CEO Series

S'pore Taxi Firm ComfortDelGro Invested "Millions" In Tech Such As Chatbots To Stay Relevant

As the number of taxis in Singapore decrease year by year, from about 28,000 at the peak of the industry in 2014, to about 23,000 in 2018, operators have to transform or become obsolete.

A part of this decline can be attributed to the entrance of ride-hailing apps in Singapore back in 2013.

Despite Uber’s exit, the taxi industry here still felt like it was struggling to catch up with Grab, as it ran full speed ahead on developing its app and services.

However, last year, Singapore taxi operator ComfortDelGro (CDG) set up a US$100 million venture capital fund to invest in technology startups that complement its land transport business.

Their corporate VC fund, ComfortDelGro Ventures, recently invested in three transport-related tech startups, SWAT, Haulio, and Foretellix.

And you what they say, if you can’t beat them, join them in innovating.

A Straits Times (ST) report “revealed that the company had embarked on a ‘digital transformation’ to go head to head with disruptors such as ride-hailing firms Grab and Gojek”.

One of their initiatives they have implemented is a chatbot in the CDG taxi app that will help a passenger recover their lost item in a CDG cab, for instance.

Such cases like this, averaging 300 a day, were previously handled through phone calls or email which were time-consuming processes.

With this chatbot, passengers with enquiries will not have to be put on hold or wait for a response via email.

Ang Wei Neng, CEO of ComfortDelGro Taxi, told ST that he had prepared himself before launching this new initiative “which currently involves more than 50 employees and ‘tens of millions in investment'”.

Its headquarters in Sin Ming Drive has one floor dedicated to teams that look at ways to improve the taxi-booking app for commuters and cabbies.

The four squads of six to eight people each use data analytics to help them “decide when and to whom to roll out customer-retaining offers, including promotions”.

On the same floor, there are test studios that record live interviews with sample commuters to measure user experience of each app function.

To access a wider pool of tech resources, ST wrote, CDG has set up tech centres in Myanmar and India.

The firm will be investing more in its digital transformation plans.

Ang said that CDG will continue to be a brick-and-mortar firm that is “tech-enabled”, “unlike most disruptors”.

Just last week, CDG rolled out ComfortConnect, an on-demand bus service, on a three-month trial.

The service, similar to GrabShuttle, will also fulfill the ride even if there’s only one booking.

CDG is also proud of their in-app street-hail service, introduced two years ago, which they believe to be a “world first”.

Its new ComfortRide service, launched about four months ago, is one familiar to Grab and Gojek users.

Prices are stated upfront and are based on dynamic pricing; like CDG’s regular taxi-booking service on the app, additional stops cost $5 each.

According to ST, this service is only available to its 12,000-strong taxi fleet and will be rolled out to “an undisclosed number of private-hire cars” in the future.

The size of CDG’s fleet was reported to be about 13,000 in 2018, a 22% drop compared to its fleet size in December 2015.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, at a meeting with drivers of CDG Taxi in July, had suggested that “companies can enhance their apps to make them more user-friendly”.

This was said on top of encouraging senior cabbies to embrace change and pick up digital skills.

She had also assured cabbies that the government will look into ways to help them adapt to the changes and praised CDG’s efforts on upskilling and equipping its workers with relevant digital skills.

Trans-Cab, its rival, is taking a different approach to tackling the market’s problem.

It chose to expand horizontally, introducing two new business verticals and investing a total of $35 million in them – a car financing arm and a car leasing business.

At the moment, CDG is the largest taxi operator in Singapore, with Trans-Cab coming in second.

Featured Image Credit: Vulcan Post

 

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