Things Bike Rental companies can do for better customer delight!

Unlike a decade ago, now there're lots of self ride bike rental companies in many Indian cities. (Bengaluru list here) Now that the concept is proven, demand is increasing, several companies are entering this space. So how can a bike rental company differentiate itself from its peers? What are those small small things that make a huge difference in customer experience? From my experience as a customer and as someone monitoring self drive industry for a while, here's my compilation of what all things companies can do, in addition to whatever they are doing at present, for better customer experience.

1. Mobile holder accessory!
This is very fundamental to roadtrips. When we are new to city or heading to a new destination, we are often dependent on google maps. It is not convenient to take out mobile from pocket every now n then during bike trips. If rental agencies can fix a mobile holder, riding will be far more convenient to customers. Bali Bike rental had this and was extremely useful. Costs few hundred rupees only. Customers cant bring their own, as these mobile holders vary from one bike model to another and involve some fixing work. Best if rental agencies get all their bikes fitted with these.
Alternate options are to have a tank cover with a transparent cover pouch (where phone/tablets can be kept) or riders having to use earphone to listen to audio instructions from the map lady. Not very convenient, as putting on earphone makes you deaf to other important sounds- like horn of another vehicle or some strange noise coming from your bike etc.

Mobile holder is not needed if you know the road, or riding in a group or if you have a pillion who can check map n guide or if you can memorize next several turns...

2. Better Accessories
Most agencies induct bikes as provided by showroom in their cheapest variant/configuration. There’re some accessories which should be standard, few others could be on demand/chargeable. Safety accessories like Crash guard, saree guard must be fitted mandatory. Some more like fuel tank cover with pouch, baggage hook, helmet lock etc makes it lot more convenient/utilitarian for customers. Having to look for a backpack/pocket space for every little thing is little inconvenient. Saddle bag/ tang bag with metallic clippers, jackets, knee-pads etc can be offered in addition for a fee.

3. Premium helmet for premium bikes!
For premium bikes (say with daily rental more than 1500 Rs), it will be better if a more premium/high quality branded helmets can be offered. Feels very cheap to carry a 500 Rs helmet with a 2-3lakh + premium bike. This is similar to how business class/first class passengers get dedicated checkin counters. A Gopro helmet mount is also highly desired.

4. Pre-delivery checklist!
From what I have observed, delivery boys aren’t trained much about maintaining bikes. I am sure they might be doing some minimum checks, but there could be more. Zoomcar reportedly has some 20+ points check list before delivering the car (is it followed vehemently or not I am not sure). Similarly, delivery boys/fleet executives could be given a check list and be trained to take care of various basic things before delivery- such as
  1. Tyre pressure and condition (no worn out/damages)
  2. Is there at least 1 or 2 litre fuel in the bike? (I hate collecting vehicle with empty tank- forces me to abandon everything else n look for a fuel station. If there’s enough fuel for at least 50 kms, I can plan to fill up on the way. Also in empty tank model customers end up giving free fuel to agency, as it is hard to plan exact quantity of fuel to be added so that tank is empty while returning. (All FAQs/T&Cs on rental co's website would say bike will be given full tank and should be returned full tank, but fleet guys find it convenient to deal with empty tank- they don't have to go n fill up)
  3. Is chain too loose? Does it need some lubrication?
  4. For liquid cooled engines, is coolant quantity is good enough? (if it is near minimum mark, may be it is fine if next customer is renting it for just a day, but someone renting it for say 1 week, doesn’t like to see coolant running short. Fleet executive must top it up
  5. Brake fluid level- enough? (similar to above)
  6. Reset trip meter to Zero
  7. Are the mirrors tight?
  8. Tool kit and first aid kit available?
  9. Are there any crucial defects? (like Indicator/headlamps/brakes etc not working perfectly)
Of course bikes can be used for months at a stretch without needing major maintenance. But giving a bike in good condition vs just working fine condition makes huge difference to customer’s delight. If I pay to experience a bike, I pay to experience it at its best, not at its just working fine condition.  If some of the features and functions of the bike to not perform as expected, I feel I didn’t get the value for money.

Also a communication of this checklist- including Odometer reading, fuel level and existing damages if any, should be sent to customers for quick reference.

5. Sort out the Speed limit thing.
Most agencies have enforced speed limits, crossing which will cost you several hundred rupees. I understand safety is important, but I fail to understand why going slow is the only solution for safety.
Honda Activa’s top speed is about 75kmph. But with most agencies, you are not supposed to go beyond 60 kmph. Now if I rent an active, I need to constantly keep looking at speedo to ensure I don’t cross 60- I can’t enjoy the ride, I can’t focus on the road (which is a bigger risk than speeding).

If Govt set speed limit is 80/100 kmph why set lower limit? What huge difference another 10-15kmph will do? Why not work with dealer and limit the vehicle electronically or mechanically to the desired top speed so that me as a customer don’t have to worry about crossing the limit or paying penalty? (one or two overspeed penalty is enough to throw your trip economics out of gear)

Same for Royal Enfield- max it can go is 110/115 kmph. Why 100 kmph limit? What big difference another 10-15kmph will do? Why not get the bike limited to 100 so that rider doesn’t have to worry? (overtaking is not an excuse- once customer knows it won’t go beyond 100, he/she has to plan accordingly).

