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Editor’s Note: This is the inaugural conversation of our “Future State of” series.
The COVID-19 pandemic has seriously impacted the travel industry in ways no one could have expected. Social distancing guidelines have kept many of us at home, off the roads and out of the skies. As the travel industry prepares to restart and get people back on the move, what has it learned from the pandemic? And what does the next normal look like for those of us who will be getting back on the road?
Taher Behbehani, general manager and senior vice president of Samsung B2B, sits down with Wendy Aks, director of architecture and design at Enterprise Holdings to discuss what we might expect for the future of travel.
Taher Behbehani: Hi, Wendy, and thanks for speaking with me today. One of the things that surprised me most about our business at Samsung during the crisis is how people have used technology to maintain their productivity in a work-from-home environment. How has Enterprise leveraged technology to maintain its business during this challenging time?
Wendy Aks: Hi, Taher. It’s great to have the opportunity to speak with you. For Enterprise, the technology foundation we have invested in over the last several years allowed us to pivot very quickly. In a matter of weeks, we were able to mobilize our corporate workforce to be fully productive working remotely using solutions running the gamut from VPN remote access to virtual desktops. We also leaned heavily into our collaboration solutions for voice and video to ensure a high level of productivity across our teams while bridging the gap in personal interaction.
Meanwhile, as an essential services provider, we have remained open to meet critical transportation and personal mobility needs. To help protect both customers and employees, we have modified our service offerings. This includes consolidating operations to centralized branches and adding curbside rentals to help promote social distancing and minimize foot traffic in our locations. Our mobile solutions have allowed us to continue to serve our customers while minimizing contact through our modified service offerings.
A big shoutout goes to our employees. They have been incredibly resilient and adaptive. Despite the challenges, we’ve been able to keep our business running, and we have seen our employees continue to come up with creative new ways to solve business problems to support our customers during this unique time.
TB: What has surprised you most about COVID’s impact on the travel industry?
WA: COVID has highlighted the importance of innovation and the need to continue to evolve our offerings to meet customers’ transportation needs. While many people temporarily stopped traveling for leisure and business, our transportation solutions remained critical for frontline responders, including healthcare professionals, emergency responders, emergency services, utilities, military and local governments.
In addition to the precautions I’ve already mentioned, we’re also working on low-touch solutions, such as Advance Check-In, which is now available at more than 100 locations — with more coming soon — and provides customers a faster, low-touch rental experience leveraging Samsung tablets in some branches to reduce customer interaction with employees.
As more and more customers begin traveling again, we want them to feel confident in our commitment to their safety and well-being.
TB: Speaking of which, how is the travel industry working to rebuild consumers’ confidence to travel again, and how is technology playing a role in that?
WA: The safety and well-being of our customers and employees remains our top priority. For many, renting a car may be the form of transportation that feels most comfortable when they’re ready to begin traveling again. To ensure customer confidence, Enterprise has introduced our Complete Clean Pledge. We pledge to go above and beyond our already rigorous cleaning protocols, including strict sanitizing procedures to protect the health and safety of all. While we’ve always had a very formal training process in place that instructs all employees on the proper cleaning of a vehicle, employees are now being trained to implement new and more comprehensive mandates that include enhanced cleaning guidance for vehicles, shuttles and branch locations, as well as social distancing practices.
TB: As travel begins to ramp up, how will you be tapping into data to understand new trends, and is there anything you are expecting to see?
WA: We are currently leveraging and investing in multiple data sources to evolve our services to match rapidly changing customer expectations. We anticipate an increased focus on leveraging machine learning/AI/cloud/social media technologies to model customer behavior to provide enhanced contactless experiences to improve customer and employee safety. We also anticipate permanent changes in travel-related services that will require new digitized services and information exchange.
TB: The pandemic has made the idea of traveling in smaller groups a lot more appealing. Is Enterprise thinking of leaning into that trend, perhaps using technology to better coordinate that kind of travel?
WA: With so many working from home or home-schooling their children, I think we all can attest to the fact that people are anxious to return to life in the next normal, which will include the ability to travel. We continue to enhance the rental experience to enable more low-touch and self-service capabilities to assist our customers in arranging travel to their comfort level. Personally, having self-proclaimed wanderlust, I know I’m excited to get out on the road and have a nice change of scenery.
TB: This has been a great conversation. Is there anything else we haven’t touched on that you feel is important?
WA: Like Samsung, we are using technology to provide a stress-free experience for our customers and are committed to maintaining exceptional levels of service. We at Enterprise appreciate the great partnership with Samsung, which helps us provide many of these solutions to support our customers.