How would you like the idea of O’Hare-Midway Limousine Service offering free rides, if all you needed to do was “Like” us on Facebook? What if we asked you to send off a strongly worded email or Twitter message to the “powers that be” because we no longer wanted to follow required licensing rules in Chicago?
Sounds slightly suspicious, and yet it has been happening all over the country and orchestrated by a well-known “Smartphone app” company that only thinly disguises itself as a limo service. But…kudos to them. They have employed social media to get the highlights of their message out; cheap service at the push of a button (actually…the touch of a screen), and a total disregard for customer service and industry regulation. Their business is growing, and it has the limousine industry on high-alert.
To be fair, the idea of app-driven business isn’t new, so the originators of this concept haven’t reinvented the wheel. What they have done that most limousine companies weren’t able to do is organize a large group of wealthy (and some high-profile) investors that seem to enjoy thumbing their collective noses at regulators, who in turn appear to be cowering from their perceived might. So by jumping into the game by promoting themselves as an alternative to limousine and taxi services, they have ruffled some feathers.
Personally, I enjoy the game. I think we may have lost a few of our retail customers for the time being, but this “competitor” has helped the limousine industry in a few ways. First, it provided a wakeup call to operators that have been living in the past. Technology is prevalent in every aspect of our lives, so how could we possibly believe it wouldn’t make its presence known in our business. Standard computer dispatch and reservation programs are no longer “cutting edge”, and they are designed primarily to make it easier on the limousine operator. Technology to make the customer experience a more pleasant is long overdue. Next, at least as far as Chicago limousine service is concerned, we will benefit from the marginal service levels provided. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, taxi service in a limousine is NOT LIMO SERVICE! Experienced travelers know that cheap rides are cheap for a reason. Finally, there is little oversight within the app operating group. Once “approved” to operate with the company, there are no guarantees who or what is providing service. The only constant is the device used to send potential business out to the group. That being said, summoning a vehicle through an app is almost like picking a heart surgeon using the eenie-meenie-miney-moe method. Seems a bit risky.
For the time being, the limousine industry is being careful in choosing its battles against these types of companies, opting to challenge the legality of their business model. In response, the app companies employ skilled “spin doctors” to flood media outlets with inaccurate stories relating to limousine and taxi services refusal to accept technology, and their “we’re not ripping you off – THEY are” attempt to cast everyone else in a less than flattering light.
When all is said and done, the reality of app driven services will be brought to light, and ultimately their greatest strength – millennials and tech-savvy users – will demand accountability for service shortcomings. At that point, these companies will either adjust to a more traditional ground transportation model…or disappear from the landscape.
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