BY AMY HARRIS
In these highly competitive times, new trends made possible by innovative technologies can catch on quickly. About 15 years ago, it was an incredibly time-consuming task for the chauffeured transportation industry to work with nationwide (let alone, international) affiliates, but technology has streamlined the process. Putting mobile apps at the center of the ground reservation experience was unthinkable a few years ago, but is now rapidly expanding with apps like Uber, Hailo, Lyft, Sidecar, and others.
You already know that customers of all ages are enjoying the fast and easy booking process that these on-demand providers are offering, and mobile apps—and smart devices—are definitely not going away. The chauffeured transportation industry can take advantage of this new development by using the online and app experience to broaden the realm of service that will not only generate additional revenue, but also increase customer loyalty.
WHAT IS SYNDICATED COMMMERCE?
Chauffeured service is about so much more than just an on-time ride in a clean vehicle; customers are always looking for the value added that will make their experience more convenient or enjoyable. It’s a growing trend that CD Publisher Chris Weiss has been prognosticating for a while now, especially when speaking to industry audiences at association meetings and other events. Your passengers already depend on your service, or they wouldn’t be putting their lives in your hands. “It stands to reason that since they trust your skills and good judgment, as well as your knowledge of the area they just arrived in, they will also trust your recommendations for local restaurants, shows, tours, and even salons and spas,” says Weiss.
Delivering these types of concierge services has been a part of the industry for years, but previously these add-ons were achieved by doing the legwork and partnering with local vendors. The onus was then on chauffeurs or office staff to make a recommendation for a specific restaurant or give the customer a coupon that could be used at a local business. The opportunity had to present itself so it could be worked in to a conversation, in most cases. The difference, however, is technology. While coupons and discounts are not new, the ability to insert the most relevant deals and offers into the traveler’s work stream is part of an innovative technology trend known as “syndicated commerce,” which makes the customer the center of the commerce experience. The technology has made it easier to do and more tailored to customers’ actual behaviors.
“For ground transportation companies, syndicated commerce can be like an extended concierge service,” says Patrick Grady, CEO of Deem, which includes Deem Ground (formerly Global Ground Automation), a leading provider of such apps. “It is a way to acquire new customers profitably, engage existing customers, and build loyalty.”
Imagine a business traveler who has just arrived at JFK Airport and is checking her reservation on her mobile device, using a travel app you have already customized to feature your service with preferred rates for other hospitality offers (such as hotels and restaurants). The traveler has used the app for several months to book flights, hotels, and restaurant reservations for other trips, and she also has added some preferences for hotel rooms and amenities to her profile in the app.
At the curb, the app not only notifies her of your car’s arrival, but also presents a code for a free appetizer at a fabulous Italian restaurant close to her hotel, a great deal from the hotel concierge desk for using a nearby health club, and a deep discount for a rejuvenating massage at a salon also near her hotel. In the car, she asks your chauffeur about these offers—how did the transportation service know her taste for Italian food and where she is staying? Or that the hotel does not have a Jacuzzi or exercise equipment, and that she would want a deal for a nearby health club?
The chauffeur points out that it already knows her itinerary because she booked the trip using the app. It knows her preferences for hotel amenities because of her patterns. It also keeps track of past purchases and reservations using the app (such as relaxer treatments and Italian restaurants), and can match them with deals and offers that fit her itinerary. This relevancy matching is similar to what Amazon does when it suggests books based on previous browsing and purchasing history on Amazon; it was all driven by her.
According to Jason Maynard, senior analyst for Wells Fargo, “Customers expect businesses to interact with them when, where, and how they prefer. We believe the attributes of a great customer interaction are now based on relevancy, context, location, and of course, identity. The catalyst for this transformation is an evolutionary new design that sculpts commerce into a hyper-personal experience [called syndicated commerce], and we believe it will affect all participants within commerce and advertising ecosystems. Syndicated commerce fuses advertising, marketing, sales, and distribution into a multichannel, multiplatform model that links purchase intent to conversion across any computing surface. We see this evolution as radically reshaping the commerce landscape by improving optimization and conversion through unprecedented relevancy.”
THE CHANGING FACE OF THE MOBILE CONCIERGE
The ultimate goal is to engage customers in more relevant and frequent ways to create emotional attachments to our brands. The coveted “secret sauce” to driving this is trust. Road warriors and occasional travelers for business or leisure all want the same thing: a recommendation from someone they trust. And ground transportation providers are in the unique position of knowing their customers’ preferences, where they are, where they are going, the context of their journey (e.g., a business or family trip), and when they are traveling. The role of technology is to correlate this customer information—identity, location, and context—with merchant offerings to deliver the most engaging and valuable transactions and experiences. Offering relevant deals directly to our customers through mobile and online channels is the ultimate way to build loyalty with existing customers and create new revenue streams through commerce revenue sharing.
Your company gets a cut, like a referral fee, and your customers are happy because the suggestions were appropriate. These are not annoying ads for products and services that they don’t need or want; these are relevant deals and offers—taking into account their preferences and itineraries—for things to do and places to eat in unfamiliar cities. Weiss says it’s not unlike wedding transportation providers having reciprocal relationships with florists, photographers, and catering halls. If done correctly, everyone wins, including the customer.
Providers don’t have to create this technology as solutions are becoming available for ground transportation providers to “white label” a mobile travel app that uses this technology, applying their own brands and including unique service functions. The ground provider’s branded mobile travel app would be more useful than Uber, Hailo, Lyft, and the other apps because it would have more booking features, such as airlines and hotels, as well as deals and offers. It would be in the hands of the customer to control how much or how little they receive by managing their travel profiles, or opting out of the deal-matching features if they choose.
Marketing pioneer John Wanamaker once joked, “Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I do not know which half.” Linking purchasing intent to conversion has long been the Holy Grail of advertising. But impression-based advertising provides little visibility into how (or if) the advertising spend is actually working.
Industry providers can also participate in syndicated commerce as local merchants, not simply to reach an audience, but to drive purchases. Rather than using generic ads to convince prospects to visit a site where they may make a reservation, providers can promote discounts on reservations directly, placing offers and deals for chauffeured transportation services across online and mobile platforms. For example, Deem syndicates offers and deals with Amazon Local, Microsoft Bing Offers, Sabre, Carlson Wagonlit, and SuperShuttle, syndicating commerce from thousands of local merchants in multiple cities across the country.
By working the syndicated commerce network both ways, as merchants and as syndicators, providers can not only drive new sales, but also create new revenue streams and strengthen customer loyalty. This is a trend that promises to succeed, because it rewards the trust that your customers already place in your services.
According to Grady, syndicated commerce represents a powerful step forward that delivers true performance-based advertising by closing the gap between advertising dollars at the top of the funnel and each customer purchasing at the bottom. It solves the problem of attribution since advertising efforts can now be directly linked to actual transactions. Syndicated commerce builds an entire network around each customer, leveraging each touch point to capture behaviors, identify needs, and distribute the right deals and offers to the right people at exactly the right time and place.
Customer service is at the core of the chauffeured ground transportation industry, which is what syndicated commerce is attempting to enhance. The relationship with a local vendor doesn’t have to go away, nor does the friendly dining suggestion from the chauffeur; the app and your service can work in tandem and customers always remain the focus. “The primary benefit for customers is, in fact, that advertising and commerce fades into the background, becoming a seamless activity rather than an intrusive one,” says Maynard. Not only can providers place their own deals and offers in the hands (literally) of travelers planning their trips, but they can also take a cut of relevant deals and offers for their customers from local merchants. That’s a win-win situation for both customers and transportation providers. [CD10/11.13]