This article introduces a current Tokyo Century Group DX promotion.
Nippon Rent-A-Car Service, Inc. (NRS), a Group company began its digitization early on and released a booking app* for its members in March 2021. We asked Chihiro Komatsu, in charge of web marketing and app development in the sales planning department, to talk about the process of developing the latest app and how DX is transforming the company’s business and operations.
*app is available in Japan currently.
Signs of New Demand Emerging Amid the Decline in Business Caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the tourism industry. How has it affected car rentals?
The government’s request to refrain from nonessential outing has led to a considerable reduction in the corporate use of rented cars for business trips as well as personal use by tourists. We have, however, recognized some positive changes.
You mean there is a bright side.
That’s right. People are taking a second look at rental vehicles as a means to secure a safe and private space. Individual customers who had never rented a car before have told us that the COVID-19 pandemic led them to consider renting a car to avoid infection, and we are seeing a gradual increase in new users.
What are your thoughts on the overall trends in the automotive industry?
From what I’ve seen, the shift from ownership to use is gaining greater momentum, regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the automotive industry faces what’s being described as a once-in-a-century period of change, automotive lifestyles are changing rapidly. Take for example CASE, which stands for “connected, autonomous, shared, and electric,” a new concept that encompasses subscription and ride share services, communication functions and autonomous driving, and sharing services and electric vehicles. Advances are also being made in MaaS, or “mobility as a service,” for providing services that are broadly focused on mobility, including buses and trains in addition to automobiles. These trends will have a deep impact on the future of car rentals.
Facilitating Reservations with the New NRS App to Harness the Significant Effects of DX on B-to-C Business
DX has attracted a lot of attention. We know NRS has been working to digitize its services, but when did it launch its DX project?
We set up a project team in May 2020 with two goals. One was to develop a reservation app. While the purpose of the previously-released special discount app, which is still available, is limited to last-minute deals and other rental plans, the new app can be widely used without such limits. The other goal was to redesign our website to be more user-friendly. Staff from Tokyo Century’s IT Promotion Division participated in the team along with system engineers.
Could you describe the features of the app released in March?
We worked with a single-minded focus on developing a user-friendly app. Once the app has been downloaded and installed, users can simply select the pickup location, return location, dates, and vehicle type to display the available options. Changing reservations, including dates and car type, can also be done through the app. Moreover, a member’s rental history makes it easy to select previous choices for the next rental.
In addition, the app allows customers to confirm insurance, compensation, and other important matters concerning the use of rental cars when making the reservation. This streamlines the paperwork process with customers at our branch office, allowing them to get their cars faster.
The app has proved extremely popular with customers, not only for its operability but also in terms of easily gaining access to use a rental car that has been more recently and thoroughly cleaned than a vehicle from a car-sharing service.
What challenges did you encounter during the development phase?
We consigned the app’s production to an overseas company. While we generally consider using production companies in Japan, app development can be completed over the Internet, which widened our options to include overseas technology. This reminded me that there are essentially no national borders when it comes to digital technology. At first, however, I had some difficulty communicating because of differences in how to proceed.
Were you hampered by the language barrier?
Not so much with language in general, I felt there was a need to clarify nuances that probably wouldn’t have been necessary if I were communicating with a Japanese person. Particularly since we had to develop this app from scratch, it wasn’t easy for me to express the nuances. I learned the importance of not neglecting such steps as clearly describing my idea, confirming that it had been understood, and discussing any issues I might come upon in the product after understanding their opinions. Thanks to this experience, we are now able to proceed with a firm sense of mutual trust.
Although we faced many difficulties, this development leveraged a company-wide effort through the internal use of the pre-release version, allowing us to fine-tune the app.
Have you already noticed any impact from DX?
Yes. Apart from enhanced convenience for customers, we have also been able to reduce the tasks of branch staff. I believe that having extra time in daily operations will lead to better customer service.
Would you say that DX has been a good fit for NRS’s business?
Generally speaking, I completely agree with the general observation that DX is more applicable for B-to-C business and comes to fruition faster there than with B-to-C business. For example, customer surveys show that many experienced a level of stress picking up a vehicle at our branch during the morning hours when it tends to be crowded, and so I think we can improve that situation through DX. We will be able to come up with a system for customers to see how busy the branch is during their scheduled pickup time and offer suggestions for rescheduling, on a real-time basis. It can also inform customers at the time of making reservations that some waiting time may be required and how to avoid it in advance.
Being Able to Think through Customer Needs is More Important Than Knowledge of IT
Isn’t it true that specialized knowledge is needed to implement DX?
Even though I’ve been involved in website and app projects since joining the company, I majored in a completely different field at university, so I’m continuously seeking to acquire knowledge related to IT. I also study other companies’ advanced apps by trying them out and work with staff at NRS as well as Tokyo Century. These are new technologies and therefore very difficult for me to understand. But I always try to set aside my personal limitations and focus instead on the ultimate goal of doing what’s best to increase customer convenience.
What kind of services would you like to develop in the future?
I hope to enable customers to make reservations for and pick up and return vehicles more easily and comfortably, using our service as naturally as if they were using their own cars.
I’d like to share more ideas on useful functions for branch staff along with solutions for working more efficiently. And in the future, I hope to leverage DX to realize new services and businesses that can revitalize the entire car rental sector.
*The contents of the article and the position titles are as of the date posted.
Mar 16, 2022
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