Operations

Are Your Affiliates Up To Par?

Anne Daniells
Posted on October 13, 2016

There are few perks to owning a limousine company. Let’s agree it is a brutal way to make a living. Somehow weekends and holidays blur into “regular work hours.” Not much time off.

Even when a well-deserved vacation or trip finally makes it to the calendar, work encroaches. Getting away from a phone and computer is near impossible. If your spouse complains a solo vacation would be easier without the kids to watch while you work in the hotel room, you understand we never truly “vacate.”

One of the little perks of owning a limo company is the ease of having a chauffeured car whisk you to your hotel-office. Eager affiliates are ready to take care of you in exchange for more business. A comfortable ride for the price of a cash tip is often much appreciated.

Good Grooming

If you’ve spent long nights at industry trade shows grooming your affiliate network, you know the drudgery involved. The upside is the higher profit margin, so those relationships built in Vegas and other cities around the country are important. Sure, you know the person says, “We can do your work,” or “Of course, we can provide the vehicles you want,” but how many small- to medium-sized operators can afford to see an affiliate’s fleet in another market?

Anuj Patel, one of our LCT media advisors with Pontarelli Worldwide in Chicago, suggests several tactics for monitoring affiliates. “Become friends with them. Call them often. Ask lots of questions. Ask for photos of the fleet. Ask about their future plans and vision.”

Patel stresses the value of building business relationships as often as you can, and local affiliates are no exception. “Go see the local affiliates at least once a quarter and take them out to lunch. Developing a personal relationship with affiliates is really the best way to monitor them. Build that trust through friendship, and they will not let you down and actually prioritize you. Your affiliate manager should spend much of the day making calls just to say hi and ‘shoot the breeze.’ It’s a sales position. Many people forget or don’t see it that way, but frankly, that’s what it is.”

Travel Smart

For smaller operators, the affiliate manager is also the owner, and making calls and developing relationships takes time. For those operators who wear many hats, use your rare business and personal trips to maintain your company’s brand. When traveling out of your home city, don’t waste a great opportunity; evaluate your affiliates instead. Instead of taking advantage of a free ride, pay for it (a business expense, after all), but make the ride work for you by experiencing your company’s representatives.

For five years, I hardly took a tripwhere I didn’t secret-shop my affiliates. Of course, it wasn’t my name on the manifest, and only once did the chauffeur recognize me (in that case, it was the owner filling in). It works beautifully because chauffeurs have no idea who you are. Without paying a secret shopper, you see firsthand how an affiliate treats an unknown passenger in its market. And if you care about your clients, you must know how they experience your service no matter where.

Each time, I’d say slink into the back seat, mention an administrative assistant made the reservation, and ask what company they worked for. Fortunately for them, they nearly always represented my company correctly. Once or twice, they looked at their trip details to confirm, but the chauffeur knew never to state their company. Clearly, those affiliates were training well.

Rating Service

I have to say — most affiliates met our expectations. The one that sticks out in my mind provided the best service of all. The car was immaculate. A newspaper and water were not only waiting but intentionally offered. Mints were available, and the chauffeur asked me about the radio and temperature. He handled the driving and luggage like an expert.  

The hitch was the chauffer’s attire. While it may not have warranted a complaint from a client because the service was perfect, I was stunned to see the chauffeur greet us in mismatched pants and sport coat — with elbow patches. He looked like a college professor working for Uber. Most tacky were the brown shoes with white sport socks. I couldn’t help but take a photo as he moved the luggage from the truck to the curb.

Did no one see him that morning? Surely, dispatch would have said something. Was he colorblind? Even so, white socks are hard to confuse. It made no sense.

When doing farm-in work, C-suite executives expect the same look. Uniforms create consistency for passengers and confidence your operation is the same no matter where they travel. It reinforces loyalty to you and your brand, and affiliates must replicate your service. If that means changing ties and removing any branded items in the car, then that must be done to be your affiliate. They are your operation in another city.

So shop around, take some photos, talk to your affiliates graciously after each ride — but let them know white socks don’t cut it, and black suits matter. 

California operator Anne Daniells has more than 25 years of experience in corporate America and the limousine industry, and once owned an LCT Operator Of The Year Award-winning limousine company. She can be reached at [email protected]

Related Topics: affiliate networks, Anne Daniells, Ask LCT, chauffeur behavior, customer service, farm-in farm-out

Anne Daniells contributing writer
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