Help at hand…
Innovation necessary to overcome challenges
FEAR OF CRIME has ensured roadside assistance programmes are a core component of any motor maintenance plan or motor insurance policy. While a maintenance plan tends to be a secondary issue when buying a vehicle the roadside assistance aspect of a plan similarly tends to be secondary – so chances are it gets little attention until your wife’s car has broken down on a lonely road with the kids in the back seat.
Fortunately, the two major providers of roadside assistance – the Automobile Association (AA) and EuropAssistance – have negotiated with most of South Africa’s motor manufacturers/dealers that one or other of their products is now an integral part of most vehicle plans.
However, roadside assistance plans tend to cover a wide spectrum from very limited assistance through to the full Monty. In this era of violent and anonymous crime if you use a car you want it working 24/7. And when it won’t start you want access to a 24-hour phone number and back up. Compounding the anxiety of being alone on the road is the fact that traffic congestion often means assistance doesn’t arrive quickly enough. Roadside assistance companies have to innovate to overcome such challenges.
Karen Bryden, MD of the AA, says it’s currently piloting a more mobile response by motorbike in security “hot spots” as well as generally on freeways. “It’s a solution we’re evaluating and so far it’s proving quite productive. It obviously carries a smaller range of tools but it’s sufficiently well equipped to resolve most basic faults,” she says.
If a vehicle breaks down in a security hot
spot, or if the caller simply expresses concern for his safety, the AA has established a relationship with one of the major security firms to immediately supply an armed guard until the AA’s on-call mechanic arrives.
EuropAssistance provides a single call centre for all emergency needs, from logging a breakdown to calling medical care or police, as well as providing security for the individual while the car is towed to a workshop.
Rouxle van Molendorff, EuropAssistance COO, describes it as a one-call-does-it-all service – but has taken it much further to pre-emptive safety. “If people are concerned about a trip – particularly single females, older people or those carrying children – we have a service whereby we call them at predetermined intervals of, say, half an hour, or even every 15 minutes for shorter though vulnerable trips if the motorist sees a high risk of breakdown. If there’s no answer we then take agreed action, such as reporting it to a referred contact number,” she says.
This relatively new business is growing by 2%/month and 25% over the past year – despite record fuel prices and a consumer slowdown, which might have been expected to have an impact on travelling and holidays.
However, Van Molendorff says the increase in business may be attributable to growing awareness of the product and the fact roadside assistance is being included in more vehicle plans, as well as completely unrelated products by retailers which offer it as a value-add to loyalty schemes.
She offers the same explanation for EuropAssistance seeing an increase in reported crime compared to declining figures reported by the police. Indicative of the greater sophistication of modern cars, Van Molendorff says there’s been an increase from 6% to 11% in the number of cars that a locksmith can’t open when the driver has locked the keys inside. Those have to be towed. “That’s all the more reason why motorists want a single company that ties together everything for the individual.”
Bryden says the onus is on the motorist to check what benefits they have, as the AA alone sells a wide range of benefits, with medical, legal and mapping services as add-ons.
Some products offer both paramedics on call and dial-up nurses, who provide counselling in the case of hijackings.
A one-call-does-it-all service. Rouxle van Molendorff