NOV. LCT: Despite challenges hiring drivers, business is thriving as operators expand their services at a more measured pace.
Go With CTO?
Whether to hire a chief technology officer (CTO) depends on the size of your operation. While a large company may afford one, small- and medium- sized fleet companies may struggle with budgets.
“There are companies that have individual tech positions, but the person in that position is lacking strategy or vision,” says Richard Fertig, president of Brilliant Transportation in Brooklyn, N.Y. “There are others that, even if they had the means to hire people for such positions, wouldn’t know exactly what to do with them.”
“The latter kinds of operators are better served through alliances, platforms, and letting someone else develop technology they can just subscribe to, such as dispatching software,” he says. “I wouldn’t recommend going out and hiring a developer to create custom software. I would recommend looking at the half dozen or so that fit your company’s size and pick one. Whatever that costs, it will be more robust and faster than trying to do it yourself. I think if you are going to create technology positions, it’s critical you know why you are doing so.”
David Hirsch, president of Livery Coach Solutions, believes a designated CIO or director of technology is not necessary. “Someone on your staff does need to be fairly technologically aware of what’s out there and understand the questions that need to be asked,” he says. “It depends on the size of the operation. As a smaller operator, you wear multiple hats. But someone has to take on the [task] of understanding the risks and rewards of technology.”
In fact, that person should be you up to a point. “You need to know enough to intelligently evaluate different technology solutions, and decide what works best for your organization,” he says. “I think the days of ‘the IT guy does it all’ are gone; you have to know a little bit more than that.”
Managing With New Tech
The trick to answering this is understanding what kind of service you want to provide. “The first thing operators should do is look very closely at themselves in the mirror,” Fertig says. Think about why you are in this business. What do you enjoy about being in chauffeured transportation? What do your best clients like about you and your company?
This exercise is important when choosing tech for your business. From a vendor point of view, “we need to understand your company so we can suggest different technology that would assist you in leveraging your investment,” Hirsch says. “All of our clients are different, and therefore we can’t sell them the exact same answer. If you do a lot of groups, then you may need some group management tools, and if you do a lot of corporate you may need flight integration tools. You have to understand what technology can do, what your business is, and then the best way of applying the technology to the business.”
Just as important as taking care of your clients is trusting your employees. Rick Versace Jr., director of business development for A1A Airport & Limousine Service in Boca Raton, Fla., says technology has enabled the company to allow some managers to work from home instead at the office every day.
“You don’t need someone checking in on everyone to get something done,” Versace says. “We give everyone goals. In the past, one reservationist who has worked here for years had a baby and had to stay home but still wanted to work. Technology allowed her to telecommute.”
By doing this, the company avoids micromanaging. “We believe if we set specific goals for our team and make them very clear, there’s no need for someone to be hovering over shoulders to make sure they get the job done.”
Dan Goff, owner of A Goff Limousine and Bus Company in Charlottesville, Va., has used technology to cut the time for training new dispatchers. “We did some research and found software that gave us time and distance measurements,” Goff says. “Now, we have every zip code in three states mapped out as to what it costs and what we are going to charge the customer. Now our dispatchers just type in two zip codes, and they have prices for 14 different vehicle types. That shortened our training from three months to 14 days. It’s allowed us to grow our physical footprint, turn quotes around quickly, and know that whatever we quote, we are going to have margins that are not too thin and not too fat.”
Where To Start
All of this can be overwhelming. To succeed, you have to figure out the best way to narrow your options. “If you are going to operate in a very fast changing, dynamic environment, you have to start thinking about what you do, how you do it, why you do it, and how you can do it better, faster, and more reliably,” Fertig says. “If you don’t know how to do it yourself, find partners, providers, or software solutions.”
Bill Faeth, founder of Limo University and Inbound Marketing Agents, says you should leverage technology for three things only: gaining and retaining customers, and making your operations more efficient.
Understanding client desires is vital to helping you choose the kinds of technology to install. “You are setting the bar for what the relationship is going to be if you are fortunate enough to win their business as a customer,” he explains.
To nail this “audition,” you have to respond to inquiries as quick as possible. He suggests investing in a live chat function for your website. “You can only handle one phone call at a time if you are a client service representative,” Faeth says. If you can recruit people who type fast, they can handle three to five conversations at once. While it may not work for every business, it can provide immediate response time to the consumer. “Everything you do is an audition process,” he says. “You’re trying to acquire customers and build relationships. I don’t think that sense of urgency is taken to heart. ‘Tomorrow’ isn’t good enough.”
To narrow your search, the number one question to ask when trying to improve business management is, “What will be better for my customers?” Faeth says. “Sure, new technology in the back office will benefit you, but what affects your customers? Whatever impacts your customers is going to impact your bottom line.”
Goff urges operators to keep customer service and employee well-being in mind when buying new tech. “When a new piece of technology arrives, you don’t know how far you can squeeze profit out of it before you might start to impact customer service. Ultimately, customer service is what allows us to exist. We don’t want to stray too far from the human element before it [hurts] consumer comfort. Also, our people need human interaction to have job satisfaction and increase our retention.”
Versace believes one of the best investments is acquiring an app. “We are past the days where a company can get by saying, ‘I’ll get one eventually’ or ‘all my customers will just call.’ All those clients might want to call now, but in five years, that’s not going to happen. They’ll have adapted to booking on their phone or computer. You want to give your customers the option of doing so.”
Fertig sees tech changes as a motivator. “Some of the best opportunities come around periods of dislocation, discomfort, panic, and worry. The people who can stay focused, clear, rational, and think through it with strategic goals often come out victorious on the other side.”
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