TOPIC: Do you perform site visits for all of your affiliates? If yes, what do you look for? If no, how do you vet them or ensure that their service will match your own before you send your clients?
Yes, I do site visits for potential and existing affiliates. I look for affiliates who can be an extension of our company, and those who have the same standards. For example, their fleet must be black, late-model vehicles that are properly maintained. All vehicles must have bottled water, tissues, and current newspaper for passengers. Chauffeurs must wear black or dark suits. For the times that you are not able to do site visit, you can do a phone interview. Ask them about their company, fleet size, and procedures. Then explain to them your expectations concerning reservations, dispatching, and billing. It is very important to have an agreement in writing. Also ask for referrals from companies you already work with, and talk to other operators about them.
Perry Barin, Affiliate Manager
Music Express Worldwide in Los Angeles, Calif.
We don’t visit all affiliates, but we use the Google Earth tool, which gives us a satellite image of what their office space looks like. Today, everyone has some kind of review online, so we check those as well. If we start to use an affiliate frequently, however, then we will make it a point to schedule a visit and see their operation. Before we send them any work, we have a sub-agreement that everyone has to sign and agree to so that they understand our expectations of service.
Gary Day, President/CEO
American Limousines in Baltimore, Md.
When it comes to adding new affiliates, Mint Life Limousine absolutely loves to visit affiliates’ locations prior to establishing a partnership. Unfortunately, this is not always possible, as we work with operators all over the world. We rely heavily upon referrals from our network of trusted affiliate partners within our industry to make sure they meet our high standards of service. We also use mystery riders who occasionally ride with our affiliates and give us feedback on the level of service quality. We are also a part of an affiliate group called Strategic Partners. Through this group, we partner with other affiliates who share our high level of service, widen our network, and help us become a trusted affiliate for other partners.
Louie Durham, Operations Manager
Mint Life Limousine in Atlanta, Ga.
Yes, we do site visits. We start by booking a reservation as a one-off customer. We believe that how you treat your “least important” clients is a good indicator of your overall service standards. Also, whether I am in town for business or pleasure, I try to visit at least two potential affiliates in each city for comparison purposes. Our expectations also vary depending on the market size. Furthermore, we always make sure that we only visit when it is ideal for the affiliate, not unannounced. We are normally looking for how adequately staffed the operation is, if there is an apparent structure in place, and for us specifically, if they can handle meeting and events group business. If we are unable to visit, our main source of information is our network: We reach out to our most-trusted industry friends and ask them for recommendations. We then proceed with the appropriate setup process: insurance requirements, permitting, fleet list, rates, etc.
Sami Elotmani, VP of Operations
Destination MCO in Orlando, Fla.
Because we have more than 300 active affiliates just in the U.S. alone and use more than 40 active affiliates across all continents for our international work, we must prioritize our visits based on the number of trips in each market. When we do visit, we look to ensure that the company meets our standards regarding fleet and chauffeurs. Before we set up a meeting with a potential affiliate, we gather recommendations and experiences from other affiliates that we trust. And for the affiliates we haven’t been able to visit yet, we periodically solicit our client’s feedback in the form of mystery riders.
Renee Ferraro, Affiliate Manager
Enova Worldwide Transportation in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
I actually like to visit affiliates when I can, even when I’m in the area on personal business. However, it is simply not practical or even possible to visit everyone. When that is not possible, we rely on a number of factors, including: references; relationships developed at trade shows, professional societies, and industry events; participation in national, regional, and local associations; verified certificate of insurance; signed “affiliate standards” agreement; and verification of fleet (by insurance list). With new affiliates, we generally comp a handful of ghost rides in order to get feedback from our guests.
Barry Gross, Director of Business Relations
Reston Limousine in Sterling, Va.
I mainly utilize local affiliates who I know personally through the limousine associations. We do farm-out business nationally through relationships that we have established from either meeting other operators at the shows or being referred by trusted affiliates in the industry. We really rely a lot on and trust our referring affiliates’ recommendations. We do some site visits, and occasionally our local affiliates visit our offices as well: I just visited one of my larger affiliate offices out of town last week. Going forward, we see the need to have more stringent affiliate guidelines, but we are a small operator—we know what our customer experience is.
Wes Hart, Director of Operations
American Corporate Transportation in Houston, Texas
We have had the opportunity to visit several affiliates due to our involvement in industry peer groups that include a site visit of the host company. We look for the safety standards of that company; upkeep of vehicles; communication/training between staff, chauffeurs, and management; as well as the culture of that company. Most of the time, it is not possible to work directly with the owner for each reservation, which makes the relationship between our respective staff members very important. It is encouraging when on a site visit to experience staff members who think like owners or at least take their responsibilities very seriously. We rely heavily on referrals from trusted affiliates who demand the same level of service we do.
