Operations

Serving Up Rates

Martin Romjue
Posted on November 10, 2009

One of the newest industry innovations borrows a few pages from Facebook and LinkedIn, offering operators a chance to selectively network by checking out each other’s rates and terms without having to fill out endless forms.

The website — RateButler.com — is the brainchild of operator Michael Lindsey, 46, owner of Lindsey Limousine Inc., a 30-vehicle chauffeured transportation company based in South Windsor, Conn.

“This site is completely confidential,” Lindsey said. “Like Facebook, you disclose what information you want to share and to whom.”

Gaining Members

Since a soft test-launch in January, the site had attracted at least 130 members as of late September without any organized promotional or advertising campaign. Lindsey upgraded RateButler.com to a “2.0” version in July and plans a “3.0” upgrade by December. The site is ideal for small to medium-sized operators looking to widen their farm-in and farm-out networks.

Lindsey conceived of the idea after years of hassling with filling out forms for the purpose of disclosing information to prospective network affiliates as he built up is farm-in and farm-out arrangements.
“How many times have you received one of those applications and not filled it out?” Lindsey asks, knowingly. “Everyone admits they’ve done it before. I got to thinking, there must be a better way.”

Info-packing

Operators can detail rates, surcharges, tolls, transfer rates, vehicle types, airport proximity, and many of the other important details of a chauffeured operation that prospective affiliates would want to “check out.” Members can sort information by state, county, city, and airport.

“Like LinkedIn and Facebook, you see who is a member and can send an e-mail to whomever you would like a relationship with and request rates,” Lindsey said.

Lindsey came up with his program by looking at many affiliate profile forms over the years and then compiling the best formats and questions into a master e-form for the website. “You fill it out only once,” he said.
So far, the site has not generated any revenue. Lindsey maintains and uses it for its time-saving convenience and reliable vetting. “I have no plans in the near future to charge for it,” he said. “It’s more of a system.”

No Surprises

Changes in rates and insurance coverage are automatically e-blasted to any affiliate client an operator has connected with, Lindsey said. That eliminates phone calls and surprise changes. “There are no surprises for operators who haven’t used an affiliate for months and the rates went up. There is no last-minute take the hit,” he added, referring to operators having to eat unforeseen rate increases of affiliates after a reservation has been booked.

“It manages relationships you already have, but is not a substitute for the NLA directory or a bulletin board about asking for work,” Lindsey said.


12 RateButler.com Q&As

The following excerpts were compiled from Lindsey and RateButler.com FAQs:

Q: What is RateButler.com?
A: RateButler.com is an online program that helps companies to more efficiently manage and organize their affiliate network. By using RateButler.com’s exclusive “sharing” option companies can build and maintain their business relationships with other companies nationwide and globally. All the necessary information that you require of your affiliates is organized in a neat and orderly fashion within a paperless online environment.

Q: What is the problem you are referring to?
A: There are hundreds of limousine companies out there and they all have their own “Affiliate Application” or “Affiliate Profile Form.” I receive these different requests in the form of a Microsoft Word form, Microsoft Excel form, sometimes it’s a PDF that needs to be filled out and faxed back. Everyone is asking pretty much the same information but it is always in a different form, and different order, and isn’t very convenient to fill out. RateButler.com eliminates the need for companies to have their own “form,” and being online it is easy and quick for companies to complete the information everyone is looking for. Each company only fills out this information once, and then “shares” or distributes this information easily with a “click” to those other companies.

Q: Exactly how does RateButler.com work?
A: Members of the site fill out an online profile of their company’s information and then proceed to “share” that profile with those companies that they accept work from, or those companies that request to see their information. This becomes their “farm-in network.” And now for the best part, whenever a member changes information within their profile, that “change” is automatically emailed to everyone in their “farm-in network.” Everyone who does business with that company is automatically kept up-to-date and they can in-turn update their systems with the new information. It virtually eliminates “misquotes.” Each user can also create a customized “farm-out network” by requesting that others “share” their information with the user. The user can then go to the “My Network” section of the site to instantly view all the members of their “farm-out network” or all the companies that they send work out to. And just as all the members of a user’s “farm-in network” are automatically informed of any changes the user makes to the company profile, that member will be automatically informed of any changes that any member of their “farm-out network” makes to their profiles.

Q: How do members “share” their information?
A: Users simply “click” on a “share” button to initiate sharing their information with another member.  RateButler.com is NOT intended to be used as a directory to attract new business. Instead the RateButler.com system is intended to help companies manage and expand their existing farm-in and farm-out affiliate networks. All members must “accept” a company into their networks. If a company proceeds to “share” its information with everyone, most likely many of those companies will simply remove or “un-share” that company from their networks.

Q: Can RateButler.com help a company to find an affiliate in another market?
A: Yes. By selecting “Browse All Members,” a RateButler.com user can easily see all the other members of the site, and can even filter or sort that list by “state” or “country.” And, with the click of the mouse, a member can send a “rate request” to that other member and request them to “share” their rates with them. Each member is also listed along with the top three airports that the member services, thereby helping others to pinpoint the closest company to the airport they are looking to service.

