Jun 19

Grow fast in the passenger transportation industry

Extend your current business and brand through the affiliates!

Growth in the passenger transportation industry can be accomplished in more than one way, but all growth requires acquiring more customers and more vehicles.

You can grow internally by purchasing more vehicles and hiring more employees.

Or you can leverage your current business and brand by extending your coverage and territory through affiliates – partners who meet your requirements in other markets, maximizing customer loyalty and increasing lifetime value.

You provide your customers the opportunity to engage with you instead of your competitors, regardless of where they are.

There is, of course, risk in this.

Keeping in mind that the primary reason for doing this is to extend your service to your customers, the affiliate network must be developed and managed to be an extension of  your company, providing the same level of service and care that you do.

As Tami Saccoccio said in an article published by LCT magazine,

There is an extreme level of trust in farming out jobs to companies. We are trusting them with our clients and anything that goes wrong directly reflects upon us.

Tami Saccoccio

Consider these customer service facts, according to Fieldboom:

  • Companies lose 71% of consumers due to poor customer service
  • A 5% increase in customer retention can lead to an increase in profits of 25%-95%
  • 47% of customers would take their business to a competitor within a day of experiencing poor customer service

Source: Fieldboom

These statistics underscore how important an affiliate manager is to the company.

For this reason, the first step and key element for success is to hire an affiliate manager, one who has the knowledge, business experience, skills and personality to protect your reputation and brand, and to help you grow.

The bottom line is:  maintain and grow your business through an affiliate network, keeping the client happy.

Develop the network

This is the foundation and therefore the most important step.

First, an affiliate manager must define the markets where the company currently wants to expand as well as proactively seek new markets based on demand e.g. cities with a lot of conventions, high demand from tourism or events.

An affiliate manager would then analyze what is needed in each place based on demand.

To learn about the role, responsibilities and many activities of being an affiliate manager,  I spoke with  Renee Ferraro, who was very available to share her knowledge.

I try to have three affiliate companies in every state and at every airport location.

Because you never know if number 1 is with a big group, and you have to go to your number 2 and sometimes you need to go to your number 3, so that I have back-up and certain people have certain vehicles and other people have buses, or sedans, if I am looking for a particular type of sedan or limo.

A lot of details to think about it.

Renee Ferraro

The next step is to select potential affiliates, with trust being the most important element, since they will be representing your company.

Most requests to an affiliate are to personal connections, made through working together previously or through meetings, trade shows and events.

Source: UMA Motorcoach Expo

Relationships are developed mostly face-to-face, and trust grows over time, as clearly explained by Jami Crouch.

You work with people that you do like.

You work with people that you trust.

And in order to gain their trust, you have to be available to assist however, wherever, whenever.

Jami Crouch

Industry events are a great opportunity for meeting with current and potential international affiliates, who can demonstrate equipment, services, make sure they are open 24/7, routes etc.

Source: Linkedin

One thing is we do meet them at the shows.

We do go to the Vegas show every year and people from all over, like thousands, attend this show, and that’s how you meet most of the overseas clients/affiliates.

And they go over everything that they provide, they give us brochures, and explain to us, because some of their vehicles are different than ours, and they go over all that with us as well.

Renee Ferraro

Sources for acquiring an affiliate

The actual process of acquiring an affiliate starts with the most trusted sources and then each subsequent step tries to reach a level of trust through other means.

  1. Direct connections. Make contact with people you already know and have worked with in the past.
  2. Trusted referrals. If there is no personal connection in a market where service is required, an affiliate manager will seek referrals from trusted source.
  3. Industry events. Meet new and existing affiliates, taking the time at the event to create relationships.
  4. Social networking. There are separate owners and limo groups on Facebook where people can ask questions, and people are always willing to comment and share experiences.

    There is also an owners group on Facebook where people post comments such as “Hey, company X hasn’t paid me, do you have any connections, how can I get them.” and normally when it’s deadbeat things, the payment is usually made right away because nobody wants to be called out.

  5. Online platforms. Applications which gives anyone the opportunity to offer their services.

Things that you must know about an affiliate and your customers

Specific things that you must know about an affiliate

  • Vehicle details – how many, what size, what level, how old
  • All licenses and insurance
  • Reservations system
  • Level and details of service
  • Pricing

In developing the network, it is also important to be very clear on your customers.

Know their price point, and their purpose in traveling.

Is it business or leisure?

What the affiliates offer must match your customers’ expectations and demands.

As Jami Crouch states,

“It is important to pair the right affiliate with the right client.”

Maintaining the network

Once the affiliate network is established, it must be managed to maintain the expected level of customer service.

On a daily basis, the affiliate manager follows every job that is farmed out, making sure that the details of each reservation are met and that things are running smoothly.

And on an-going basis, there are the less-frequent but equally important activities such as site visits, updating rates, customer satisfaction communication, and solving any problems as they occur.

Company policy varies on how often site visits are performed, either to known affiliates or new affiliates.

But a site visit can be triggered by a complaint from a customer.

Now when you go to a site visit, and they know you’re coming, they could either easily hide their vehicles, if they’re not all out working, or they can be honest and tell you what they do have and tell you what’s available when you’re there.

