EyeforTravel’s Digital Strategy Summit

May 2019, London

Europe's biggest event for commercial and digital travel execs

The road ahead for professional driver services

Is there scope for a chauffeur service that harnesses new automation technologies while maintaining the human touch? Jens Wohltorf, CEO and co-founder of Blacklane, thinks so

We live in an age of increasing automation and commoditisation. We give voice commands to our smart speaker. We send emails using voice-recognition technology on our smartphone. We chat with robots on our bank’s website.

Automation is accelerating on the road, too. Vehicles are smarter and more connected every year, heading toward autonomous driving. Chauffeur services especially must embrace these new technologies to improve safety, save time, and simplify trips.

Though driving is becoming more automated, chauffeur service is about more than being driven. Passengers prefer service with a human touch. As automation increases, they will value human interaction even more than they do today.

Chauffeur companies are therefore uniquely positioned to combine personal service with software to give travellers a personalised, human experience.

Asking the right questions

It will take years or decades until autonomous driving reaches the mass market. Nevertheless, today’s buzz is justified because self-driving vehicles will transform automotive business models, mobility, service, and more.

As a global chauffeur service, we are already asking several questions. If vehicles drive themselves, will we still need a chauffeur? Will guests still want someone in the vehicle? What chauffeur functions will travellers most value? What new functions could chauffeurs perform?

Chauffeurs today do much more than drive. They show guests the city’s sights while driving past them. They provide local history, tips, and recommendations. They act as cultural ambassadors for those in a foreign country. And they bring emotional intelligence and soft skills to respond to guests’ needs.

If chauffeurs did not have to hold a steering wheel all the time, they could offer an even more premium and more personalised service, as concierges do

If chauffeurs did not have to hold a steering wheel all the time, they could offer an even more premium and more personalised service, as concierges do.

They would still perform the core duties of meeting and greeting passengers, helping with luggage, and offering local knowledge. But in a self-driving future, they will go the extra mile.

They could consult with guests about concerts, theatres, restaurants and other local activities to help guests have a perfect stay. Their knowledge is especially helpful when passengers don’t speak the local language and when a chauffeur’s relationships unlock priority access. They could then book guests’ activities for them immediately after the trip, extending their service beyond the ride itself.

Chauffeurs could also run errands for busy travellers, including dry cleaning or shopping, and bring items back to the guests’ hotel.

They could offer a new kind of sightseeing, too. Guests and the chauffeur could exit at a landmark, explore it on foot, and get picked up at a different spot. Guests could choose to stop for food or add more time on foot. Only when they were ready to continue would the vehicle drive on its own to meet them and continue the tour.

Chauffeurs could also add security and protection services. Celebrities and high-net-worth individuals use these most often today. Going forward, more travellers will value the peace of mind that comes with a vetted person accompanying them.

Automation and personal service

While a segment of guests will choose autonomous chauffeured rides, personal service will be a differentiator. Software will not replace all the personal interaction travellers desire. An American Express survey of frequent travellers found that 93% agreed with the statement: “Despite digital advances in the travel industry, the value of personal service cannot be replaced.”

93% of people agree that despite digital advances in the travel industry, the value of personal service cannot be replaced

Therefore, the human touch will be the new premium. Robots will handle the mass market as simple and less demanding tasks will shift to vehicles. More complex functions that are the essence of individual service will be best performed by humans. Leading chauffeur companies will provide both options to meet guests' preferences.

As automation proliferates, the potential for personal human service increases. Importantly, this will not be an either-or dichotomy, but rather a clever combination of both worlds. Maximising technology will free chauffeurs to create new services, enhance travellers’ experiences, and generate new revenue. In the process, their roles will evolve to care for guests before and after rides as concierges do today.

This trend will extend beyond ground transportation to the entire travel industry. As automation becomes mainstream, intelligent combinations of technology and individualisation will set providers apart and redefine a new era of travel.

Join us in London for the Digital Strategy Summit (May 21-22) to hear from brands that are finding ways to deliver a highly personalised customer experience

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