Avis Budget Group, which operates two of the world’s most widely recognized global vehicle rental brands through Avis and Budget, has a mobile strategy that calls for support for all major phone platforms and has delivered a mobile app for Windows Phone in only four months. The app uses unique Windows Phone design features, such as panoramas, to deliver a streamlined, intuitive user experience. Through these features, Avis customers can quickly and easily make, modify, view, and cancel reservations for Avis locations throughout the United States and Canada. The company built the app rapidly and cost-effectively, thanks to a familiar development environment. This helped Avis Budget Group further extend its leadership position in using the power of sophisticated mobile devices to improve and transform the customer experience.Situation
Avis Budget Group operates two of the most widely recognized global brands in the vehicle rental industry: Avis, which serves the premium commercial and leisure segments of the industry, and Budget, which focuses on the more value-conscious industry segments. In 2010, Avis Budget Group generated total revenues of more than U.S$5 billion. The company derived approximately 81 percent of total car rental revenue from on-airport locations and approximately 19 percent from off-airport locations, which Avis Budget Group refers to as its “local market business.”
Although Avis Budget Group operates two separate brands, the brands share a fleet, maintenance facilities, systems, technology, and administrative infrastructure. The same is true for the company’s Online Marketing and Enterprise Applications groups, which support both brands—and often work together to improve the customer experience through the application of advances in information technology. “Since we delivered the first computerized reservation system in 1972, we’ve maintained a strong focus on using new technology to enhance the rental experience for our customers,” says John Peebles, Vice President of Online Marketing at Avis Budget Group. “We usually lead with our Avis brand when delivering new and improved customer experiences, because it’s our premium brand with customers who expect a higher level of service.”
||With Windows Phone, we were able to quickly bring to market an app that further improves customer service and extends our leading position in the mobile space.
Vice President of Online Marketing, Avis Budget Group
Today, the company’s strategy for improving the customer experience includes providing comprehensive support for mobile devices. Its first foray into mobile support came in 2007, when Avis became the first car rental company with a mobile website. Subsequently, in 2009, Avis created an app for the iPhone, which became the first of its kind in the United States. Although more customers now use the mobile website than the iPhone app, constantly increasing usage across both channels validates that customers do want to use smartphones to conduct business with Avis.
In mid-2010, Avis Budget Group decided to upgrade the back-end services that powered its mobile solutions to deliver new user capabilities. Until then, mobile users could only make new reservations. More advanced capabilities—such as viewing, modifying, or cancelling reservations or accessing My Avis accounts—were not available through the company’s first-generation mobile application programming interface (API).
For mobile users to benefit from an improved mobile API, Avis Budget Group also needed a richer mobile app. Rather than merely upgrading its existing iPhone app, the company saw an opportunity to add support for a new and rapidly growing mobile platform: Windows Phone.
“The timing was good, as we would be putting our new mobile API into production at about the same time that Microsoft was launching Windows Phone,” recalls Peebles. “There were two additional reasons we decided to build an app for Windows Phone before upgrading our iPhone app: First, we’re actively transitioning from an outsourced mobile development model to one based on in-house resources, and we’re primarily a Microsoft shop when it comes to internal software development. Second, Windows Phone offered a new and unique user interface design, and we wanted to explore its advantages. For example, we saw the panoramas in Windows Phone as a way to expose all the additional capabilities supported by our new mobile API without creating an overly complex user experience.”Solution
Avis Budget Group began building its app for Windows Phone in October 2010. The company enlisted the aid of Roundarch, a digital creative agency and member of the Microsoft Partner Network, to design the user experience. “Roundarch helped redesign our website a few years ago and built our iPhone app in 2009, so they already understood our business and branding,” says Peebles. “Roundarch also had experience working with Microsoft Silverlight and our in-house developers, which made them the perfect partner for this project.”
Development Timeline and Process
Avis Budget Group decided on a two-phase approach. In the first phase, Roundarch would deliver a proof of concept that included a comprehensive UI design. In the second phase, the proof of concept would be handed off to the company’s Enterprise Applications group for in-house developers to finish the app, which would include development of the new back-end services that would be required.
Work on the proof of concept began in early October 2010. The team used the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Premium development system and Microsoft Expression Blend 4 design software to build a working prototype over the course of five weeks.