A lot of people say they have brand new vehicles and they don’t.

Sometimes your client will tell you and sometimes your client will not.

So I have learned the hard way, and you’ve had people very disappointed and they don’t want to pay for the service because they were put in an old car or something.

Renee Ferraro

The site visit can also be done as a secret shopper.

The affiliate manager would travel under a different name, and therefore receive the same customer service as any other customer would receive.

I think it’s even more important than a site visit.
I want to see how things work just as if I were an average client.

Jami Crouch

The network at work

With affiliates in place with a system and processes to manage the expected level of customer service, how does the affiliate manager actually work with the affiliate network?

  1. When a reservation request is received, a quote is given to the client based on the known prices of the affiliate, which were previously ascertained.
  2. The affiliate manager contacts one or more of the affiliates to see availability and receive a quotation.

    This is done by email or through software.

    Affiliate are designated marked A, B and C, or 1, 2, 3, so that you know, whoever is going there, the manager will go to the number 1, and if the number 1 is not available go to number 2.

    Assignment also depends on equipment and vehicles.

  3. The affiliate responds with the quote
    • Makes notes in reservation so that when invoice comes in, can compare with original quote to make sure OK
    • Invoice must contain all information such as time in car and time out of car, extra time, etc.
  4. If the quote is acceptable, the affiliate manager assigns the job.

    If not, the affiliate manager speaks directly with the affiliate to negotiate a different price.

  5. On the day of the service, the affiliate manager follows up with the affiliate to make sure everything is going as planned and requested and monitors the assignments throughout the day to make sure the vehicle is there waiting for the client and that services are being delivered as required.
  6. Invoice is received from the affiliate, preferably within 24 hours, and details are confirmed against the quotation and the details of the ride.

Keep clients happy

As mentioned earlier, every company should know as much about their customers as possible.

The more details you know, the better the match can be to the right affiliate.

If there are any problems, or a customer expresses any dissatisfaction, the affiliate manager speaks with both the client and affiliate to get both sides of the story.

Client to affiliate manager:

Affiliate manager to client:

Affiliate manager to affiliate:

Affiliate to affiliate manager:

Affiliate manager to client:

client to affiliate manager:

Problems could be things such as the driver was late or didn’t show up, or the vehicle was old, or in some form of disrepair.

Then you take care of the problems.

Say the next day, they call and say “hey this guy was late, I don’t want to pay the full price”.

Then I have to call the affiliate back and say “Listen, you guys were late, I need 50% off, or I need this, or, I need you to comp them a ride. It’s not my fault that you guys messed up” and then they will either agree to it, or we have issues and we go back and forth to make everybody happy.

Renee Ferraro

Regular follow-up with clients

In addition to the direct response to a customer’s complaint, proactively seeking feedback maintains good customer relationships and identifies potential problems.

I reach out to my customers every three months, whether by phone, email or a personal note.

It’s really important to stay in touch.

Jami Crouch

Additionally, it would be wise to have a record-keeping system in place for any customer care issues that arise over time.

Source: SurveyMonkey

Studies have shown that only 4% of dissatisfied customers reach out to a company to voice their complaints.

In other words, for every customer who tells you they’re unhappy, there are likely 24 others who are equally unhappy – they just haven’t said anything about it.

What’s worse, many customers who have a bad experience with a company won’t want to do business with that company ever again.

65% of consumers said they’ve cut ties with a brand over a single poor customer service experience.

Any time you see a spike in customer complaints in a particular area, it’s a safe bet that multiple customers are facing the same issue with your company.

Hiring the right affiliate manager

The three main areas of responsibility for an affiliate manager

In addition to have an outgoing personality and superior interpersonal skills, an affiliate manager must have the personality, attributes, skills and experience for each of three functions described above.

  • To develop the affiliate network, an affiliate manager must be analytical, well-connected in the industry, organized, be active in the community by networking at conferences, trade shows and industry events. Experience in the industry means they already know who to go to, and who they can trust their customers and their business with.
  • To manage the affiliate network, an affiliate manager needs problem solving ability, a calm demeanor and a good memory.
  • To keep customers happy, an affiliate manager needs a sincere desire to help people, be dedicated, understand all the processes of the company – reservations, operators, dispatchers, drivers, sales and billing and be available 24/7.

How they get paid

An affiliate manager can either be on a straight salary or salary plus a monthly bonus which usually consists of  a commission on new business plus a smaller commission on returning business.

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<a href='https://www.sengerio.com/blog/'><img src='https://www.sengerio.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/infographic02_4.jpg' width='1100' height='2367' alt='Sengerio Affiliate Manager'/></a><br />Source: <a href='https://www.sengerio.com'>Sengerio.com</a>.

How to apply this to your company

If you want to grow your company through an affiliate network, hire or promote someone who brings the personality, experience and dedication to the role.

Provide the 24/7 support to customers and affiliates, and build and maintain trust throughout the entire company and the network.

About The Author

Chris Wildgen is a marketer in the travel industry. When not walking on the beaches in San Francisco and enjoying as much of the city as she can, Chris is a writer. Traveling has been a significant influence in her life as she has traveled to over 30 countries and worked in North America, Australia and Europe.