Why would I rent superbikes paying 5000 a day if I can’t go beyond 100kmph? Isn’t there any alternative to this speed limit- such as
  • Only those who have 5 accident free previous rental history can rent a superbike
  • Only those who have 5 year experience (DL older than 5 years) can rent superbike
  • Or conduct some orientation class before a member is allowed to book superbike etc
Everyone thinks going slow is the solution – because that is the easiest thing to say. No one wants to work on road conditions, better driver training/RTO process etc. In various highways it is totally safe to ride faster, if the road is good, clear and barricaded, driver is fresh, experienced and alert etc. But we have a blind speed limit for everyone in all scenarios, which feels stupid.

Today it is not efficient to rent a bike and join a group of friends for long rides- most probably you will be left behind or you'll be slowing the entire group due to speed limit. Car rental firms have at least a more sensible limit at 120 kmph.

To me this speed limit seems like an easy way to extract more money from customers. Some agencies like ONN bikes give couple of warning and only after repeat violation penalty is enforced. Other agencies are upfront- right after first violation, even if overspeed is not sustained for more than few seconds, penalty is slapped. Easy money, why let it go.
6. At least one 24/7 counter per city!
Most bike rental agencies operate during day time only (like 8/9AM till 8/9PM). This is largely fine as it may not be economical to keep all centres running all the time, particularly when booking data doesn’t justify this overhead (i.e. most customers are fine with day time operations). But my suggestion would be to keep at least 1 center per city operational 24x7. People arriving from other city may arrive late night/early morning- they can take a cab to this 24x7 centre, pickup their bike and leave on their intended trip, than having to wait till 9 AM for the counter to open. Similarly those to want to leave very early like say 3 AM, now need to rent from previous evening (8PM)- it costs more and sometimes it may not be possible (like office work is extending till 9 PM, they are unable to collect bike before counter closes. If there’s at least one 24x7 counter, whoever wants to pickup/drop at odd timings can book from here- even if that centre is not close enough it should fine for the customers. Night time traffic won’t be much, taking cab to this centre won’t be a major problem.

7. Regular biker trips with themes.
Some companies like RB and ONN are doing this currently. An organized biker trips will encourage more n more bikers to try long distance riding. While bike riding is core to such trips, it is important to have some theme/focus for the trip and stick to it. Example, if photography is the main interest then riders will need lots of stops/diversion to nearby spots etc. If exploring the destination city is main agenda then adequate time should be reserved for exploring destination (don’t plan such that all time is spend just to reach the destination n next day return). Similarly camping, adventure activities etc are other themes that can be clubbed with biking, so that those who like both the theme and biking can enroll. If just a biker trip is organized without secondary theme, it will be a disappointment for many (one may want to take lots of photos, while another just want to drink alcohol n relax while 3rd person might be expecting to see as many places as possible at the destination city)

8. Lobby with Govt for reduced tax
Every self drive car or bike fully utilized, reduces no of vehicles on the road by 3 to 5. If more n more people use self drive cars/bikes instead of owning one, pollution, traffic congestion etc will go down and our cities will be better. But then, our government doesn’t seem to recognize benefits of self-drive. While regular taxi booking is 5% GST, self drives are charged at 18%. If all self drive companies can meet the concerned ministers and help them understand benefits of self drive and demand a lower tax slab, it will be good for the industry. (Read an earlier post of mine on this topic)

9. Tie up with service centres to provide alternate vehicles.
Those who give their cars/bikes for service often take a taxi to home/work after handing over the vehicle and again while visiting service centre. This costs several hundred rupees, probably more than 1 day rental of the vehicle. Self drive companies can tie up with service centres, wherein if I give an Activa for service, I should be able to rent an activa from service centre n go to work. Evening, once service/repair is done, I should be able to return the rental activa and head home in my own Activa. This will ensure that customers will have a vehicle at their disposal even when they’ve given the bike for service- win-win for all- rental agency, customer and service company. Service company can subsidize/encourage customer to rent a more premium/latest model. If he/she likes this new model, it will be easy decision for him/her to buy this newer model whenever he/she is evaluating an upgrade of his/her personal vehicle. For self drive bike rental companies, weekday is low utilization. This service centre tie up will boost utilization.

10. Possible replication of ZAP/Angels model
Zoomcar n Myles have a scheme wherein individuals can buy a new car n deploy it on zoomcar/myles fleet. Owners and rental company share the revenue. If this model can be replicated by bike rental companies many individuals will come forward, as bikes cost much less compared to cars. This way bike rental can be provided in more n more cities, without huge capital investment from companies. For me as an individual, if I have to buy an expensive bike that I would use say only 1 weekend in a month, cost of EMI, maintenance, insurance etc will be a limiting factor. If I see some scope that part of my expense will be recovered via rentals, I will be more confident to buy that bike.

I would have suggested few more like one way rentals, pickup/drop but for these it may need some more maturity, customer patronage and demand for these services to be viable.

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