Mobile Scanning Can Rev Up Car Rentals—and Customer Happiness

For the average traveler, the actual process of traveling is draining, especially at the airport. The airport travel experience comes with heavy lifting, anxious waiting, and stressed customer service representatives. Travelers stand in long security lines, only to have to stand in another winding line to board their planes. And then after they've landed and survived the baggage claim hustle, the last thing thing travelers need is to stand in another long line, for an hour or more, at the car rental desk. Rental car companies compete for customers' attention on much more than price. In its 20th year, the 2015 North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study ranked pickup and return processes as the second and third most important factors in determining customer satisfaction (after cost and fees).

The rental car pickup and return processes are particularly painful for customers, and collectively represent a great opportunity for rental agencies to use technology to streamline and speed up transactions. In 2014, JD Power clocked the average wait time at an average of 43.4 minutes. Customers who are trying to rent a car at the airport have to add in almost an extra hour to their travelling time just to pick up a car. Customers who waited longer than five minutes in any step of the car rental process experienced a decrease in satisfaction with the rental car company.

Using advanced scanning solutions, data entry time at pickup can be reduced significantly. When deployed at customer service desks and self-service kiosks, ID scanning technology captures data from drivers' licenses and passports, auto-populating digital forms and databases. This cuts down on customer and agent input errors and eliminates the need for cumbersome paper forms. Scanning solutions that recognize IDs from all 50 states and 90 different countries are a significant benefit in an era of unprecedented global travel. Scanning solutions that recognize IDs from other countries also cut down on data entry errors due to language barriers. In addition, these scanning solutions authenticate IDs instantaneously via connections to third-party databases, thereby reducing fraud (and again reducing transaction time).

Reducing the time required for routine transactions means shorter lines at rental agencies, and the ability to process more rentals per day, both of which lead to competitive advantage. Considering that an agency can complete as many as 400 transactions per day, even shaving two minutes off each interaction (results documented at agency in international airport) adds up to more than 13 hours saved. Taking pressure off overworked desk agents leaves more time and energy for pleasant customer interactions and better handling of exceptional cases, which in turn boosts overall customer satisfaction ratings. Having scanning and self-service technology in place supports better agent performance, which can make wait times appear shorter: studies have shown customers who are greeted with a smile perceive their wait time as being almost 10 minutes shorter than those not greeted with a smile.

The Millennial demographic (born 1980–2000) spends increasing amounts of time and money on travel, for both business and pleasure, and their preferences have greater influence on agencies' approach. Millennials are a close second to Boomers in overall rental business (34 percent versus 40 percent) and to Gen X in business travel (39 percent versus 43 percent). But far more Millennials (47 percent) post online reviews than Gen Xers (27 percent) or Boomers (10 percent). They're much more likely to post positive than negative reviews, and they teach other generations about using technology to make life easier. So if rental agencies can provide an optimal customer service experience to these travelers, they win free marketing, word-of-mouth referrals, and a large following of loyal customers. There are 80 million potential customers in the Millennial demographic, and by next year, they will outspend Boomers. As they age into full career and family mode, their spending will continue to increase.

Millennials have shown a strong preference for self-service options (think online transactions, keyless hotel entry, remote check-in, lobby kiosks) and as these options become more widespread in airports, hotels, and even restaurants and shops, customers will come to expect them and be annoyed when they are not available. Scanning and self-service solutions also address many challenges (other than long lines of grumpy customers) faced by rental agencies: fraud, language barriers, input errors, staff and space constraints (kiosks can replace agents and desks), and integrated consumer data collection for marketing and loyalty programs.

Simple steps towards streamlining transactions with technology solutions can have a cumulative impact that simultaneously makes for happier customers and more efficient operations. Customers and employees alike can quickly get through each transaction, and everybody likes a good win-win story.

Bruce Ackerman is executive VP of global sales for Acuant. Acuant's credential management solutions automate the intake, processing, and verification of unstructured data from ID documents.

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