5 Key Takeaways From The 2020 ICRS Experience
For the first time in the history of International Car Rental Show organization, its annual convention normally held during the spring in Las Vegas, was cancelled due to the pandemic. In its place was the ICRS Experience, an online conference, which ran Oct. 19-23 and documented by Auto Rental News, which did its best to inform the industry on trends and economic advice.
A number of seminars directly addressed the issue of the coronavirus and collectively provided five invaluable perspectives into what industry players can do during the pandemic until a vaccine is available to neutralize COVID-19.
Communication with customers will improve
One fruitful dispenser of information was Ken Stellon from Frontline Performance Group, whose virtual seminar, Managing the Next Stage of Travel Recovery: Inspire Productivity, Engage New Talent, provided some ideas when it came to customer service.
While Stellon agreed that 2020 was a particularly devastating year for the industry as he related projections that full recovery of the travel industry won’t be realized for another four years, he believed the worst is now in the past. Car rentals have had to make the tough adjustments for the sake of customer safety and economic longevity, meaning they’re better equipped to face the future.
Stellon pointed out that customers also had to adjust, which allowed frontline workers an opportunity to find new ways to address their needs. Masks and transparent boundaries, reasoned Stellon, aren’t the greatest way to communicate when face-to-face, but it also forced workers and clients to listen to each otherVe.
“Society is getting used to this plexiglass world,” added Stellon. And even while the base is shifting more towards more remote communication, there’s still a contingent willing to physically go down to a car rental agency and book a vehicle. For that segment, improved customer service can be a marginal boon on the bottom line.
Cooperation with body shops
Another seminar dubbed Exploiting Your Local Market saw three industry veterans reveal their strategies for adjusting to the pandemic. One of them Kulp Car Rentals owner Mike Kulp said that his business deals mostly in insurance replacement rentals. After seeing his business drop down as low as 60 percent during the spring, it’s since rebounded to roughly 15 percent lower than his regular volume.
One strategy that helped turn things around was to get his team to approach body shops for clients in need of temporary vehicles. In exchange, he redirected his own customers with insurance claims towards those body shops to repair their cars.
Renewed focus on loyal customers
Another panelist, Solomon Cramer of Budget Harrisburg, saw the pandemic as an opportunity to retain current business, by striking new agreements with regular clients who had payment problems. Cramer felt a long-term relation would be helpful for Budget to realize long-term stability. It seems to be working as the business is experiencing a shortfall of revenue of about 10 percent. During the spring, it had fallen by as much as 25 percent.
A new clientele?
Fellow panelist Ian Kusinitz of Empire Rent A Car noticed his operations plummet considerably, but saw a revenue prospect in renting to independent Amazon delivery personnel, given that online shopping was spiking during the pandemic.
But he also got innovative with a contactless rental procedure that involved online payments, email contract delivery and customer access to a secure area where the vehicle would be waiting, with keys already in the ignition.
Innovation was a major focus in another seminar paneled by Alex Fraser from Pivet, a mobility fleet branch of Cox Automotive Mobility. While he concentrated on how mobile maintenance is improving vehicular performance, there are still performance inconsistencies, especially in safety components.
Subscriptions can be a great revenue stream
But Fraser pointed out one strength of car rental companies is that they own their fleets and encouraged to take advantage of subscriptions as a revenue stream. “You guys live this business already,” said Fraser. “You’re in a very real position to compete in the retail car business with subscriptions. Nobody is better positioned than that.”