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Sixt Finds RFID Is Key to Improving Customer Service

The global car rental company has deployed the technology at about 200 branches to identify the locations of car keys, thereby reducing customers' waiting times and automating the collection of data related to when the vehicles are returned.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 10, 2014

Sixt, based in Germany, is one of the world's largest car rental agencies. It operates 2,200 branches worldwide, with a total of 144,000 rental cars available, and has earned a 14 percent share of the European rental car market. One of the company's challenges has been keeping wait times down for those renting vehicles, as well as ensuring that customers can rent the cars of their choice. A source of frustration for customers and employees at some locations has been the amount of time required to locate keys for a specific vehicle.

"When a customer comes in to a big branch with 10 desks and says 'I want a BMW,' the agent has to look for that key," says Alexander Boone, Sixt's head of project and innovation management.

Every RFID-enabled rental station has two key drawers, each equipped with a reader antenna.
"The main target for us has been to reduce time delivery of each key," Boone explains. "We found out that if you have a big branch with 600 rentals a day or more, it can take up to three minutes to find the key that's needed." Thanks to the RFID system, he says, it now takes only 20 seconds.

The solution, provided by Vilant Systems, consists of key fobs with embedded passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID inlays, as well as the installation of readers in sales counters, at the lock boxes in which customers can return car keys when sales offices are closed, and at the bins where the keys of cleaned vehicles are deposited. Sixt's own management software uses the RFID data to track where in the office the key is located for a particular car that will be rented, as well as, in some cases, when a vehicle was returned and when it is ready for its next rental. The RFID solution has been deployed at approximately 200 branches in 10 countries.

Prior to adopting RFID, Sixt had experimented with the technology. About eight years ago, the company first began testing a high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz RFID solution at five of its branches in Germany. A passive HF tag was attached to each car's key fob, and readers were installed in key-storage drawers located under the counters. Software managed the collected read data locally at each site. However, Boone says, the HF system did not perform reliably. Tags of keys placed in the RFID-enabled drawers were not always read, and staff members thus had to manually search through all the drawers in order to find the keys they needed. In addition, he reports, the technology was expensive, and the HF readers' poor read rate, as well as the lack of data filter, made it impossible for Sixt to receive and manage data from its centralized rental management IT system.

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