The intricacies of establishing and building a larger affiliate network are the subject of many trade show workshops, provide fodder for countless conversations among industry peers, and inspire topics for articles and blogs. They are a source of ongoing exchanges both online via social media and offline in association meetings, educational groups, and networking events. We’ve heard all about how to start an affiliate network, how to attract affiliate partners, how to treat affiliate partners as customers, and just about every other sales-and-marketing-focused topic that can be imagined.
While these topics are undoubtedly important, once networks have been established, the conversation needs to be changed from marketing to the daily processes. It’s key that operators acknowledge that how you select an affiliate, the standards you require, and how you manage the ongoing relationship may be the most critical aspects of your business—and could very well be the key to your future survival in this changing world.
TNCs have had a transformative effect on much of the ground transportation industry, and it’s clear that they are the new normal in our sector. Uber and Lyft, for example, saw their combined market share of corporate travel jump to 72.5 percent in Q2 of 2018 based on analysis of reimbursed business expenses conducted by online travel and expense management provider Certify. That’s up from a share of just 8 percent when Certify first started tracking reimbursed expenses back in 2014.
"This industry has had good reason to be frustrated with the continued regulations governing many traditional operators, as well as the vast difference in regulation between cities, counties, and states ...”But what is the real price? Does the continued dominance and expansion of TNCs into the corporate ground transportation market really threaten traditional operators?
This is where your affiliate network comes in: Having a strong stable of affiliates that aligns with your business values allows you to compete with TNCs by offering a superior level of transportation service both nationally and internationally. With business travel expenditure expected to grow by an additional 7 percent in 2019, according to research by Statista, luxury ground transportation companies simply have to be able to offer their services in a variety of locations as clients continue to travel more regularly and to a wider variety of destinations. Beyond duty of care, affiliate networks allow corporate travel managers a one-stop shop where everything is streamlined—including quality of service and reliability—under one bill.
Ground transportation providers have the opportunity to build on these networks and distinguish their services from those of TNCs: Your commitment to safety, exceptional service, and duty of care are what set you apart. This industry has had good reason to be frustrated with the continued regulations governing many traditional operators, as well as the vast difference in regulations and enforcement among cities, counties, and states, while TNCs have been allowed to expand into the market with little or no oversight, most notably with regard to background checks and commercial insurance. Concern has also arisen from the numerous reported incidents where passenger safety has been compromised by rideshare operators. But the regulations that may first appear to be a restrictive factor for traditional ground transportation providers can actually be turned to your advantage. They allow you to distinguish your services, and many of these regulations actually keep your passengers much, much safer.
As TNCs have become increasingly prolific, corporate travel buyers have become more aware of the possible risk factors associated with ridesharing, and there has been a recent shift in focus to emphasizing the safety and well-being of employees as the number one priority in the travel planning and policy-making process. Travel risk management continues to be a hot topic in the industry, and corporate travel policies will need to be updated, maintained, and adhered to as the potential issues that TNCs present become more widely understood. This offers an ideal opportunity for chauffeured ground transportation providers to show why they are far better aligned with this travel philosophy. There is no comparison: their traveler can either be picked up by a random TNC driver whose history and driving ability are unknown, or they can be transported by a professionally trained and experienced chauffeur in an expertly maintained vehicle and backed up by a logistics company that successfully manages VIP transportation every day.
By selecting and maintaining the right affiliate partner relationships, you can emphasize your exceptional service and commitment to your passengers’ safety and comfort while also offering wider coverage, in order to satisfy the requirements of an increasingly globally connected corporate client base. There is also an opportunity to appeal to business travelers and corporate travel buyers by highlighting the commitment to reliability, safety, personal liability, and customer service that you share with your affiliate partners.
The over-reliance of many TNCs on technology is also something that is worth highlighting. Technology is not always problem-free, leaving passengers at the mercy of an app or website that won’t always be working as they should, or taking for granted that they can rely on decent data connectivity, in order to utilize a ridesharing service. Traditional chauffeured transportation providers existed long before this technology did—and while they have kept up to date and embraced technological change, they are also better equipped to handle many other scenarios. The emphasis on personalized service means taking care of each individual passenger rather than seeing them as a stat on an app as well as an ability to offer a more flexible approach that utilizes alternative booking and travel management methods as and when required.
On the subject of technology, much has been written and discussed regarding the rise of AI, with chatbots and voice recognition held up as shining examples of future corporate transportation booking, and data-driven insights allowing providers to more easily hone their services to meet client needs. While some of these technologies should certainly be embraced, ground transportation providers and their affiliate networks should also continue to focus on what they do best: bringing a personal touch that puts the customer at the heart of everything they do.
"The emphasis on personalized service means taking care of each individual passenger rather than seeing them as a stat on an app...”Particularly for more traditional businesses, these personal relationships and the trust they help build are still extremely important. As Bertrand Saillet, managing director of FCM Travel Solutions and FCTG Asia, notes in an article for Enterprise Innovation, “In companies where business travelers consist mainly of C-suite executives, it will make more sense to rely on the ‘traditional’ travel assistance, and not fully automate the travel management process, given the need for relationship-based business conduct ... There will always be a need for the human touch. Technology makes it easier for routine services to be handled faster and more efficiently, but people can offer an additional level of service that might be otherwise underrated.” Above all else, chauffeured transportation is a customer service industry.
What you must ensure, however, is that you are upholding the same standards and providing your passengers with a consistent experience wherever they go. This would ideally involve some form of regulation or standardization; however, it is clearly challenging to implement this universally. Laws and requirements can vary wildly between US states, let alone between other continents. Nevertheless, this remains an idea that is worth striving for in order to better position the chauffeured transportation industry as the arbiter of consistent safety and quality standards. By standardizing these service provision requirements, luxury ground transportation companies will also be better equipped to distinguish themselves and meet the challenges of the continued rise of TNCs in the global travel space.
Is your affiliate network ready to take on the TNCs?
Here are a few points you need to consider when choosing affiliate partners or strengthening your relationships with existing ones:
• Make sure your policies are as consistent as possible with the affiliates you choose. Promote the specific details (and their advantages) to your customers. But make sure you are upfront about the control you have over your affiliates’ operations, particularly those in other countries.
• Take the time to be selective. If you are going to promote your services as premium, or several steps above what TNCs can offer, you need to cover a sufficient number of the regional and international markets that your customers demand. It will take time, but you should be careful to build and consistently reassess these relationships strategically based on shared values and commitment to service and safety. Don’t rush to get into as many markets as possible all at once. Having the right affiliate partners is more important than having many that don’t share the same commitment to passenger safety and service.
• Embrace new technology but beware of the constraints when it comes to your affiliates. Technologies are evolving at breakneck speed, and there are many advantages to using innovations such as AI-enhanced chatbots in order to streamline the corporate travel booking process or manage trips. However, this kind of technology may not have been adopted or be readily available to affiliates in other markets, so use it wisely. Once your customers are accustomed to a certain level of technological functionality, it is difficult to switch them back to a more time-consuming, traditional system if they are traveling with a less tech-evolved affiliate partner.
• Promote your network. Your affiliate partners are your strength in an increasingly globalized, interconnected economy. Just be sure to have your affiliate services established and fully confirmed before you offer them to your customers.
By emphasizing a continued commitment to superior customer service, safety, and duty of care, expanding affiliate networks, covering more markets nationally and internationally, working to specific and pre-agreed operational standards, and using selective technological innovations, chauffeured transportation providers will be well-placed to meet the needs of the rapidly evolving corporate travel marketplace. [CD0719]
Pat Charla is the founder of DriveProfit. She can be reached at email@example.com.