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Booking technology systems are a commodity – “buy from the guy you like best”, says Addison Lee

With the day’s second session exposing a few uncomfortable truths about the industry’s often uncoordinated approach to combating Uber, and the perceived ambivalence from the regulator, TfL, this session brought aggregators and technology providers together to discuss Uber-beating strategies.

The session kicked off with an electronic vote asking what percentage of bookings were made through the respective operators’ app. Most respondents claimed lowly 5% or less.

This was highlighted by Karhoo’s Asaf Anolik, who observed that 21% of respondents didn’t know if they took any app bookings at all. You could take the view that back office and booking technology could be better exploited, and as the discussion unfolded it was clear that the potential for closer working relationships between private hire operators, technology providers and aggregators was considerable.

While Autocab’s Safa Alkateb observed “a wide variation of app bookings” irrespective of the size of a business, it was Addison Lee’s Mike Galvin who cut to the chase, viewing the underlying technology “as a commodity.” His advice? “Buy from the guy you like the best, because the relationship is what it’s all about…if you have any problems you need that relationship to deal with it.”

This customer-centric approach was also applied to the end-user by the other panellists, who all agreed that delivering a polished user experience was key to success. Galvin went further, emphasising the need for continuity across geographic areas, allowing customers to effortlessly book travel services when, say, in different cities. Cultivating trust would, it’s hoped, encourage users to stay loyal, and not simply opt for Uber out of any perceived convenience.

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Catalina’s Graeme Whiting concurred with Galvin on the issues of trust and loyalty when securing end-to-end travel bookings. He acknowledged that “automation saves operators money… but the booking experience is key,” reinforcing the need consistently to raise customer expectations to generate loyalty.

Technology itself can be a disruptive force for good. Autocab’s Alkateb observed that aggregator technology can help smaller operators scale up to meet demand, while such activities can also reduce the need for consolidation. Both Alkateb and Karhoo’s Anolik noted that aggregator use is rising.

Magenta’s Torsten Brose went further, extolling the virtues of data to improve efficiencies within a business. “Good decisions are made by excellent data to back up gut-feeling experience,” he said. Once the preserve of big business - and something expertly handled by Uber - Brose expressed a desire to make that information more accessible for small operators to make informed changes to their business plans.

On this subject, Sherlock’s Paul Lacey passionately stated the need for a “fundamental change in the industry; you guys [operators] think tech is a cost… Uber does not think technology is a cost, it thinks it’s an investment. It thinks it’s making it money. We need to change our mentality to think the same way.”

The bottom line, as witnessed by the line of questions from the floor, was the need for greater collaboration between operators and partners. The latter expressed an enthusiasm to work on Uber-beating solutions, while operators could be more proactive in challenging the technology companies, demanding increased functionality with a greater focus on marketing-related tools.

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ProDriver Congress London 2016 photo gallery