What separates a client from a brand loyalist?
Since 2011, GroundLink has operated as a provider of “near-demand” executive black car service in major cities worldwide, offering an on-time guarantee, professional chauffeurs who are background checked and licensed, client duty of care, and late-model luxury vehicles insured at limousine industry levels. To underscore its flexibility, GroundLink takes bookings via its iPhone and Android apps, its website groundlink.com, and a 24/7 customer call center.
The chauffeurs, many of them owners of limousine services, work as independent affiliates to GroundLink, often supplementing their locally generated client revenue. CEO Liz Carisone describes the company as a “hybrid model,” meaning the company combines the technology of newer transportation network companies (TNCs) with the safety and reliability of more traditional chauffeured operations.
“We deploy service and safety and technology,” Carisone said. “We offer competitive pricing to Uber Black, but have fully vetted drivers and overarching insurance coverage. When booking, we provide blanket security.”
GroundLink includes 550 partners spread across 110 nations worldwide with a vehicle network of 10,000+. (An exact figure on the number of cities Groundlink serves was unavailable). Its holding company, GroundLink Holdings LLC, is owned by a private equity firm, Comvest.
As with TNCs, GroundLink clients can track their vehicles before pickup. All tracking, communications, and billing are electronic. GroundLink is supported by one of the limousine industry’s leading software and app providers, LimoAnywhere, which handles GroundLink’s GPS tracking and all information for its affiliates.
GroundLink relies on a thorough process to vet and approve all chauffeurs and vehicles. For chauffeurs, the company does background checks, including fingerprinting where required and/or available, as well as licensing and insurance verifications. All chauffeurs are evaluated based on client feedback, and the company immediately follows up on any service violations or failures.
“We have strict standards and keep full records,” Carisone said. “We do onsite auditing based on complaints and feedback, and do mystery (riding) as well. Because we operate in (110) countries, and the industry is not universally regulated the same way, we take care to follow the rules in each country.”
All Classed Up
In the U.S., black-on-black fleet vehicles correspond with service tiers including:
GroundLink works with independent operators in New York and Chicago, as well as affiliates around the nation and world. The drivers and affiliates typically get 75% of the rate, with GroundLink receiving 25%. Chauffeurs are provided 15% gratuities and all toll fees.
GroundLink uses auto-dispatching, and recently launched an algorithm that provides chauffeurs updated information on what areas of the city are likely to produce the most demand. This can help reduce waiting times for both chauffeurs and clients while improving customer service.
Pick-up times vary by city, depending on the number of chauffeurs and available vehicles. New York generally has the shortest lead times, averaging about 20 minutes. In other markets, bookings may require up to a two-hour advance notice, depending on the local availability.
GroundLink uses batch-order dispatching, where affiliates can accept bundles of rides based on time windows and geographic region. “Because we are scheduled and on-demand, they will get a book of business they can accept or reject,” Carisone said. “This allows them to plan and provide driver usage ahead of time.”
Internally, GroundLink relies on a performance-based ranking system for its affiliates tied to customer ratings. Those chauffeurs with Tier 1 status get preferential treatment in being offered the most desirable rides first. Tier 1 requires a 4.8 rating out of 5, the highest possible.
“We constantly communicate with drivers via newsletters as well as bring drivers in on a routine basis for discussion on what customers expect of our service,” Carisone said.
For corporate customers, GroundLink provides a web-based account center that gives travel managers real-time access to their ground transportation program. The account center includes an overview of their company’s overall car service spend, a breakdown of employees’ ride history, and the ability to view upcoming and completed rides and rides in progress on a real-time updated map. GroundLink also offers custom reporting and has a dedicated acount management team for corporate accounts. Chauffeurs must carry the company’s $6 million public liability insurance policy coverage. About 60% of GroundLink runs are business-related, while seven out of 10 of all runs and reservations are airport transfers. While it doesn’t publicly discuss any clients or contracts, Groundlink serves a long roster of big-name Fortune 500 companies.
Rates for airport transfers, including gratuity, vary among U.S. cities. An economy class ride from JFK to midtown Manhattan costs about $55, whereas luxury class is $65, and VIP, $85. A Mercedes-Benz will cost $105 and a SUV is $115. GroundLink publishes its airport rates for most major cities at www.groundlink.com/car-service-rates. The company guarantees ontime pick-ups: If a customer has to wait five minutes beyond the scheduled time, the next ride is free up to $75.
GroundLink has launched its universal driver app that allows it to expand its base of independent operators. It’s also working on driver support features that include a dashboard with a convenient summary of earnings and payments made to them.
The universal driver app will become zoneless, which means pricing will be based on mileage instead of geographic area. Operators will also have the ability to pick up runs outside of their core market areas. “When we base our pricing on miles, it’s more transparent to the customer, and to the driver who is being paid per mile,” Carisone said. It’s also working on several features to help corporate travel managers stay within set permission levels.
GroundLink Operator Likes To Fill Down Time
SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, Calif. — Operator Akis Kourtzidis, owner of Sterling Black Car in Orange County, relies on GroundLink for about 60% of his business, which amounts to 60-70 rides per week. His five-vehicle operation, which has six chauffeurs, juggles mostly airport transfers for GroundLink while serving a local business and retail client base.
While local retail clients are more profitable, “lower margin is better than no margin,” said Kourtzidis when comparing revenues on the two types of service. “You have to be a member of Limo Anywhere, and the offers come in via a portal. You accept the ones you want, and decline ones you don’t. It’s first come, first serve, so you’ve got be quick.”
The most convenient aspect of working with GroundLink is operators can take the rides they want and then work them into their schedules.
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