CabForward℠ is aggressively monitoring the TIDE of digital transformation that is happening all around us. New technologies and innovations are empowering today’s entrepreneur to bring fresh ideas to the market that often disrupt entire industries and affect our daily lives. One such idea is Silvercar, a relative newcomer to the car rental business that is shaking up that entire industry and challenging how the business is conducted.
Lance Vaughn, CEO of CabForward, an innovative digital transformation development agency in Austin, Texas, interviewed Allen Darnell, CTO of Silvercar’s Austin corporate headquarters. Below is a summary of that discussion, collated into the four primary areas of TIDE: Technology, Innovation, Disruption, and Entrepreneurship.
The Driver Behind Silvercar
Every business traveler has experienced the frustrations of reserving a particular rental car, just to discover that it isn’t available when you arrive. The car rental business is fraught with frustration for business and leisure travelers, because rental agencies overbook, resulting in the customer having to take whatever vehicle is left at the moment, or accepting a costly upgrade. We have all experienced standing in line at the rental counter while a frustrated traveler battles it out with an agent because the requested vehicle was not available as promised.
When Silvercar started examining the car rental business in detail, they discovered that in the $25 billion a year business, except for the online booking component, there had not been any innovation or change to speak of in the car rental business in over 30 years. In the airline industry by comparison, there have been significant advances in improving the passengers’ flight experience, evolving as technology made advances possible. The car rental business, however, remained essentially the same. So, the original driver for the Silvercar business initiative was determining how to get rid of all the frustration inherent in car rentals.
Some of Silvercar’s executives came to the company with experience in the car sharing industry, and made their new team aware of the extensive list of steps one usually has to go through to be approved as a customer. It can take a fair amount of time to get that approval . . . driver’s license check, insurance check, credit card check, etc. Then there are online systems for booking reservations, for car assignment, and the like. But, after looking into those, Silvercar found they were not a good fit for how they wanted to operate.
It is said that there are many, many ideas out there just waiting for technology to advance and make them viable products or services. Technology, specifically the smartphone, made possible the Silvercar approach. When the Silvercar concept was conceived, most drivers had a smartphone in their pocket, and that was really the enabling technology. It wasn’t just the technology, but the convenience of having a pocket computer with you when you need it. The idea was to tie the two together – technology and convenience, giving the traveler mobility and immediacy, with no frustration, all through a pair of apps for the customer and the concierge.
Super Empowered Concierge
|The Concierge app is helping Silvercar’s business model become a real success story, because the concierge can communicate personally with each renter from the beginning of the process through the return of the vehicle, improving the customer experience well beyond the current ability of other rental companies. The Concierge app advises when the next rental is coming up, guides the Silvercar team through cleaning and prepping the car with whatever needs to be done to get the car ready to go. The concierge can clock in and out on their phone, assign a car to the rental request, and even talk directly to the customer ahead of their arrival.||
Annoyance-free. Seamless. Painless
The Silvercar app was designed from the ground up to elegantly and seamlessly interact with the smartphone. All Silvercars are connected to the cloud via Bluetooth, and Silvercar even designed the consumer app so that the customer simply scans the vehicle with their smartphone, which sends the information to the cloud, checks that the vehicle and customer IDs are a match and returns an “unlock message” to open the car.
Silvercar will stay on top of how technology is evolving and customer needs evolve, and continuously improve their apps to make them the preferred rental agency for business and leisure travelers. They are patenting parts of the processes as new car manufacturers, and other car rental agencies, are beginning to adopt some of the technology approaches that they use. Silvercar thinks that in the not too distant future some of the smart-watches and other wearable computers may become standard equipment shipped with every new car.
|Silvercar is actually innovating on a couple of levels within the car rental space. The first is the rental process itself, of course, but secondly, they are breaking away from the model of having a huge lot at the airport, with shuttle buses to run the customer back and forth, wait in line for their turn at the counter, and the hassle of checking in. Their intent is to get rid of all the pain, all the frustration, and make the rental and return process a pleasant experience every single time.||
No lines. No paperwork. Premium features at no extra cost.
