINDING YOUR WAY
Another part of technology that many operators once feared was the GPS system. “GPS navigation used to be a real pain,” says Dennis Terrell, president of A Touch of Class Limousine Service in Huntsville, Ala. “Many times, they were inaccurate and difficult to use. Now they’re as easy to use as a basic cell phone.” In fact, many units, such as the TomTom and the Garmin, have been equipped with voice activation and Bluetooth systems for even easier interaction.
“The newer systems have become even more accurate,” he adds. “Even in our small market, where the old units were useless, the newer models have become quite useful.” Of course, Terrell adds that many of the companies in smaller markets don’t have as much of a need for GPS. “We really purchased the units we have for when any of our chauffeurs have to travel to markets such as Atlanta and such,” he says. “Those trips are very rare and the navigation units don’t get much actual use.”