Tracy Hodge-Raimer, Founder/President
Your Private Limousine in Chicago, Ill.
The owners and management team of BEST Transportation personally use the services of our affiliates in key markets so we can experience firsthand the service our clients would receive. In other markets, we work closely with trusted affiliate partners and, with their recommendations, may choose additional affiliates in markets where we can’t complete a site visit or mystery ride. We meet with partner affiliates at industry shows, networking groups, etc., and this plays an important role in our selection, too. We perform a comprehensive vetting process, including customer and office team feedback, because it is very important to us that the service level is top notch beyond just the passenger ride. Things like dispatch communication and proper billing all matter as well.
Terry Jackson, Director of Sales & Revenue
BEST Transportation of St. Louis, Mo.
I actually no longer perform site inspections. I’ve found that my customers are best served if I’m in the office every day. I’ve been in this industry since 1974, and as a result, I know a lot of industry people and have a large number of contacts for referrals. I also use the NLA membership directory. Each week, I get a number of inquiries from companies wanting to become an affiliate; I follow up by sending out our affiliate agreement, which must include current insurance certificates and a W-9. I personally read over each affiliate agreement as well as review all of the requested documents. Once the paperwork all checks out, I will schedule a phone interview. If I am fully satisfied with the results, I will then set them up as an affiliate and start sending them easy trips at first just to see how they do. Basically, what I am looking for is how their staff interacts with our staff, plus how quickly they send back their confirmations and even how they update us on the status of the trip. Our team continually monitors our customers’ satisfaction, which includes sending out questionnaires, and I honestly don’t know of any better way to determine if your affiliates are providing your customers with the high-quality service you expect other than asking the customer directly.
David Johnson, Director of Affiliates
Avalon Chauffeured Services in Los Angeles, Calif.
We were fortunate enough to be part of a 20 group, which allowed us the opportunity to both travel and audit most of the major cities as well as open our eyes to properly vetting companies providing service to our clients. We have not done site inspections on 400 cities but we have and strongly suggest that companies do site inspections on all major markets as well as those that they send a lot of work to. It is not enough to pull out the NLA book and pick; your clients deserve more effort than that! A better option is calling on larger networks since most are willing to assist you in markets where you may not have an affiliate. I would also suggest you get active and attend industry trade shows and events to meet the people you share work with.
Andy Poulos, President
MTL Limousines Worldwide in Montreal, Quebec
While I would like to perform site visits for all of my affiliates, unfortunately, it is not always feasible to visit all of them. However, I travel frequently and do site visits during each trip wherever possible. I look for a company that reflects Blue Diamond’s practices and standards. I always call other affiliates that I am currently using and ask for recommendations. Some key factors in choosing a new affiliate include 24/7 operations, the age and appearance of their vehicles, fleet maintenance, GPS tracking, appropriate insurance, chauffeur qualifications/training/background checks, and next-day billing. Regarding reservation and dispatch department, I look for affiliates who can provide confirmations in a timely manner, accommodate last-minute changes, and provide the chauffeur’s name and cell phone number upon request. Also, given current technological trends and advances, I expect all of my affiliates to have up-to-date livery software that supports upcoming technology.
Celeste Reeder, Operations Manager/Affiliate Director
Blue Diamond Worldwide Transportation in Raleigh, N.C.
We try to do site visits in most major cities whenever possible, and the most important things we look for are cleanliness of chauffeurs, vehicles, and the office environment. In the smaller cities where we might not have time or be able to visit, we vet through recommendations from our trusted existing affiliates. Both have worked well for us.
Ron Stein, Founder/CEO
Exclusive Sedan Service in North Hollywood, Calif.
We do site visits for all affiliates who are close enough to do so. When any of us travel, we try to visit the affiliate in that area, too. We look for mainly cleanliness and organization. That can tell you a lot about how they run their business. While none of us have clean desks all the time, if there are piles of paper in every corner, it may mean something. If the shop looks like a bomb has just gone off, that could be another red flag. Talking with them about their systems is great, too. What is the procedure from when the reservation comes in until the service? How does it vary from email reservation to a phone call?
If we cannot visit, we rely on recommendations from companies and people we trust. If there are no recommendations or we get recommendations for two different companies, we do the usual Google search and see what pops up as a starting point. We may call some of the higher-level hotels and ask the concierges who they trust. You hate to just guess, but you do as much research as you can to make an educated guess.
Brian Whitaker, Vice President
Chicagoland Transportation Solutions in Chicago, Ill.