In their startup days, the team was in windowless office with a thousand sticky notes up on the wall. They mapped every single step of the rental process, identified the pain points in each of those steps, and figured out how to make them painless before they ever wrote a single line of code for the app. They had to solve problems like how to print waivers from a smartphone, and how to open the door of the car wirelessly with a smartphone.
As the team grew, they began to develop the Customer Experience Map, which is the basis of how the Silvercar concept evolved. The app handles all those steps seamlessly so that you can go from downloading the app to filling out some fields, and driving a car in practically no time. Fortunately, they realized early enough in the planning process that they couldn’t do what they wanted by licensing other back office systems and linking them together. So, they built their own custom app, which turned out to be very smart. They can now develop the app the way they want, modifying and improving it as needed.
A few months after launch, in fact, they did a bit of a pivot to streamline the process, and have continuously worked to identify and eliminate bottlenecks, which has proven again and again that owning their own firmware is very empowering, and allows them to make large and small changes to the business model as needed.
Smart phones + Bluetooth + single-make-and-model automobile (silver Audi A4) + really cool app = the Silvercar experience. Silvercar likes to say, “We are the world’s first hassle-free car rental company.”
Certainly, it is easy to see how disruptive this approach to car rental is to the industry itself. This is going to force the other companies to rethink their approach. Some have already experimented on a limited level, and fell back on the old, traditional, model after short tests, simply because the companies are too big to make changes quickly. Time will tell, but it appears that this fresh approach to car rentals is the face of the future.
|“We expect to see other car rental companies following suit, but one of their biggest challenges is having to build this firmware and app for every make and model they rent.”|
Another disruptive portion of their approach is in the airport space itself. The real estate issue at the airport is the result of the biggest point of discussion. Traditionally, car rental agencies would rent counter space in the terminal, and automobile servicing space on, or near, the airport. Each of those agencies would run shuttle bus services to get clients to and from their rental facility. That added to congestion, excessive fumes emissions, and other problems.
The current trend is for airports to group all the rental agencies into a single Consolidated Rental Car Customer Service Center (CONRAC) reducing congestion, vehicle emissions, shorten wait times for car renters, and frees up valuable space in main parking garages and terminals. It is very costly, time consuming, and difficult for rental companies to get into the CONRAC due to all the regulations, requirements, and space limitations. Silvercar disrupted the CONRAC concept, reducing the overall cost of rental, allowing them to provide a premium car for what other agencies charge for a standard car. Silvercar now offers service at 5 of the 6 largest U.S. airports, representing the greatest volume of car rentals.
When you have to invest a lot of money in hardware, you automatically limit the number of potential investors. They, themselves, have to be entrepreneurial, and visionary. What really made Silvercar possible, was the smartphone. Once the team could demonstrate what could be accomplished to streamline the car rental process by building apps to take advantage of the mobility and convenience inherent in the smartphone, eliminate customer hassles and frustrations, and safely secure the vehicle investments, the concept really took off.
|“This is, naturally, going to force the other car rental companies to rethink their approach to the business.”|
Silvercar expects to see other car rental companies following suit and look for ways to use some of their technological approach to protect their share of the market. Many will try to utilize some version of the Silvercar concept, and they expect the competition to heat up over time. But, for now, they are focusing on maturing the concept, ironing out the bugs to improve on any areas of concern, so they can make the customer experience as frustration free as possible, so customers can stay focused on their trip, and have as enjoyable an experience as possible.
And, the changes in our lifestyle and cultures just keep on coming! CabForward℠ is doing our part in empowering disruption of the old ways of getting things done, as we architect digital applications for home and business. Contact us today about your product idea!
Read more: Silvercar and Tide Part 2
|Read more about TIDE:
Technology and its role in TIDE
Innovation and its role in TIDE
Disruption and its role in TIDE
Entrepreneurship in TIDE
TIDE: Waves of Disruption
Navigating the TIDE Continuum
TIDE in Model Railroading
For more detail on the CabForward℠ Discovery Process see Discover User Stories