Using a daily rental broker can help cut costs for fleet decision-makers, but only if the broker ensures its services are up-to-date and offer clear benefits compared to going direct to a rental supplier.
Therefore, if brokers are to survive, they must ensure their systems and services are as accessible and cost-effective as leading rental firms, including offering internet access.
For Avril Palmer-Baunack, managing director at broker Satellite Vehicle Rentals, this has led to the launch of a program ensuring the internet is used as much as possible for brokerage of daily rental.
She said: 'Technology could be used a lot more than it is. What we have done at Satellite is make sure 50% of our reservations are not touched by anyone. They are automatically allocated, so the customer puts the reservation in online and the supply details are returned within seconds with a reservation number and confirmed booking. We never touch it.
'We used to have 45 people in the call centre and now we're down to between 15 and 20. Obviously we have seasonal changes and you will always get customers who want to speak to someone just to give them some comfort, but people are getting more used to using the internet.'
The use of the internet in Satellite's case is through its netrentacar.com service, which is part of the parent company FMG Group's portfolio of products. Satellite claims to have access to 300,000 vehicles at 2,000 locations nationwide through its network of rental suppliers.
Palmer-Baunack believes the internet is essential for brokers in cutting costs and ensuring they can stay competitive.
She said: 'I think of how much we've moved on and I still see lots of rental companies offering implants – rental employees who work at the customer's premises to deal with rental requests. I can't really see a big move to using the technology in these companies.
'But if you add value, then brokers will survive and we will. We see our business growing. And it's more about adding support to the supplier, and you're also a support to the customer. For fleet operators who neither have the time nor the desire to shop around for the best daily rental quote a broker service is no doubt appealing, as long as you ensure it meets key performance targets and sticks rigidly to your demands.'
She added: 'By using netrentacar we're cutting cost. Customers don't need to have implants in their offices and anyone with authority can make reservations. We want the customer to get best value.'
Those customers – and their requirements – are changing, according to Palmer Baunack, as more start to see rental as a commodity rather than a service.
'When you're looking at the people buying car rental now, it is changing. We are definitely getting more procurement managers rather than fleet managers booking rental now and they're looking at rental as a commodity service, as though they are buying paper clips,' she said.
'They want reliable service and they don't want to change all the time, and that's where we add value. We put in systems supporting the supplier and the customer. It's what makes the customer feel comfortable he or she is getting good service and the best value. Then it's a win-win situation.'
A concern of brokerage is that it can create a mountain of paperwork, particularly for a small business with one person having to deal with it all. Palmer-Baunack says the netrentacar website can take away much of the time and paperwork, and ensure that the best price is achieved at the nearest rental location.
She said: 'For a small business we offer choice. They cannot go and negotiate with a big rental company, because they don't have enough rental to support decent rates, but they need those decent rental rates.
'That is why they're coming to someone like us, where we negotiate our core full rental requirement and they can get those rates, as well as having choice of rental. 'Dealing with one supplier allows the customer to concentrate their time on their fleet without the need for lots of paperwork.'
Satellite fact file
Company name: Satellite Vehicle Rentals
Turnover: £25million (FMG Group)
Managing director: Avril Palmer-Baunack
Years in business: 13