Is the current wave of travel-related technology dehumanising or rehumanising the experience? This was the key question on my mind as I joined fellow innovators in business travel at this year’s Business Travel Show (BTS)

On a panel discussion titled “Connected supplier technology – good for travellers, good for travel managers?” I joined leading industry experts to discuss how smart technology is transforming business travel.

At Avis Budget Group we continually seek to provide our customers – both end users and travel managers – with innovative solutions to offer the most convenient and stress-free experience possible. We have invested in connected cars which provide real-time reporting information on a vehicle’s ready-state, service needs, mileage and fuel consumption. In fact, we will have 100,000 connected vehicles in our fleet later this year and have committed to a fully connected global fleet by 2020. We have also digitalised our range of service offerings – including those offered through Avis and Zipcar – with optimised mobile technology.  

For me, two themes from the panel discussion stood out: responsible data management and innovation – and how these elements can help to bring the human touch back to the business travel customer experience.   

Firstly, responsible data management. One important topic of discussion was how the customer experience could be improved by sharing data across the supply chain, particularly with travel managers and travel management companies (TMCs). At Avis Budget Group, this is something we’re doing behind the scenes already, thanks to some strong and well-established relationships with TMCs, as well as new and innovative technologies we have introduced to facilitate this. For example, the Avis Rental Tool (ART) portal enables travel managers to view live rentals for their travellers at any time. On the panel, we discussed the challenges of obtaining, owning and using data properly throughout the supply chain, as well as how we use it to communicate with customers.

It’s hard to think of a more pressing topic facing all businesses today than cyber security. We know that the responsible use of data is incredibly important to consumers everywhere. Indeed, recent research by the Information Commissioner’s Office has found that only one fifth of the UK public (20 per cent) have trust and confidence in companies and organisations storing their personal information1. Avis Budget Group’s commissioned research has shown that more than two out of five consumers (43 per cent) demand consent before companies share their data with third parties.2 The responsible use of data is a priority for us, and we have invested in applications and application programming interface (API) management platforms to ensure we adhere to the highest standards.

The second theme in the panel discussion that stood out for me was the impact of technological innovation. An interesting challenge put to the panel concerned the dehumanisation of the customer experience with the rise of apps and bots. The panellists discussed that because innovation is fundamentally good for travellers, by extension it is ultimately also good for travel managers. The Avis mobile app, for example, allows customers to control the whole rental process from their mobile device.

This provoked further debate around what ‘personal’ actually means; do we mean speaking to a human? The current trend is towards using ‘smart agents’ – a combination of a person supported by bots to provide agents with suggested responses or information to improve customer experience. This technology can actually provide a much more tailored, personal experience, as it enables data to be processed more effectively and the customer can be provided with a broader range of options than a human could quickly assimilate. This use of “augmented intelligence” combined with machine learning to support the (human) agent creates an experience that from a customer perspective actually feels more personalised than ever.

Collectively, we agreed that the current wave of technology is in fact not dehumanising but rather rehumanising travel. Not only can travel managers use apps to maintain a two-way communication with travellers, automation frees up time for customer service personnel to spend with customers who do want that human touch.

It was clear as the panel wrapped up that we are at the cusp of a ground-breaking wave of innovations, as the business travel experience mirrors the technological advances we’re seeing across both the automotive sector and in mobile technology. The opportunities and challenges presented by technological advances will only increase in future years. Technology is revolutionising how we travel. Avis Budget Group is already part of this transformation. One example is our partnership with RocketSpace, a leading technology campus for start-ups and corporate innovators, to fuel cross-industry innovation on areas such as automated driver assisted systems (ADAS), on-board vehicle diagnostics and electric vehicle systems.

In this context, my belief is that increased collaboration is key for the industry if suppliers are to harness the possibilities of modern technological capabilities. Only when we truly collaborate across the supply chain to create a seamless end-to-end experience can we confidently claim that business travel offers the personalised, flexible and fundamentally ‘human’ experience the modern business traveller wants. This, by default, will offer a better experience to travel managers too, and I’m thrilled that Avis Budget Group is already doing this.

If you want to find out any more about Avis, the connected car and what opportunities it presents for your business, why not contact our business team on 0808 284 0284 or email avisbusiness@avis.co.uk.

Neal Sunners is SVP, Innovation & Emerging Technologies, International, Avis Budget Group









2 Avis White Paper: The Evolution of the Connected Car, 2016

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