Looking For A Taxi Dispatch System – Read This First!

Let’s assume for a moment, that your fleet is looking for a Taxi Dispatch system.  As with most products these days, the large number of choices can complicate finding the best product to suit your requirements. In the North American market, there used to be 3 or 4 main providers. Now, there are taxi dispatch system providers from literally all over the world. Why the sudden increase in choices? The advent of cloud computing, global virtual networks such as Amazon AWS, and the availability of low-cost smartphones, tablets and standardized cellular networks has removed many of the technical and geographic barriers to entry. Simply stated, its much easier today to sell your taxi dispatch system anywhere in the world.

Does this mean that its easier today to choose a taxi dispatch system? On the contrary, its actually much more difficult! Its like trying to pick out a chocolate bar at a 7-11 -there are far too many choices! … And with all of these choices, does this mean the market is larger and healthier today? Actually, it’s more difficult because we’re competing for a smaller piece of the overall market – thanks to Uber, Lyft and other ride sharing companies that have taken as much as half the business. At the same time, thanks to globalization, we’re competing with 10 times the competition.

What does this mean to you, as a transportation fleet looking for a taxi dispatch system?

Choosing a taxi dispatch system can become time consuming -you could literally waste months settling on the right solution. This is a common theme in many areas of business software today for the same reasons -we’re in a global market. For example, we were recently looking for a new CRM solution for our business -that’s a software system that organizes all of our customer relationships, allowing us to keep track of phone calls, emails and documents for our customers and sales prospects. With all of the choices, features, free trials, etc., it wasn’t long before it all became a big blur. If you start looking for a solution before you have really identified your needs and priorities, this is what often happens.

Each year, we’re seeing new dispatch providers pop up then disappear almost as quickly. There simply isn’t enough business for all of these competitors. There never was. This industry was always pretty small and tight. Throughout the years, even when we were listed on the first page of Google for “taxi dispatch system”, we didn’t receive that many leads. Just a few per week. This is not like many consumer markets, where being listed first on Google means you can be flooded with business. Software companies or software programmers that are attracted to this market eventually find out that building software is the easy part. Selling it, maintaining it and supporting your clients is another matter entirely. That’s why choosing the wrong provider can leave you out in the cold and back at square one when they shut their doors. This can be very disruptive to your business, your staff and your customers.

As previously noted, any software company with a true cloud-based taxi dispatch system can sell it anywhere in the world. Take Taxi Commander for example. We host Taxi Commander on Amazon AWS, which is a virtual global computer network. Its just as easy for us to turn up a system in Europe or Australia as it is in North America. Our system dispatches to smartphones and tablets, which are compatible almost anywhere in the world. The Google turn-by-turn navigation in our driver app and the Google address lookup and other standard features are available virtually anywhere. So, why not sell our system anywhere in the world like most of our competitors are doing?

As I write this blog, its 8:30 AM here on the west coast of Canada. In Sydney, Australia, its 1:30 AM tomorrow! Its not even the same day! In London, England, its 4:30 this afternoon -an 8 hour difference. How are we going to service those markets if we don’t have offices in those markets, with real bodies on the ground? Certainly, we could have an automated support ticket system like many do. Go online, state your issue and hope to hear back by the next day… In our 20 years experience providing taxi dispatch systems, we know that our customers expect us to pickup the phone when they call. Yes, we have 24 hour live support, but is that the same as actually operating on their time zone? Support people usually stick with the corporate script. “No sir, we don’t have that feature, but if you like, we can add it to the list…” or “I’m not sure, you’ll need to talk to your account manager about that as I’m not sure what you’re referring to… can you call back when he gets in at 8:00 this morning.” (at 4:00 AM your time)

Our customers don’t just want to talk to support. They want to talk to a manager or an owner -someone who can understand their issues and come up with creative solutions. They want to talk to a trainer -not watch a video. They want to hear suggestions, get creative ideas and receive industry advice. They simply won’t get these things from a software company that does not operate on their time zone and on their soil. What about the software itself? Are the auto dispatch rules the same everywhere? Currencies? Payment providers? What about the terminology? In Australia, they don’t even spell dispatch the same -its spelled despatch!

