Nick Kokas of Brentwood’s DET hosted a panel of industry tech titans to discuss the future of the industry.

Nick Kokas of Brentwood’s DET hosted a panel of industry tech titans to discuss the future of the industry.

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — At the 2019 LCT East Show, Nick Kokas of Brentwood’s DET moderated a panel consisting of industry tech providers Sean Arena of Limo Anywhere, Chip Bowman of Livery Coach Solutions, and Amir Zafar of Gridd Technologies. The goal of the session was to discuss pressing issues affecting the luxury transportation world and how technology can help improve ways of conducting business.

Solving Usage

Q: What aspects of technology available today do you feel are not used enough by your customer base?

Arena agreed industry software is not being used to its fullest potential and gave the example of the Limo Anywhere driver app. “It's amazing when you poll, how many people still refer to or lean on phone, text, email, and scheduled messaging back-to-back.”

Being able to arm your CSRs with ways to give accurate rates is vital to being efficient. Limo Anywhere’s smart book feature is apt at being able to prepopulate various rates based on what’s being typed and recognizing what someone is looking for based on the syntax being used.

“Giving reservation agents a range of rates for any given price quote so they’re never caught off guard and can address those on-the-fly will only help enhance your professional image.”

He said it's amazing how many customers they’ll talk to who lack full coverage rates on their websites, or who do not want to show rates on their websites. “I can't imagine the last time I ever ordered something online without seeing the price. So, it’s clearly important.” While he agrees there should be more training events to help educate the user base, he also believes you get out of it what you put into it.

"Would you buy something and voluntarily only use 30% of the features? Probably not. Software's no different from that perspective, so you’ve got to put in the time. I would also encourage us as leaders in this industry to elevate ourselves in terms of ensuring we understand broader technological trends, whether it's digital disruption, digital transformation, or digital media.”

Bowman said underusage is something the industry has struggled with over the years, and Livery Coach has had a three-pronged approach to combat it. “We offer training academies or annual boot camps like what Limo Anywhere has done. We've been doing that for five or six years. We have always offered onsite training for our clients who we could send a consultant out to come help solve that business challenge. Then we send out weekly tech tips that highlight a particular feature we think may be beneficial.”

Zafar’s company is attempting to bridge the gap between all the different reservation platforms, which has been something needed in the industry for a long time. He says it's important when you work with partners and customers to know the location of cars. Another piece missing is rates.

“As we make reservations, humans are double-checking and validating them, but as the number of trips grows, we will continue to see more automation being built into reservation systems. You're talking about hundreds of reservations a day that are going to come through automated, and you need to make sure humans aren’t holding them up.” This is an area that can use streamlining.

Kokas echoed this point when he asked the audience how many of them picked up a phone to make their hotel reservation for LCT East and/or to book their flight to and from the event. Most didn’t raise their hands. “So why do we think it's good enough for our customers to pick up a phone and call and book our transportation?” he asked.

“The answer is, it's not acceptable, and that's why they're going to other services such as Uber or Lyft, where they can book their transportation with just two to three touches on a piece of glass. If we want to compete, we must stop being difficult to work with. We have to do a bit of hard work and start inputting this data within our system so we can provide the data, which in this case, is prices, which is what the customers want."

Playing Nice

Q: In the past, it seemed software tech companies wanting to work with each other was heresy. But that's not the case anymore. In your eyes, how important are these partnerships? How far along have they come, and where do you think they will go in the future in terms of data transfer, specifically?

Gridd and GNet have been game-changing in this respect. “We don't come from the reservation systems, we don't come from the fleets, we don't get involved with your customers — we don't even build apps. That's our promise to our partners,” Zafar said. “Our main concern was protecting our customer base and everybody's revenue streams. Having a neutral switch was, I think, what was a good start for the industry to build trust. Nobody's data is being compromised; there is no account information from your customers leaving your system. I think that built enough trust for everyone to see that, okay, these networks could work.”

Kokas mentioned it's fair to say the perception legacy software companies don't want to work with another tech company is a fallacy these days.

“Back in the day, Microsoft, Google, etc. all wanted to have their own ecospheres, with the idea they wanted to deter consumers or businesses from using other products by putting it all under one roof. That pattern had shifted to where it's all about connectivity, so when we sat down in a hotel room in Paramus somewhere up the Garden State Parkway about five or six years ago, the vision of this neutral network image, if you wanted to bring cars to the network or you wanted to bring consumers to the network, that's the way the internet works,” Bowman said.

“If you want to visit a website, there's no limitation; you just need a connection. With an open network for both consumers and users, we saw those benefits for all. As a software provider, we did not want to be on an island; we wanted to have that connectivity so our clients could choose freely who they want to conduct business with and not be forced to choose an affiliate simply because they were limited in choices by what our network had to offer,” he said.

Data Is Everything

Q: Analytics are everything. We must measure data and use it to make good business decisions. How and why is it important? Also, what data should operators even be looking for?

Operators should be asking themselves what conclusion they are trying to reach with the information they have, Bowman said. “We have plenty of canned reports in our system, as well as the ability to do customer reports. But if your technology is not being used properly and half the chauffeurs are not using the driver app, then you're only getting half the data set of information if you're looking to see how many chauffeurs were on location on time, for example.”

It's not just about what reports you want, but also making sure you have good, clean data and are using the systems properly, so the information is there when you want to ask the right questions.

“Adoption becomes a prerequisite to other capabilities that give you greater insights and more automation,” Arena said. “Using geofencing as an example, if your chauffeurs are using the mobile app and you have polygons established in your system to automatically apply tolls, taxes, and fees that we could them to report on, then it reports all that as kind of a continuum, but you can't get to Z without the core adoption of A.”

He also mentioned that as much as you can drill into your own data, you're somewhat flying blind if you don't understand the context or relevance to the broader industry. “I would encourage us to think about how we can actually aggregate and anonymize the information, so you have better context behind how you're doing as a business.”

Zafar said data is generated by most systems automatically, and if the system is being used properly, it'll generate more beneficial information. “Data comes in patterns. We humans visualize data. We go through summaries, so that's why they are creating all these intelligent reports to summarize the activity and create patterns we visually can understand. We have a very simple graph on the GNet side we can use to tell how the volume of traffic is going to be in the next two weeks, so we can tell what's coming up.”

He also commented such data is great to aggregate, as it won’t hurt anybody's business or give away customers. The only way to do [an industry comparison] is to have a pool of industry data put together without revealing private information.

Originally posted on LCT Magazine