In mid-November 2010, two full-time developers were enlisted to finish the app and the new back-end services. The app was ready to share with business stakeholders and quality assurance personnel by the end of December 2010 and was ready for release by the end of January 2011.
“I’ve always been a Windows developer, which enabled me to dive right in and put my existing skills to use,” says Joseph Chan, Program Analyst at Avis Budget Group, who was one of the two developers. “Most of it was the same as Windows development. The semantics were slightly different, but it was easy to find that information on the web and in books. The only new tool for me was Expression Blend, which we only used minimally. Even then, I saw how Expression Blend and Visual Studio 2010 enable developers and designers to work together and collaborate in parallel—without the developer needing to re-implement the UI design created by the designer.”Quick and Easy Reservations—and More
Avis Budget Group launched its Avis Mobile App for Windows Phone in March 2011, making it available for download through the Windows Phone Marketplace in the United States. When downloading the app, the user is told that the app uses the phone’s built-in location services to deliver personalized content, such as displaying the nearest Avis rental location. Starting the app displays its panoramic home screen, which provides the ability to flick left or right to transition between multiple panes.
The home screen panorama has four panes: Make a Reservation, My Avis, View Reservations, and Contact Avis. Making a new reservation takes just a few steps and can be completed in a few minutes.
Step 1. On the Make a Reservation pane, the user selects a pickup date and time and then a return date and time. Tapping Continue displays a New Reservation panorama, in which the user can complete the remaining steps necessary to make a reservation by entering the required information for each step and then flicking left to transition to the next step. At any time, the user can flick right to return to a previous step.
Step 2. On the Location pane, the user selects a pickup location and a return location. This can be done by selecting from a scrollable list, tapping on Recent Locations, or tapping on Map Nearby Locations, whereupon the app uses Bing Maps to display a thumbnail map of the five closest locations. Tapping a location on the list provides additional information about that location, including its address, phone number, and hours of operation. Tapping Select Location returns the user to the Location pane, with the return location set to the selected pickup location by default.
Step 3. On the Discounts and Coupons pane, users can optionally enter an Avis Wizard Number, Avis Worldwide Discount code, or coupon code.
Step 4. The Choose a Car Type pane displays a scrollable set of tiles that show the vehicle types available at the selected location (see figure 1). Information displayed within each tile includes the vehicle type (such as subcompact), Group Type (for example, “Group A - Chevrolet Aveo or similar”), an image of that vehicle, the number of occupants it can seat, and the daily rental cost. Tapping a tile displays a full-screen view with additional information for the car class selected, including city and highway mileage and whether it has air bags, power steering, cruise control, and so on. At this point, the user can flick left to transition to the next step or tap Change My Selection to choose a different car class.
Step 5. On the Options pane, the user can select options such as renting a GPS navigation system or one or more child safety seats, with the daily cost for these options provided.
Step 6. On the Contact Info pane, the user enters a first name and surname, email address, and phone number.
Step 7. The Finish Reservation pane displays the base rate, options, taxes, fees, and an approximate total, along with a button to complete the reservation.
|Figure 1. The Avis Mobile App for Windows |
Phone enables users to quickly and easily
reserve a vehicle, view existing reservations,
cancel a reservation, and more.
On the home screen’s My Avis pane, the user can enter a user name or Avis Wizard Number and password, with an option to retain this information and keep the user logged on. Users can take advantage of this functionality of the app to prepopulate some of the reservation information required by retrieving it from Avis.com. Logging on to My Avis also provides access to integration with TripIt.com, a third-party website that helps travelers aggregate and manage information about car rentals, flights, hotel reservations, and other elements of a travel itinerary.
On the Upcoming Reservation pane on the home screen, users who have not entered their credentials on the My Avis pane can enter a surname and confirmation number to view an existing reservation. If the user‘s My Avis credentials have been entered, upcoming reservations are automatically displayed. The user can also cancel reservations through this pane.
