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Apps are the future of mobility (and Car Rental)

The current technological environment has caught everyone’s imagination and fundamentally reshaped our lifestyles, writes Lance Smith, Executive: Sales, at Avis southern Africa.

Our smartphones are now the communications hub from which we manage our daily lives, and any business serious about customer service and about growing their market share needs to service their market in the app-based environment.

This should not be seen as a chore, or an inconvenience, but an opportunity. App-based platforms are more efficient, effortless and preferred by customers.

At Avis Rent a Car, this is our bet on the future. As a company we believe that our future will be mobile driven. In many cases, apps are already the lens through which we experience the brands we deal with and in future our every business interaction will be driven through smartphone technology.

For us - and our customers - this means that the entire car-rental experience will change. The old model of customers queuing for service at a car-rental counter, then painstakingly selecting options from a checklist is on its way out.

Current technology is about creating a customised, bespoke customer experience at the customer’s convenience. Today’s car-rental customer, for instance, wants to select a price point, choose a make and model of car, complete with handy extras like GPS, bike racks, car seats or mobile wi-fi, and then make their booking. And this is precisely the service we offer with the new Avis app.

The re-engineered app allows current and future Avis customers to search cars by size or features, locate rental locations and choose special offers. Extras can be selected, bookings can be amended or upgraded and loyalty benefits can be tracked.

This is the service we offer already, and it’s evolving constantly. The Avis Now functionality within the Avis app is even more advanced and already has 500 000 subscribers in the United States alone. This functionality allows users to make and manage bookings, then skip the counter and go directly to the Avis Rent a Car lot, where they can locate their car using the app, then unlock it with their smartphone and drive off.

With three of the largest rental locations outside the US, it’s a no-brainer that South Africa will see this functionality roll out here within the next 12 to 24 months.

Already in place is a fully responsive, mobile-enabled website, complete with Avis Preferred Loyalty programme and the Avis Preferred app seamlessly providing electronic vouchers for redemption at the Avis Rent a Car branches.

Almost all customer interactions can now be electronic, including invoicing. We are testing new-format, paperless rental agreements, where the customer signs on a tablet, and their agreement is in their email inbox before they leave the branch.

The rise of on-demand car services has shown how eagerly South Africans embrace new technology and the unlock-and-drive functionality will no doubt be a hit when it is added to the Avis app in South Africa.

Interestingly, on-demand services have not affected car rental figures in the least. The effect has been to expand the mobility market, as consumers embrace the sharing economy and the new suite of travel solutions.

The Avis one-day business has remained stable, as has our Avis Point to Point offering, which is doing incredibly well compared to the rest of the market. The real breakthrough moment will come when Avis Point to Point booking functionality comes to the App environment.

The App platform can also be used to navigate the next major mobility disruptor: Zipcar. Zipcar is an innovative car-sharing service and part of the Avis Budget Group. Customers join the service for a monthly fee, and are then able to reserve and drive any one of the numerous Zipcars located around major cities.

Zipcar has caught on massively and currently has more than 10 000 cars on fleet, across 500 cities in nine countries. In cities where the service operates, it is common to find Zipcar locations at airports, stations, universities, businesses and residential complexes.

Far from being a rival to car rental, Avis sees Zipcar as a complementary service. If we feel there is demand for Zipcar in the local market, we’ll bring it to South Africa.

When we do, your Zipcar membership will live on your smartphone as an app. When you need a car, you’ll have a car. I can see Zipcar finding an enthusiastic uptake at universities, retirement villages, small communities and certainly in residential complexes.

Self-drive, or autonomous vehicles, are also poised to enter the mainstream. In the USA, Avis Budget Group has already entered an agreement to provide fleet support and maintenance services for autonomous vehicle company Waymo, once part of Google’s parent company.

Another innovation set to disrupt the mobility space is electric vehicles. Our experience from our rentals of the BMW i3 and the Toyota Prius is that consumers support the idea of sustainable solutions, but will only truly embrace them when their price point is the same as combustion-engine variants.

If and when electric vehicles enter the mainstream, they will be part of a matrix of varied mobility solutions – car rental, transfer services, on-demand, Zipcar, personal vehicles and more. All of these will comprise smart vehicles and smartphone apps integrated in a web of connectivity with the user at the heart of it.

The companies redesigning the urban experience are no longer limited to particular fields of specialization. Social-media companies are creating home-delivery services, Google are designing cars. Amazon is starting a rival to the postal service. Property developers are becoming wellness practitioners.

The future is upon us. Boundaries are starting to blur and everything now seams feasible. At the centre of this network of possibility is us – the city dwellers of the future who will reap the benefits of all the exciting technology to come, and make it our own.

Avis mobile App