Priceline-owned Rentalcars.com has brought in expertise from web retail giant Amazon to extend its sphere of influence beyond booking and into the realm of travel concierge.
The person tasked with broadening the Manchester-based firm’s reach is Supriya Uchil, who four months ago swapped life in Seattle, for a new career in the north of England.
Now chief product officer for Rentalcars.com, Uchil described the next phase of growth at the car hire giant, founded as TravelJigsaw and acquired by Priceline in 2010, as “crossing the chasm”.
She highlighted four key areas the firm will target. “We want to think about broadening the consumer journey post booking to the drop off phase,” she said.
“We think it’s really critical to understand the customers’ needs 48 hours before they are getting ready to pick up the car, because we know there is some anxiety there.
“The second aspect is the car pick-up. What can we do to help improve this experience for the customers? And the third aspect is once you have picked up the car and you are in a new place, what can we do to help you on your journey.
“Can we help you figure out which is the best petrol station to fill the car at or what are the best restaurants on your route?
“Finally there’s the car drop-off. What can we do to help ease the process? It’s all about opening up horizons, helping us tailor our services to the consumer.”
Uchil said Rentalcars.com is “still learning” in terms of how it uses both consumer intent and context to launch new services, but that this endeavour will form the backbone of how the firm thinks in the coming decade.
The ultimate aim, she said, is to delight customers, by providing them with the right and most relevant information at the right time to establish long-term customer loyalty in a highly competitive sector.
“We ask ourselves what are the ten things we can do to delight customers when they least expect it?” she said. “How can we ease the friction points?”
To achieve this Rentalcars.com has structured its development and design teams in to product groups based around the four aspects of the journey is has identified need focus.
“If you’ve just rented a car, how do we personalise that experience? We need to get into the consumer mindset a tailor the experience for them. So we will be running tests to see what really resonates,” said Uchil.
“It’s a model that’s worked well for us for a long time; form a hypothesis and see what works, what sticks with our consumers. The product group structure helps us not get drawn in a thousand different directions.”
Uchil said Rentalcars.com is at the start of “creating a massive wave of change” in the business to ensure it stays ahead of disruption on the market.
“The only true answer to that is creating a value proposition that is so compelling and easy to use so that a consumer won’t look elsewhere,” she said.
“Our supplier are our partners. What can we do to help our suppliers make it really, really easy for our customers. We are moving to a world of instant gratification, people want things right now. Our devices and mobile apps will be the vehicle to do that.”
There’s not a lot of obvious parallels between establishing an e-reader and solving travellers’ transportation needs, but Uchil said several companies, including Rentalcars.com, all face the challenge of building a customer-centric brand in an increasingly mobile world.
“As we open up horizons of thinking around the customer journey we understand they will use a host of services during that journey and each of those is going to try to unlock that inter-trip experience.
“Certain apps have figured out how to interject into the lifecycle pretty well. It doesn’t have to be in your face notifications, there can be very discreet ways to engage with customers when the customer chooses to engage with us.
“As the internet becomes a utility and as we move towards a mobile space, the interactions of devices and machines coming together will help us figure out new business models.
“I do not believe every tech company now needs to be a device provider but how do you learn to work within the platform of choice. Twenty years ago it was the web, now it’s the device that happens to be in your hand.
“How does any technology company make sure that they are part of that when the platform of choice is changing? Intent and search patterns are changing, but fundamental intent is the same.
“If you understand that intent is not changing but the context of usage is, you can adapt.”