In an increasingly connected and demanding world, established brands cannot afford to stand still. EyeforTravel’s Pamela Whitby hears how car rental firm Hertz is staying on track.

If you are travelling inbound from Rio to Miami for a four-day vacation do you want the hassle of getting a local SIM card or you want your car rental firm to throw 60 minutes telephone time a day into your contract. It’s exactly this sort of service that Hertz is looking to provide its ever more demanding and connected customers.

Says Brian Casebolt, Vice-President of Merchandising & Ancillary Revenue, Hertz: “Our goal is to provide our customers with a much higher level of service at a reasonable price.”

While the competition today is unquestionably fierce, this nearly century old car rental firm has certainly ridden a number of technology waves including the briefcase mobile phone of the 1980s, GPS systems and its own branded ‘never-lost’ navigation suite.

In the past few years, however, as people and society have become more connected than ever, Hertz has continued to evolve and today is offering technologies that are portable and plug-in, which offer navigation and concierge services as well as limited telephone mobility and the ability to stream content.

Here are some of the lessons Hertz has learned along the way.

1. Targeting the right customer with the right offer at the right time and at the right price is both a challenge and opportunity

Knowing your customer and what your customer wants is far more demanding today than it was in the past. For this reason, Casebolt argues that it’s important not to apply a kitchen sink product strategy. He also warns not to continually launch new products to fill a pipeline without reviewing the entire portfolio of products. Instead firms should be creating highly curated offerings that appeal to the right customer at the right touch point.

“It’s important to understand who the product is aimed at and what the switching cost is versus another existing product or service, so as to avoid any unnecessary cannibalisation,” he says. That also involves finding a price that is digestible to the consumer.

2. Choice is a double-edged sword

We often hear the refrain that customers must be given more choice, but today this can be a double-edged sword because not everybody wants the same thing. One thing Hertz knows is that customers, across a broad spectrum, continue to expect far more while on the road.

Whether this is driven by mobile-only services like Uber, car-sharing solutions or Google and Apple taking on the big car manufacturers with in-car dashboard technology, the consumer is becoming increasingly discerning and this is no longer just the high-end consumer.

“Everybody is expecting something that is fairly premium because technology has afforded everyone more premium offerings,” says Casebolt.

3. Data is crucial to staying in touch with your customer, colleagues and the competition

It’s important to do extensive consumer research to understand what people really want.

“Never use yourself as that litmus test; be keenly aware and have a pulse on what your consumers are doing and what they want,” says Casebolt.

In fact, you can never assume that you know exactly what your customers want.

“What always surprises me is that whatever the product, you will find a loyal and often significant customer following that is profitable to your business,” he says. “You have to have a pulse and beat with your customer or you risk doing adverse harm by diminishing their customer experience.”

To understand your customer requires data and today this is possible. By analysing thousands of transactions a day or millions of transactions a month, firms can quickly create a robust data set and analytical foundation on which to make informed decisions.

Knowing what colleagues are doing on the front line is also crucial and Casebolt spends at least 50% of his time out in the field in order to understand the many nuances of the operation.

“Our colleagues provide us with so much market intelligence,” he says.

Finally, it’s important to have insight into what the competition is doing, even if this isn’t direct competition. So while Uber, for example, may not be direct competition, Casebolt believes there are lessons to be had from how it is doing business.

4. Partnerships should be mutually beneficial

It’s important to look for partners with the same appetite; partners who wish to work side by side to simultaneously grow profits.

“When I sit down with the vendor, it is never purely transactional, it’s truly about trying to forge a partnership that works for both sides,” he says.

How you form partnerships also depends on your appetite for risk and your levels of competency in a particular area. More profit could require taking on more of the risk, but either way it’s important to work together to build meaningful relationships.

Brian Casebolt will be sharing more insights at EyeforTravel’s flagship event TDS North America (the Bellagio Las Vegas, October 19-20). To find out how to join 500+ senior travel executives at the industry event of the year contact [email protected]