Add one more uncertainty about autonomous vehicles: How do you get them to drive like locals?
What Is An App?
A mobile app (or application) is nothing more that a software program such as Word or Excel but designed to run on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. There are many places you can buy apps or download free apps such as the Apple App Store, Google Play, Windows Phone Store and others. “App” was named the word of the year in 2010 by the American Dialect Society.
Apps have evolved from the standard tools such as email, calendars and contact lists to current apps that allow you to control an entire business from your smartphone. Apps have been developed that allow us to book airline tickets and conduct everyday banking, including depositing checks. You can track a UPS package or make a reservation at a restaurant. Charles Wisnieski, CEO of Teddy’s Transportation Systems based in Norwalk, Conn., defines apps as a bunch of pull-down menus. Teddy’s touts itself as the first limousine service in Connecticut to implement a mobile app. Now, you can probably see the natural evolution of apps for the passenger transportation business. Uber created a monster app that is sweeping the world. The Uber app, developed by the founders of UberCab, connects passengers needing a ride to drivers looking for a fare. The original idea was to order a taxi from any location with the app collecting the client GPS coordinates, searching for the nearest driver via GPS, and bringing the two together quickly. Overall, limo companies and clients are connecting quicker than ever for on-demand reservations or reservations for a later date. There are tons of online sites that allow you to build your own app for free such as Appsbar.com or Appmakr.com.
Building Your Own App
You may think there is no way you could do it since you lack programming or computer skills other than using your reservations software. But it is so easy you won’t even need a “Dummies” book on this. You browse templates on the free sites (they really are free) and select the one that best serves your business. Where a template doesn’t exist for limo companies, consider looking at the templates for hotel apps. They most closely represent what we do, including taking reservations from your app. You can build a basic app in 20 minutes or spend days working on it to perfect it. You will need your logo in a digital form, photos of your cars, and basic rate descriptions. You can even add in videos if you like presenting a personal message to potential clients. But keep it clean and simple. Teddy’s mobile app has a mere six buttons on the home screen, making it super easy to conduct business. This includes a “late” button that allows a client to inform the chauffeur that a meeting has run longer than planned or there is a delay at the airport retrieving luggage.
What Can My App Do?
Your app needs to connect with your clients in as much real-time as possible. Placing a reservation is probably the most desired function for a limo mobile app user. Showing prices of different vehicle types, including photos next to a “Book Now” button, can increase sales while providing functionality. Visual images help sell products and services. Providing a button on the app that lets the client inform you when ready to be picked up at the airport curbside can dramatically improve your operations. More sophisticated apps can show a passenger exactly where their driver is on a map using GPS signals from the driver’s phone. Allowing passengers to view upcoming reservations and make changes is also a desired feature of mobile app users. You can provide final charges on an app as soon as a ride is done. Clients booking airport service can easily choose airport and airline information from simple drop-down menus, eiminating potential mistakes with airline codes.
The most important function of the app is to make it easier to do business with your company without having to call on the phone. Daniel Perez, owner of DPV Transportation in Boston, purchased his “ready-out-of-the-box” system from Create-A-Card Inc. In hindsight, Perez says he wishes he had a GPS interface to operate similar to that of Uber so he could compete with them. This is exactly what Allstate Private Car and Limousine is doing in New York. “Customers can use the app to request a car to pick them up at any location throughout the city,” says Robert Slinin, owner of Allstate Limo. “With dispatchers standing by 24 hours a day and a computerized dispatch system that tracks each car’s location in real-time, Allstate ensures customers that drivers will be on-time to take them where they need to go. Customers also have the option to choose a car on demand or schedule a car for advanced bookings.”
To Integrate or Not
One major function that operators agree upon is the ability for a client to make their own reservations from an app directly into your own livery software program. This is not a standard feature for most free apps. In non-integrated apps, when a client makes a reservation online you receive an email summarizing the details, then you manually key it in to your reservations software, and hope you have the availability to serve the order. Perez was able to integrate his app with his Limo Anywhere livery software fairly easily. The eight-year-old company runs 12 vehicles. Perez felt the $3,500 price tag was an investment in the long-term growth of his company. Allstate partnered with iRide Mobile to create its app but declined to state a cost. It obviously went for the full bells and whistle version to integrate GPS with its reservations and dispatch software.
The Learning Curve
Perez implemented his system eight months ago, and after only two weeks, he was comfortable using his new app without a lot of extensive training while his clients have commented about the ease of use as well. Users have mastered drop-down menus, and apps are based mostly on menus and multiple choices that eases learning for the consumer and the company. “Little by little we are seeing more customers use it allowing us to have less people working in the office answering phones,” Perez says.
“They are extremely intuitive and easy to use,” Wisniewski says. He explained that Teddy’s receives its orders by email and then manually keys in the data to its Voyager software system. Some internal training and changes were needed to adapt to a new method of reviewing the emails and entering the orders. This included prioritizing emails like phone calls and answering emails at the time the app order arrives based on urgency.
How To Get Your App to Clients
Perez and Wisniewski have their mobile apps prominently displayed on their website homepages with links to Apple’s App Store and Google Play, making it simple to obtain the app. “You need to let people know you have it by advertising it on your website, brochures and print materials,” Perez says. DPV is considering offering a discount to those clients who book through the app rather than calling by phone to encourage usage. Wisniewski places great value in having “real estate” on the users’ phone because the Teddy’s logo is seen by the user creating top-of-mind marketing awareness. Making your app available on the App Store and Google Play with good keywords also can help people locate your app. Be sure to include your city or metropolitan area in a description of your app.
Convenience for Retail and Corporate Clients
Apps are not just a tool for corporate clients. As Generations Y and X take over from Baby Boomers as the predominant users of chauffeured service, we must realize they have come to expect convenience. From ordering a pizza from Dominos to sending flowers, members of Generation Y are smartphone lovers who shun talking on the phone in favor of placing orders online and avoiding chatter. While the corporate user may use the app more frequently, even occasional travelers have hotel apps such as Marriott in their suite of apps just for those times they need a hotel room. Promoting your app to both segments of society can help you grow your business just by keeping up with trends in the marketplace. Think about how convenient it is for a passenger arriving at the airport to be able to open your app and see via GPS the exact location of the pick-up location. Being able to press a button to indicate the client is running late without having to step out of a meeting to call a car service offers tremendous convenience for the client, the company and the chauffeur.
If you are a provider in a network, such as BostonCoach, Leros Point-to-Point or Savoya, the networks already have mobile apps. So the work for your service area is going to come to you whether you have your own app or not. You might want to consider this if you are a smaller company that provides corporate service almost exclusively through network farm-in work. Why reinvent the wheel if you don’t need to? Check with your networks to see what they are using. There are many different apps out there whose managers are trying to develop new networks of clients and need you just as much as you might need them. Without affiliates in every city, they won’t be an effective choice for clients, so don’t hesitatate to join. If you choose to affiliate with an app provider network such as Limos.com, make sure they require all members to be fully licensed operators with the proper insurance and requirements for drivers. “Unlike other mobile apps of its kind, the Allstate Limo app assures customers they are riding with properly trained and licensed drivers [who] conform to the insurance regulations promulgated by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission,” Slinin says.
The jury is still out on whether apps save limo operators a lot of money. Perez emphasizes that his internal operational costs have declined because of fewer inbound calls because people are placing reservations through the mobile app. “The procurement departments have asked their younger employees to download the app to their phones,” says Perez of his corporate accounts. Slinin echoed the cost savings by reducing the number of phone operators needed to answer phones and emails. Wisniewski, however, so far doesn’t see any savings except the time a client needs when ordering services.
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