Technology

Friendly Tech: Can Technology Actually Be Easy to Learn?

Wayne Blanchard
Posted on October 1, 2008
The push-to-talk and other easy-to-use features make the NEXTEL i870 phone a must-have for any limousine operator.
The push-to-talk and other easy-to-use features make the NEXTEL i870 phone a must-have for any limousine operator.

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.”

COMMUNICATION HAS NEVER BEEN EASIER

When people begin to talk about digital communications, the Apple iPhone or the Blackberry comes to mind. However, there are other ways to communicate than these more expensive and sometimes complicated systems. In fact, most of those units are no more than play-pretty gadgets for people wanting to possess the latest fad contraptions.

Companies such as NEXTEL offer cellular phones that have clear digital communication with the added feature of the “push to talk” walkie-talkie style systems. “Companies such as the limousine and other transportation-based businesses love the direct-connect feature of our phones,” says Tamara Moody, a NEXTEL sales agent in Atlanta. “This feature is an amazing tool that can assist instantaneous communication across any distance.”  

Although NEXTEL pioneered the push-to-talk system, other cellular carriers now offer that same feature. Verizon Wireless has just released a new wave of ad campaigns to promote its new communication system. “Technology just seems to be getting easier and easier,” Jackson says. “It’s getting to the point to where even the least tech-savvy individual can work the new systems with ease.” 

NOT ALL TECHNOLOGIES ARE FOR EVERYONE

When you talk about the benefits of technology, not everyone agrees about its usefulness.  Many high-tech gadgets give you that ease of operation and the ability to grow. However, not everyone wants the same thing. 

“I always hear about the benefits of industry software,” says Dennis Terrell, president of A Touch of Class Limousine in Huntsville, Ala.  “I hear about operations that wish to grow, expand and enter into different markets. But that’s not the direction that I want to head in.”

 

Terrell says that he has been more than satisfied with being a smaller limousine operator working in a smaller market. “It’s a manageable size company where I can operate my business without the aggravation of growing pains,” he says.  “I’ve been booking, dispatching, and billing the same way for 20+ years and it works for me.” His company, which consists mostly of retail work, has a reputation for personalized service with a southern flair. 

This recipe has worked well for his company and his clients. “Why would I want to change something that works so well for me? My system is easy and I don’t have to keep purchasing upgrades, new hardware, or other equipment.” Terrell does advise, however, that if an operator wants to grow, expand, or increase a client base, then industry software is one of the ways to get there.

 

Another pitfall of the more complicated equipment involves your clients. Many operators choose fancy entertainment systems for the limousine passenger area. Although this equipment looks rather impressive, most of it is actually rather intimidating and complicated to operate.  

“We had a stereo in the rear of one of our stretches that was so tough to operate that many clients would get angry because they couldn’t get the music to play or change,” says Roger Hamelin, president of Prospect Limousine in Prospect, Conn.

 

Hamelin suggests that operators should avoid the fancy systems and stick to the high-quality units with more basic controls. “Not only are the more complicated systems more costly and more difficult to operate, they’re also easier to break and that costs more money.

Related Topics: communications, gadgets, GPS Navigation, Livery Coach Software

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