Is it possible to build the flexibility into your taxi dispatch system to address all those local differences, rules, rate codes and other nuances? Yes, of course it is but its highly unlikely it can be done profitably.

That’s why many of these providers take a low cost approach, advertising their prices right on their websites and offering free trials. They certainly can’t cold call into your market or drop by for a visit -because they are fast asleep while you’re going about your day.  This is the “throw lots of mud and see what sticks” approach. It doesn’t cost the provider much to do this -they are banking on some percentage of fleets sticking around long enough on their free trial to finally throw in the towel and become a customer. However, as we’ve pointed out on this blog, “Looking for a Free Trial?, these free trials aren’t really free at all. Why? Because your time isn’t free and if you involve any of your staff or drivers in these trials, they can lose patience and interest quickly as you bounce from one trial to the next. How likely are you to take something serious that didn’t cost you a cent? How likely are you to stop at one free trial? Not very likely and before you know it, you’ve got that sick, too-many-choices and all-you-can eat buffet ill-stomach feeling.

OK, So how do you go about choosing a taxi dispatch system?

Following this brief guide will help you create an effective framework from which to choose the best solution for your situation:

What are you building?

Before you begin your quest, answer the following questions to define your business.

-What is your largest business vision? Perhaps you’re starting with 5 vehicles or perhaps you already have 300. Where do you see this business in 5 years? Understanding this will help set the expectations for what the dispatch system will need to provide.

Put it in writing. For example: “Our fleet (Business Name) will gain a reputation as the most professional fleet in our city, known for its consistency, cleanliness and professionalism.” Or, “Our fleet is the largest modern, all hybrid fleet in the city, providing friendly door to door service and consistently contributing to the well being of our community.”

-What markets are you serving? Taxi, ride sharing, shuttle, non-emergency medical transportation, airport service, limousine, para-transit? It may sound like an obvious question, but each of these markets has unique requirements and can make the dispatch system needs quite different. For example, NEMT markets typically require the ability to import trips and assign multiple trips to a vehicle at the same time.

Put it in writing. For example: “Our fleet (Business Name) specializes in both metered, licensed taxi service and non-emergency medical transportation, with a combination of hybrid sedans and accessible transportation vans.”

-What is your differentiation strategy? How is your fleet different? Why would a passenger or an account choose your fleet over a competitors? Will you provide better service or will you be providing a lower cost? Will you have professionally trained drivers? Will your fleet be faster because of its sheer size? Put your customer’s hat on -what will you do or what are you doing now to become the best choice for them?

For example: ” Our taxi division, with 100% hybrid vehicles and professionally trained drivers, provides the city with its most modern, reliable and safe taxi service. Our NEMT division uses the latest technology to provide maximum service levels and optimum efficiency to both our vendors and passengers.”

-How will you attract drivers? Why will they work for you? Will they be employees or owner-operators? How are you going to improve their lives? How are you going to make them more money or provide better job security or benefits? How can you attract your competitor’s drivers?

Put it in writing. For example: “Our fleet lets drivers choose between employee, contractor or owner-operator sructures with a migration path that lets them achieve their long term goals. The company supports those goals with a selection of lease and loan programs, benefit packages and performance incentives.”

Define the requirements of the taxi dispatch system.

With your corporate objectives and vision clearly stated, now consider the critical role that the taxi dispatch system must play in achieving your goals. Following the vision statement and differentiation strategy, break the business into operational segments, such as “taxi division” or “NEMT division” or “black car service”, then define the operational goals for each. For each operational goal, set out the requirements of the dispatch system.

