Jay Chandran – Advantage Rent A Car
Imagine picking up or returning your rental car at any location—a bus stop, airport or Wal-Mart parking lot—just by using your mobile app. You could do everything from picking out your car and signing the contract to locating your vehicle, unlocking it and paying your bill.
That’s the future Advantage Rent a Car’s Chief Technical Officer (CTO) Jay Chandran sees—a rental car process free of four walls, long lines and cranky children heading off on their first Disney vacation in Orlando.
Coming on board in 2017, Chandran is developing ways to streamline operations in Advantage’s world of rental cars. To that end, this native of Madras, India—who has called the United States his home for 20 years—has developed a series of initiatives to extract information for better data-driven decisions.
“The work we’re doing is increasing our brand awareness, customer loyalty and internal operations. Most significantly, it’s improving each customer’s experience,” Chandran says. “The customer sees that we know them, and a better brand like us makes sure that we know exactly what each customer wants.”
Life in the fast lane
Founded in 1963, Advantage Rent a Car, a Canadian-owned company, is headquartered in Orlando. While Chandran may not have a crystal ball, he knows exactly what his customers like.
Millennial drivers, for example, want small, sporty, bright cars, while vacationers heading to The Sunshine State want seating for seven in a white or gray minivan. These stats are derived from Chandran’s data collecting efforts and benefit the company in two ways: first, it creates a more personalized experience for consumers, helping them get exactly what they want; second, it makes Advantage more efficient by making timely, well-targeted purchases in the fleet.
Gaining access to that information starts with just one click. “We’re not about delving into your personal business as deep as Big Brother, but we’ll use technology to serve you better in ways you’ll appreciate,” he says—whether it’s deciding on the easiest place to return a car or offering elite customers a cost-effective one-way rental.
Through his work, Chandran has helped the company know everything it needs to know about purchasing cars, basing its decisions on local demand and pricing data. He conveniently has all the information at his fingertips after assessing 10 years of internal information.
“From a business standpoint we know what to procure and when to do it,” he says, commenting that the software is intuitive and walks team members through the decision-making process step-by-step.
Chandran says his “natural language processing system” is another cutting-edge advantage he developed for the company. As he explains, his software tool compiles data from customer-employee interactions from chats, blogs and social media to help his team make even more informed decisions that will benefit customers. To better improve data collection, he’s modernized Advantage’s customer point-of-sale system through upgrades accessible from any mobile app, website, social media or e-commerce platform.
By implementing the latest software, there’s been a measurable 30 percent gain in operational efficiencies. Another value-added gain is improving what he calls the “discoverability” of the brand—increasing visibility by 80 percent.
“When the brand performs better for customers, they seek the ease and efficiency of what the company offers them,” he says.
Car 54, where are you?
Currently, Advantage is in its next wave of development in artificial intelligence—inside the car itself.
By installing a gadget, Chandran says he’ll be able to gather any information about the car, such as its mileage, potential damages from a collision and gas levels when a car comes back or goes out.
“It will also help us (and our customers and mechanics) locate a car. Here in Orlando we might have a thousand white cars in the lot, and with this technical information, a customer will know right where to go to pick up the vehicle, skipping the line entirely,” he says. “On the return, once in one of our geoprint lots that tracks the device, a customer will not have to wait for someone to check them out and provide paperwork.”
What this may translate into, Chandran says, is elimination of a big on-site rental office. Customers may see a time-saving kiosk in the future, or even “virtual locations” at paid parking lots and shopping centers—anywhere convenient to the customer.
“From a customer standpoint, we can better use the resources to continue to provide higher-quality customer service to create even better experience with speedy, friendly interactions and no lines,” Chandran says.
Service with a smile
Perhaps the position that gave Chandran his biggest insights into the customer experience was his work at multibillion retailer QVC (HSN) where he was director of IT starting in 2006, overseeing a digital transformation for the television retailer.
“Every single business is a commodity, where something is bought or sold, and there is a digital footprint there that tells the tale,” he says.
It was a job, he says, where he certainly put his technological education and experience to use. After earning his degree at the University of Madras in India in 1993 he went on to earn a master’s at Annamalai University in 1993 and a Ph.D. from the University of Tasmania in 1995, where he also conducted research and was a teaching assistant. From there it was a steady stream of positions as a consultant, manager, director of IT and CTO in multiple companies.
“I love solving complex problems and thinking of ways to make life better and what other advancements we can unlock in the future,” Chandran says. “But personally, I get as much satisfaction from serving people well. I love to see people happy.”
That spirit of service and giving has translated into a long-standing tradition of Chandran’s extensive community involvement in Tampa, where he now lives with his wife and daughters, ages 9 and 12.
“A strong leader must have a good heart and look into what are they giving back to the community to help the new generation,” he says.
To that end, Chandran coaches classes in writing, speaking and presentation skills; organizing camps for children. He also teaches kids to play chess; helps them with science and community projects; and mentors youth.
“I firmly believe if we invest our time and support our youth in right direction, we can reduce crime and make a huge difference in our communities,” he says. “We can’t blame children for wrongdoing if we ignore them and don’t engage them in core values.”
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