If you or a driver needed a vehicle, you picked up the handset, called the rental company and arranged for a car to be dropped off. The paperwork arrived with the fleet manager shortly afterwards.
What could be simpler? Well, lots of things. Piles of paperwork, lost files, forgotten faxes and wrongly completed forms are the downside and use of the internet can change all that.
Online booking is not simply an internet version of that phone call either. It unlocks access to a wealth of information and control that fleet managers of yesteryear could only dream of.
Follow the ‘cutting-edge’ route to rental vehicles
DEBBIE McCarthy is travel manager for communication giant BT and says 50% of BT staff use online booking services.
‘Car hire is no different to the other areas of commerce looking to go online,’ she explains. ‘BT has a hardcore of people used to using technology so we’re always trying to be on the cutting edge.
‘It gives the people who want to book online the opportunity to do so and it brings its own benefits. It means call centres are less congested and it takes cost out of the business for the supplier in that they don’t need as many people to answer the phone.’
Nigel Trotman is in charge of brewery firm Whitbread’s fleet. His drivers also book cars online and the decision to try to reserve cars on the web coincided with a company-wide technology drive.
Trotman says: ‘We had an increasingly mobile workforce and a lot of people working from home and we were starting to downsize in terms of administration and support staff. There are administration savings by doing these things online and not getting bogged down with paper.’
McCarthy adds: ‘With a call centre, you’re limited to calling between 8am and 6pm. We also have a lot of home workers and mobile staff who are not restricted in when they can do things, so with online booking they can book when they like.’
Some drivers may need persuasion to try the new technology.
‘To get the people who phone to change their habit, you have to make it very simple,’ McCarthy says. ‘They need encouragement but there is a hardcore element that say they are always on the road and are not near their PC. You have to have the infrastructure and communications to show people the benefits and then they have to have a good reason not to book online.’
Trotman is also trying to convince more of his drivers to use the online service.
‘Our plan for this year is to get more people to use it. It gives you terrific visibility about what’s going on in your business. You can see all the rentals that are taking place and you have your finger right on the pulse. With more conventional routes you have no real visibility until the bills come in. Online, you can see day by day and control who is using what.’
For Trotman, the online service is particularly useful when one of his drivers gets a speeding ticket.
‘When the booking has been made over the telephone, often the name is misspelt and it’s a nightmare trying to track down the driver. Online, everything is there.’
McCarthy says online systems enable those in charge of compiling fleet reports to do so almost instantly, without having to request data from the supplier.
However, Trotman has warnings for those looking for a quick fix to administration problems.
‘At the moment you can only book certain groups of cars so you’re probably going to need a hybrid solution,’ he says. There are still cases when you need to call and there is no one solution for all your users. None of the online products will answer all your problems.
‘But it is very useful. If a fleet isn’t thinking about online booking, they’re ignoring tools in the toolbox.’
The extras that make online booking worthwhile
LORRAINE Farnon is divisional vice-president and sales director for National Car Rental and is in charge of its online offering, carhirebooker.com.
She says there is far more to online services than simply being able to type on a keyboard instead of picking up a phone.
‘Online booking is more than just online booking,’ Farnon says. ‘A system should provide full rental management and that’s where the value is, because you can build into the customer’s profile their entire travel policy.
‘The company can be sure that drivers are renting the appropriate vehicle for their journey and the system should send requests to line managers to sign off. It’s flexibility for the driver while retaining control for the customer – that’s the real benefit.’
Farnon says drivers with luddite tendencies don’t even need to do the booking themselves, if the company doesn’t want them to.
‘You can have people doing their own booking if they feel comfortable with it or you can have an administrator or dedicated booking staff doing it. You can place the booking, monitor it, specify collection, there’s visibility of the charges so you know what’s happening. You’ve got management information in terms of what’s happening, what the costs are and when the vehicles are due back.’
Of course, not everyone will be sold on the idea, something Farnon is keenly aware of.
She says: ‘There are customers who still want the traditional routes and it’s important to keep that in mind. There has to be a range of routes to suit everybody. A good partner will meet requirements no matter what they are.’