TOPIC: What percentage of your business comes through online reservations? What have been the benefits or drawbacks of offering them? Do you find that certain clients are more willing to embrace that service than others? How do you market it?
After 30 years in our industry, I’ve received every type of reservation: phone calls, fax, email, and online. We do offer online reservation capabilities but very few of our clients take advantage of them.
We’ve had some clients start to use the online reservations but they would call us back and say, “We like talking to the people in your office, because we prefer that personal touch” or “We know when we give the reservation to you directly, you’ve got it.” Or they’ll call and ask if we got the reservation they made on our site to make sure it went through. And we send confirmations, so as long as the reservation went through, they did receive a confirmation—but I know if it’s a larger office, the client might not personally get it if someone else deletes the email or throws away the fax because it’s not for them.
Most of the companies prefer email, and we still have a good percentage of our customers who like that one-on-one: Presently, the majority of our reservations are made by phone and email. Our affiliates prefer email or logging on to by site. My experience is that people like to talk to people: We do not form our business relationships electronically. That is why there is such a great gathering of owners at our industry’s events.
Gary Arndt, President
A Limousine Service in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Online reservations account for about 25 percent of our business. When we’re first selling our services to a new client, we use that opportunity to promote our online reservations. All types of clients benefit from this option: corporate, weddings, night outs, anniversaries, and so on.
The main drawback of online reservations is when a client selects a vehicle that is not available, or it is a run that we would normally screen out if a reservationist took the call; however, most are loyal repeat corporate clients. We also receive many online reservations from first-time corporate clients who are new to the area or are traveling to our market, which is one of its benefits. Another benefit is that it minimizes phone reservations, freeing up our office staff.
I admit that, while we try to improve on all aspects of our business every year, this has not been high on my list. But we are currently working on a new app and back-office software, too.
Jim Barnes, President
Jimmy’s Limousine in Cincinnati, Ohio
Westwind Limousine in Dayton, Ohio
A small percentage of our clients use our online reservation system. Our clients tend to enjoy having the feedback that accompanies an email or phone reservation. During those reservations, any questions can be answered in real time—which in today’s society is paramount to a client’s needs, especially for rides with deep itineraries that are traversing multiple cities. Clients certainly don’t want to have to remember a password or account number for every time they book, either.
I can see online reservation systems as beneficial in some cases, such as if clients are calling and experiencing long hold times. In that case, I would preferably go that route if I were the consumer, but that is certainly something we try to avoid by not employing touch-tone options and always having a live operator answering each call as part of our reservation-making experience.
Jonathan Erlich, Vice President
Europe Limousine Service in Paramus, N.J.
Currently, we take about 15 percent of all reservations online. I would like to drive up that number to about 40 percent.
Accuracy and ease of input on our end are the biggest upsides to offering online reservations. Marketing this method of booking is done through our sales team, e-blasts, our on-hold message, and in print. We encourage all of our customers to try online booking. As the percentage of travelers shifts from Baby Boomers to the younger crowds, the popularity of online reservations will increase.
The only challenge with accepting reservations through the My Limo app is that they can drop into our system with no lead time. With today’s application technology, this is a challenge that must be embraced and met; so far, it has been a cultural change within our company that has been met with great success.
Howard Gogel, Owner
My Limo in East Hanover, N.J.
There is no denying that the Internet has drastically changed the way we do business. And whereas some operators may have been hesitant about “giving up control” by having clients do their own online booking, we actively embraced it.
At this time, 55 percent of all our reservations come through one of the automated portals we offer, including Deem, GroundWidgets, Hudson, Remote Concierge from Trip Tracker, and affiliate connect.
We encourage our clients to take advantage of this service through our website, sales kits, blogs, and e-newsletters, and have found they feel as comfortable around this technology as we do.
Those clients who use this service seem to be across the board in their satisfaction, with both corporate and retail clients embracing the ease and accessibility. I foresee the service only continuing to grow because young people today have an “online” mentality and a need for instant gratification. And they are the clients of the future.
Johnny Greene, Owner
ETS International in Randolph, Mass.
Roughly 10 percent of our customers use our online reservation option. This is broken down between corporate and retail customers, as well as new and existing customers. I would like to increase this number but customers seem set in their ways, and some still prefer to place their reservations by calling or emailing them in. With technology rapidly advancing, we recently implemented a GDS solution for corporate travel departments and agencies.
Mark Kini, Founder/CEO
Boston Chauffeur in Beverly, Mass.
About 20 percent comes through online reservations; however, that number is growing because we are encouraging all of our clients to make their reservations this way.
There are two major benefits in moving toward online reservations. The first is that we save both time and money, especially since we do not incur a labor cost by entering those reservations in our system. The second is that there are no data-entry mistakes made by our team members because our clients input that information themselves.
We mainly find that personal assistants are the ones who make reservations for their bosses; with this in mind, we tend to call and offer them training over the phone to get them going and to encourage online reservations.
Kris Korkian, Managing Director
Penguin Cars & Limousines in Forestville, Australia
On average, we see about 15 to 17 percent of our reservations made online. It is something that, as a company, we are working to improve—mainly because it cuts down on overhead when you implement this booking tool in your website and app. Since, our business has been family owned and operated since 1987, we have a variety of clients: Some are loyal customers who found us back in the day of the Yellow Pages and will always call us on the phone to book their reservations. But others are from the younger generations who likely will only use email and our Paris Limousine app to request quotes and book online.
Our corporate clients are a mix of the two. Some admins will book everything through our website with our integrated Limo Anywhere software; we just assign a user name and password for that particular client to go in and book their reservations.
We find that online reservations attract quality customers while less of our time is spent on marketing—and customers can book 24/7 on their own. We are looking forward to growing our online reservations this year because, according to a survey published by a travel site, when booking a last-minute car service, 74 percent do it on a computer, 11 percent do it on a mobile device, 10 percent use the phone, and 5 percent go through a booking agent. The world we live in is so fast-paced that the only way for us to keep our old and new clients happy is to have a clear, easy way for them to book online.
Jennifer Paris, Vice President
Paris Limousine in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Roughly 10 to 15 percent of Black Tie’s business comes through online reservations.
We maintain advanced technologies, including our developed app and online reservations system, which about 1,000 of our clients use monthly. The benefit of offering online reservations is it provides convenience for the client. The disadvantage is that you miss out on the opportunity to build a connection with potential customers. An online system cannot effectively communicate and sell the benefits of our service, recommend options tailored to the client’s needs, or reassure the client to book with us.
Customers who tend to utilize online reservation systems are looking for convenience: They want to be able to book online anytime day or night from anywhere on the go. That’s why Black Tie has reservation agents available 24/7, so our customers can call us from any time zone when traveling anywhere in the world. This allows us to give them that extra personal touch of world-class service and the convenience they want. We call this “romancing the customer.”
I do love getting new clients who click and book—we tell them to click away! We’ll accept clients any way we can get them, whether it’s from online reservations, a phone call, a text, or email. We just want to make sure we have a customer for life, and we do that by catering to each and every client’s needs.
Bill Wheeler, President/CEO
Black Tie Transportation Worldwide in Pleasantown, Calif.
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