Q: What if a company that someone wants to do business with is not a member of RateButler.com?
A: RateButler.com has a unique “Invite a Colleague” feature that allows members to simply enter the email address of their colleague and RateButler.com will automatically send out information about the site to them and let them know that you were the one to suggest the site.

Q: What information is kept on RateButler.com?
A: RateButler.com keeps track of a variety of useful information, and is divided into sections specifically chosen for the limousine industry. The easy to use “tab” or “section” organized system included company information, contact phone numbers, services provided, details, pricing, and more.

Q: Aside from basic company information and rates, what else does RateButler.com do?

A: Another big problem operators face is organizing and tracking the certificates of insurance they carry for their affiliates. Within each member’s “My Network” area, that company can enter the expiration date of each of their affiliate’s insurance certificates and RateButler.com will automatically email that member seven days prior to one of their affiliates insurance expiring. Also, with a simple glance of the “My Network” section, members can see that all of their affiliates insurance is on file and current. The member also can scan a copy of the insurance certificates they receive and then upload that scan to the site for viewing, printing, or whatever they wish at a later time. No more filing cabinets full of useless paper.

Q: How detailed is the rates section?
A: It is extremely detailed and customizable by the member user. Detailed “rate tables” are able to be created for both hourly rates and transfer rates. This information is presented in an easy to understand format. The site even supports three different rate charts or levels, so you aren’t limited to just one rate structure.

Q: How is extracting the information out of RateButler.com done?
A: First, RateButler.com is an online program available anywhere at any computer with Internet access. The only information a company might want to extract would be the rates of a company that is sharing its information with them. Members can easily export both the hourly rates and the transfer rates into an Excel Workbook that can be emailed, printed, or simply viewed by another member of its team. This feature is extremely useful for companies as they enter affiliate rates into their reservation systems.

Q: How secure is the information?
A: All the information is kept on a secure server service similar to one that a company keeps its website on, and because each company chooses who it wants to “share” information with, it is in complete control of its information.

Q: Does RateButler.com have any type of access or management that can be configured by the user?
A: Yes, each company is set up with a “primary user” and up to three additional “secondary users.” The primary user will be the one who originally joined the site, and this will be designated by that person’s e-mail address. The primary user can configure each secondary user account to receive or not to receive the automatic email confirmations. Each section also can be set so that the secondary user either has “no access,” “read only access,” or “full read/write access.”

What Do Users Say About RateButler.com?

Bill Faeth, Silver Oak Transportation, Nashville, TN
“It is a tremendous tool. I’m sending out an email to everyone in my network (127) that they should join. It’s difficult to keep rates updated inside of a system. It’s very labor intensive and time consuming. . .  Especially with fuel surcharges, there is so much calling back and forth. I doubt many medium size operators have all their rates populated into the system. In some instances, we can’t quote the client and we have to call the affiliate and get the rate and then get back to the client. That leads to substandard service. With just a click of a button to the website, you can have rates.”

Sue Jarvis, Aristocat Limousine & Luxury Coach Service, Detroit
“It’s a great tool. I think it’s a big time-saver, a great online solution. I don’t have to e-mail rates and have people email us rates. It tells me what kind of cars they have, their rates, any additional rates. I can choose who is in my network and who is not in it. If someone changes their rates, it shoots me an e-mail automatically. . . All additional changes are in writing so I don’t have to worry about eating any extra cost. . . You have to put some time into it to get some return.”

Rush Merheb, Star Limo, Albuquerque/Santa Fe, N.M.
“We have signed up with them and we are always receiving a tremendous turn-out from other operators who are signing up. We also get requests to share pricing and fleet information and areas of service. It is a new frontier and platform of tremendous value to us small- to medium-size operators that have farm-in/farm-out needs and not using “Odyssey“ software and other high-end expensive software. I hit a roadblock in the beginning when an operator requested rates to be shared through Ratebutler.com and that I join the network. It at first was a challenge to navigate through without putting any thought into it. After gazing at the screen and noticing the icons on there, I was able to determine what I need to do. . . It was idiot proof for me.”

Brian Whitlock, Torrey Pines Transportation, San Diego, CA
“I think in these times when more companies are booking trips in other cities for their customers it makes the process a lot easier. For all the times I had to send rates and proof of insurance etc. and now have the ability to tell people that all my information is available for free on Rate Butler, what a time saver. I think it is a great system to share information instead of having to send it on a one-by-one basis.”

Brandan Stein, Exclusive Sedan Service, Los Angeles
“I just went on the site and signed up. It seems like a great idea to keep track of your affiliates you farm work to. This way you can always have up to date information and the same for affiliates who farm you work. I like that it is not intended to go after affiliate work and is only intended to keep accurate information on companies we are working with. We have a system in place at our company for this so I will give it a test and see if it makes our affiliate director’s life easier.”

Related Topics: affiliate networks, business communication, business tools

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