Two company owners and a vendor dish on the digital tools to help industry members run more efficient operations.
Sami Elotmani smiles every time he notices a chauffeur sitting in his vehicle at night with his face illuminated from the glow of his iPad.
“That means he is checking his paperwork,” said the vice president of operations and director of affiliate relations at Orlando-based Destination MCO. Elotmani is glad his iPad investment — and strategy — are paying off. In fact, the company first launched its iPad initiative with 35 devices and now has more than 90 because of numerous returns on investment.
Operators nationwide are beginning to migrate from operational smartphone-based apps to iPads and tablets because they are seeing both direct operational cost savings and efficiencies coupled with indirect benefits in improved service. It’s not that operators haven’t used smatphone-based apps to improve their operations and client service. It’s that today’s apps are more functional, robust and easier to use — and read — on an iPad or tablet.
In terms of direct costs, Elotmani estimates that iPads save the company up to 8% on annual fuel costs and up to 25% savings in paper costs. It also reduces chauffeur phone calls to operations by 20%. Moreover, there are many benefits that can’t be tied to hard dollars, but operators know from feedback and observation that iPads are spurring better customer service, customer relations, and most importantly, customer satisfaction.
Eric Devlin, president of Dallas-based Premier Transportation Services, estimates he saves 10% to 15% in annual fuel costs because chauffeurs access all client information via iPads, where previously they had to go back and forth to the office for client paperwork. There are also incremental operational savings.
“When you use an iPad for signage, it saves paper and colored ink,” Devlin says. “We’re able to forward a driver signage in advance of a run, or if a change is made, we can forward new signage on the fly. All such savings reduce fuel costs and create better efficiencies because the chauffeur does not have to go back and forth to the office for paperwork, especially for airport runs that require documentation. If changes are made, or the company gets an ASAP call, the information is sent to the chauffeur and accessible on the iPad.
“Now we can shoot the chauffeurs all of their runs and they are able to view trip sheets and status of their runs, and there is no need to return to the office,” he says.
Devlin emphasizes one overarching payback of using iPads. “The real benefit is when you have six chauffeurs standing at baggage claim, and the Premier chauffeur is displaying his iPad with the client’s name and company logo scrolling across in color, and the other drivers have their clients’ names on pieces of paper, or written on the back of a McDonald’s bag (I’ve seen that …),” he says. “Which client do you think feels better about the service? There’s nothing better than getting off a plane and seeing a nicely dressed chauffeur and seeing your name and company logo scrolling across an iPad.”
Lower Cost Per Reservation
At Destination MCO, each chauffeur’s iPad is equipped with a driver app that serves as a “mini-dispatch system” customized for each chauffeur, Elotmani says. “From signage to paperwork to special requests, plus tracking and maps — everything is included in one app on the iPad. The technology reduces our overall cost per reservation. Plus, there are better efficiencies such as less office/dispatch calls because information is sent to drivers via the apps which reduce error rates. There is very little error on our side because the human factor is not as involved,” he adds. “Now the onus is on the client because they make the reservation, check it, confirm, or make changes. In the old days, all of us in the industry would send out an e-mail conversation and nobody ever responded. The client is now in control of the process and the chauffeur gets all of that information.”
Barbara Chirico, CEO of Gem Limousine Worldwide in Woodbridge, N.J., uses more than 100 iPads for her chauffeurs that give them full access to operations. “The iPads and our driver app make the job a lot easier. The biggest bonus is we have limited contact with drivers because they pretty much manage the job on their own.”
Since the iPad and app implementation, Chirico says the company has seen a decrease in chauffeur incidents and an increase in chauffeur/dispatch productivity. “It empowers the chauffeur to update ride status, waiting time, extra stops, and more, all without having to wait for dispatch acknowledgement.”
Dennis DeLoatch, executive vice president of Atlanta-based Carey Executive Limousine, uses 60 iPads in the field. “We did away with cell phones and made a major commitment in a customized app and iPads,” he says. “Our chauffeurs very rarely come in to the office because they can work electronically.” The company introduced a client app in September that is being heavily promoted to educate clients and prospects (including a promotional highway Billboard).
For example, the Carey client app, now available for iPhones and Android phones, provides easy booking features for all services. Users can book reservations, modify services, update calendars, view trip status, identify their chauffeurs, monitor vehicle status, and access receipts — all with the ease and convenience of using a mobile device.
DeLoatch estimates that up to 18% of reservations now come electronically (including both the mobile app and via the company’s website).
Carey’s two-pronged strategy of installing driver apps on iPad/tablet devices coupled with client smartphone-based mobile apps enables operators of all sizes to use technology to streamline and improve operations, communication, accuracy and service. That one-two combination delivers substantial ROI by saving money on fuel, paper and signage. Add in increased productivity, more accurate information, and faster communication with chauffeurs, the ROI increases the competitive goal of better client service.
Operators who have equipped chauffeurs with iPads report the following benefits, both in dollars saved and in improved efficiencies.
• Accuracy of data input from operations, chauffeurs and clients.
• Replaces paper for greeting signage, and is more professional.
• Saves paper and color ink.
• Customer service representatives have more time to focus on phone reservations
• iPads used to photograph/voice record vehicle walk-around inspections.
• Maintenance requests documented and sent to operations.
• Chauffeurs input log time, DOT compliance, repair/maintenance requests and time off, and perform other routine tasks.
• Company communications, notifications, policies and procedures, and reminders easily distributed to chauffeurs.
• Special client requests, requirements, destination changes, etc., continually updated for chauffeurs.
• Reduces constant and lengthy cell phone calls between operations and chauffeurs.
*More To Come
This is the first of a two-part series focused on how technology can help the chauffeured transportation industry run more efficient and profitable businesses. In next month’s issue, Part II will examine the array of emerging technology products, including and mobile apps and software oriented to the limousine industry.
Maximize Your Tablet Strategy
Operators interviewed for this article offer this advice on how you can use tablet computers to improve your service levels and logistics.
Sami Elotmani: “My advice is to put together a transition plan to implement tablets. We selected our best chauffeurs to start the initiative and they confirmed buy-in of the technology piece and that turned them into ambassadors for the company on technology. You would be surprised how willing chauffeurs are to limit calls to the office. The other point is you have to continually tweak technology to improve the user experience. Jumping into technology is a big step, but equally important is to tweak what you have invested in to get the most out of it. Also, get feedback from clients and users to see how you can improve existing technology to make it more efficient. You just can’t buy an app and let it sit. Make sure chauffeurs have a vested interest and ownership of the iPad.”
Barbara Chirico: “One import lesson learned is to make sure you do your research and see the program/app working. Go visit an operator who is using it before you invest. Also, protect your iPad. We bought protective, heavy-duty casings with hand and neck straps, which free a chauffeur’s hands to carry luggage or hold up signs without dropping it.
Dennis DeLoatch: “You have to expect glitches, so it’s important to educate and train staff and ask their opinions about using new technology. We also found that our younger drivers already familiar with technology can teach older drivers. And, of course, make sure you promote your new technologies through marketing campaigns.”
Eric Devlin: “Everything we do is trying to find opportunities to create buzz. In order to grow your business, you have to convince people they need your service, so you have to find different avenues to generate revenue. So when you implement technology — tell them about the bells and whistles — and then follow through with good service.”
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