For example:

Division: Taxi Division

Operational Goal #1 Facilitate Multiple Trip Reservation Input Methods:

-Order Kiosk
-Website Orders
-SmartPhone Orders

Operational Goal #2 Facilitate Rapid Call-Taking:

-Caller ID Pop-In
-Auto Reservation History
-Google Address Auto Complete
-Google Places Landmark Lookup
-Automatic Street Database Creation
-Automatic Landmark Creation
-Automatic Address Zoning
-Multi-leg Trip Orders
-Standing (Repeat) Orders

And so on… . Take the time to set out each of your primary operation goals and then determine what is required by the dispatch system to achieve them. Use this as your template to compare the different dispatch providers that you talk with. Create a matrix of each provider that allows you to score each system.

Recognize the role that price plays.

We receive inquiries all the time and often, the first question and sometimes the only question is, how much is it?

That potential buyers might only consider price as the determining factor makes us wonder if they are just assuming that all taxi dispatch systems are created equal. They all have the same features, the same capability, the same performance, the same reliability and the same support. Really?

If you were looking to buy a car, would you call each car dealership in town and only asking one question: “How much is your cheapest car?” Then, compare all the cheapest cars and voila, there’s your choice! Its simple when there is only one criteria. Does it matter if it actually runs and can turn corners?  What if that low cost car breaks down weekly? Or, what if it is terrible to drive, uncomfortable, unsafe or has terrible performance?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to consider price last, using a formula something like this: (functionality + easy-of-use + performance + reliability + support quality) /divided by price = net value?

Getting back to price, is it possible that the more expensive solution actually might be the cheapest one in the long run? What if that more expensive product helped you get into new markets due to its feature set? Or, what if the lowest cost solution required additional manual processes that cost you additional time in labor to complete? Or, what if its lack of reliability meant that customers could not be served consistently? If the cheapest solution was the only thing that mattered, then a 100% free solution would be the only answer. Why pay anything?

Recognize that value matters more than price. Put price aside until the very end of your process. This will allow you to compare the systems objectively. Consider that those with more costly systems probably charge more for a reason. If not, then how are they still in business and why haven’t they dropped their price?

How do service and support fit into the picture?

The final piece of the puzzle to consider is service. Remember, as a software company, one of the largest cost inputs comes from providing personal support. We all encounter situations on a daily basis, where we require support and find it difficult to obtain. This happens every time we need to talk to a cellular phone company, utility, web hosting company or government agency, etc. The first thing that happens is you can’t even find their phone number. They don’t want you to call them, so they make you jump through all sorts of hoops just to find their phone number! Why? Because, it costs them a fortune to have one of their employees sitting on a 30 minute phone call. As a consumer, we all find this incredibly frustrating.

Your dispatch system is going to run your entire operation. Its a critical piece of the puzzle in being able to achieve your objectives as a transportation company. You’re going to have all sorts of questions -all sorts of scenarios where you need to understand how something works or figure out how to do something with it. How important is it that when this happens, you’ll be able to actually reach someone on the phone? Most of us do you want to sit on hold or wait until the next day to get an answer.

Keep in mind that it costs money to offer fast, responsive support. Therefore, it goes without saying that you’re going to have to pay a little extra to deal with a provider that will answer the phone in real time and then spend the time to help you. Do you think its worth it? Before you start looking at various dispatch software providers, its a good idea to have a clear understanding of your purchase philosophy in this regard. Let’s say that you found 2 software companies that look very similar -both offering the capabilities that you need. One of them is overseas -on a substantially different time zone. You’ve already figured out from talking to them that they are not easy to get in touch with. You can tell from the noise on the line that they are a long way off. Its sometimes hard to understand them. They have an accent that is also a little challenging. When you need help, you’re not likely to hear back until the next day. They probably won’t call -they’ll perhaps send a help document that you have to read. The other provider is on your time zone. They answer the phone immediately, almost every time. They are easy to understand and hear and they are very helpful. They understand your local market. They will sit on the phone with you and work through your issues.

As you can guess, the local company’s system probably costs a little more. What do you think the value of this should be? Is this something you’re willing to pay more to receive?

Now, do the math.

We’ve divided the functionality of a taxi dispatch system into 10 primary categories. Each category is worth a maximum of 10 points. As you are reviewing systems, rank the functionality of each system category below out of 10 points -for a maximum total of 100 points.