The Contact Us pane on the home screen provides buttons that the user can tap to call Avis customer support or to send Avis email. Future Efforts
Moving forward, Avis Budget Group plans to bring the features of its iPhone app up to parity with its app for Windows Phone and to eventually develop BlackBerry and Android versions. “We’ll probably need to rely on local contractors for our next iPhone version, since we don’t have those skills in-house,” says Steve Hoffman, Vice President for Enterprise Applications at Avis Budget Group. “The preparation process for developing apps for Windows Phone was almost effortless, but it’ll take a little more effort to acquire the tools and expertise for in-house development of iPhone apps. We’re definitely in a better position with respect to Windows Phone development than we are for any other mobile platform.”
The Avis Mobile App for Windows Phone—the first of its kind available through the Windows Phone Marketplace—enables travelers to do business more easily with Avis in the United States and Canada. As the latest component in the company’s mobile strategy, the app takes advantage of unique Windows Phone design features to make the process of reservation on a mobile device faster and easier than ever before. Avis Budget Group delivered the app quickly and cost-effectively due to a highly productive and familiar tool set and programming environment. “With Windows Phone, we were able to quickly bring to market an app that further improves customer service and extends our leading position in the mobile space,” says Peebles.
Unique and Compelling User Experience
Avis Budget Group is helping customers do more on their mobile phones than ever before. Although the Avis Mobile App for Windows Phone exposes more capabilities than the company’s iPhone app, Avis Budget Group capitalized on Windows Phone design features to keep the user experience straightforward and intuitive.
“Our iPhone app is a lot like our website, in that you enter some data and then click Next,” says Peebles. “Windows Phone panoramas enable us to take the user through the multi-step process of renting a vehicle in a way that, in my opinion, makes the entire process seem noticeably faster than it does with our iPhone app. I really like the feeling of control provided by the panoramas on Windows Phone, which clearly tell users that there’s ‘more stuff in that direction.’ We are exposing more and more functionality for access by mobile users, and a rich user experience is key to putting those new capabilities at customers’ fingertips in a usable way.”
||The cost of developing our Windows Phone app was very reasonable. Including the work required for new back-end services, the total cost to develop the app was about two-thirds of what we spent on our iPhone app.
Vice President of Online Marketing, Avis Budget Group
Easy integration with built-in Windows Phone features also helped Avis Budget Group deliver an improved user experience. For example, with a single tap, customers can call or email Avis. Even more compelling is how Avis Budget Group took advantage of the phone’s built-in location services to display a Bing Map that marks the closest Avis locations. “Location-aware mapping is a powerful feature that will help us compete with other rental companies—especially when it comes to our off-airport business,” says Peebles.Rapid Time-to-Market
Avis Budget Group developed its app for Windows Phone in only four months—including all of Roundarch’s proof-of-concept work, the transition to internal resources to continue development, and the four weeks spent testing and polishing the app. “We were able to easily use Roundarch to design the user experience and create the proof of concept and then transition the rest of product development in-house,” says Peebles. “We completed the project much faster than I expected. Exposing all the new functionality through Windows Phone was the easy part.”
Low Development Costs
Although Peebles declines to share the project’s total costs, he states that they were modest. “The cost of developing our Windows Phone app was very reasonable,” he says. “Including the work required for new back-end services, the total cost to develop the app was about two-thirds of what we spent on our iPhone app.”
Endless New Business Opportunities
For Peebles, the most exciting aspect of the Windows Phone app lies not in what the company has already delivered but in what a rich mobile platform has made possible. “Mobile access changes people’s behavior in ways that we’re just starting to understand—and take advantage of,” he says. “For example, traditionally, on our website, we see a spike in reservations on Monday. With our mobile app, we see a spike in reservations on Friday, which leads me to think that a new opportunity for business growth exists. People tend to be more loyal to a mobile app than to a browser, and by being first with an app for Windows Phone and other platforms, we’re strengthening our ability to understand and capitalize on the behavior of mobile users.”
Roadside assistance is another potential feature envisioned by Peebles. “The biggest issue we face today with roadside assistance is that the tow truck driver can’t find the car—and the customer doesn’t know the local area well enough to assist,” says Peebles. “A business traveler may not know their exact location, but their phone does, and it’s up to us to figure out how to exploit these types of capabilities to improve and transform the customer experience.”Windows Phone
Windows Phone 7 is a different kind of phone, designed to bring together what you care about most—easier and faster. It delivers captivating phone experiences across work and play, enables productivity without compromise through Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Office Mobile, and provides a platform for compelling applications that can work across the phone, web, and PC.
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