  1. Order Entry
  2. Job Pricing
  3. Dispatching
  4. Driver App
  5. Passenger App
  6. Ease of Use
  7. Job and Vehicle Tracking
  8. Accounting
  9. Reporting
  10. Cashiering

Now, score each provider out of an additional 25 points for each of the support capabilities below, for a total maximum score of an additional 100 points:

  1. Proximity & Accessibility
  2. System Reliability
  3. Knowledge & Experience
  4. System Architecture

An overview of each of these factors:

Proximity & Accessibility: If the taxi dispatch system provider is physically located in your country, this earns them 10 points. If they also have physical support people living in your time zone, they earn an additional 5 points. If they have answered the phone every time you call or returned your calls within a few minutes each time, they get another 10 points. Total possible points: 25

System reliability: If the system is a true cloud-based system that requires no installation and operates right from your browser, they get 10 points. If it is professionally hosted on Amazon AWS or Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud, they get another 5 points. The remaining 10 points comes from providing live references that you’ve talked to and received positive feedback from. Total possible points: 25

Knowledge and Experience: Give them 1 point for every year in operation, up to a maximum of 15. The other 10 points is your subjective rating based on how well they’ve answered all your questions and how helpful they’ve been. Total possible points: 25

System Architecture: If its a true cloud-based system give them 5 points. (Its only cloud-based if the entire system requires no installation and runs purely in your browser) If they are willing to host your system on its very own virtual hardware without any other fleets sharing the same hardware, give them 5 points. If they are willing to white list your office IP address so you can control who can access the system, give them another 5 points. If they are willing to install it in your building on your own server as a private cloud, give them another 5 points. (Even if you don’t want this, it shows flexibility) If they are willing to provide the system with no long-term agreement and provide an export of your data when you leave, they get another 5 points. Total possible points: 25

Determine the value

Now, you should have a total score out of 200 points for each system you’ve looked at. The last thing you need to consider is the value, according to the formula Total Score / Price.

As an example, a provider that scores a perfect 200 points with a total monthly price of $1000.00 would have a score of 200 divided by 1000 = 0.2. Another provider with a score of only 100 points with the same price would have a value rating of 100 divided by 1000 = 0.1. This score is only half the value of the first score.

Let’s say you have one provider with 150 points and a monthly price of $1000 = 0.15 and another provider with 175 points and a price of $1166.00 = 0.15. They represent the same net value. The second system offers greater functionality and/or support capabilities for just a little bit more. The difference in price is $166.00 per month. Is it worth it? Certainly, if that second system has better reliability, the answer is clear because having your system go down during a busy time could be very disruptive. What if the only difference was the ease of access to support? Would that be worth $166.00 per month?

Only you can determine where value comes into play. A couple of things to consider:

  1. Look at the whole picture when analyzing costs to put things in perspective. If your dispatch centre with 2 or 3 shifts per day, the office rent, salaries, benefits etc. adds up to $10,000.00 per month, adding an additional $166 per month is very minor, especially if that investment is going to translate into putting a better product on the road.
  2. Ultimately, we would all like the very best system we can get, with the very best support we can get. No one is going to argue that. The very best system should result in improved customer service to your customers and greater differentiation from your competitors. It should also minimize your operating costs, as its likely more efficient.

Go forth and prosper!

The fact that you are considering a new dispatch system shows you are serious about running an efficient, professional service. This is an important step but its equally important that you take an organized approach to comparing the systems available. It begins with understanding your business vision, your differentiation strategy and your operational objectives. From there you can define the system requirements. Wrapped around all of this is your purchase philosophy, which defines where you place value.

Don’t make the mistake, as many do, of commencing this exercise with a focus on pure price. Doing so will prevent you from seeing true value, which is much more important to your success. When you are considering dispatch solutions, think carefully about how extra capabilities can save you time because time is money. Think how the various solutions contribute to satisfying your own customers -because at the end of the day, its all about customers. The point is, its important to look at the benefits and the return on investment, rather than just the costs.

We hope you’ll consider Taxi Commander! Book a demo today by clicking here!