The Limo Anywhere API and our duty-of-care obligations

In the ever-changing world of technology, data access and usage is arguably the topic of the year. Businesses are only scratching the surface of the value they can create by properly using data to benefit consumers, and the pace of progress forward is expected to be swift. Using data as a business tool often involves using the Application Programming Interface (API) of technology providers to “push” data into the system, “pull” data out of it, or often, both. This allows the data to be used by your business, or more commonly by a third party, to create an ancillary product or streamline an existing business process – for example, to push ride information into QuickBooks, or to pull reservation details from a mobile app into your reservation and dispatch system.

For Limo Anywhere and other technology providers, offering API access is a crucial piece of the value proposition. But this access does not come without obligations, and significant ones regarding legal and technical frameworks as well as data privacy and security.

As such, Limo Anywhere is announcing several changes to our API and our policies, which will come into effect gradually over the next 12 months.

1) All partners using the Limo Anywhere API, existing and future, will be immediately subject to our API License Agreement, posted here: http://limoanywhere.com/apitermsofservice. This agreement contains standard legal protections for both Limo Anywhere and our customers, ensuring API partners are working with Limo Anywhere and with our customers in a responsible manner.

2) Limo Anywhere is announcing a progressive upgrade of our API, with a new version to be introduced gradually throughout 2015. This version will have significantly enhanced functionality from the current version, providing access to additional data points and streamlining the process of working with Limo Anywhere.

3) Concurrent with the release of our upgraded API, we will ask all third parties to certify with Limo Anywhere, ensuring only properly screened partners have access to our API. We will be conducting a full migration to the new API in 2015, ensuring all partners integrating with us are certified and approved.

In the ground transportation industry, duty-of-care is an accepted topic. Corporate clients want to know what their service providers are doing to ensure employees are safe, including questions around proper insurance, licensing, driver background screening, fleet quality, and more. For years, duty-of-care has been a major part of the business, and no one questions its value. The path to standardized duty-of-care obligations around APIs is a long one, and we’re only at the beginning of the journey. But we believe this is a great first step, and we are happy to be a market leader in protecting our customers’ interests while still providing high-quality access to the data and functionality that our customers need to grow their businesses.


 

Five questions to ask your payment processing provider

Payment processing can be a complex, bewildering marketplace. It’s a difficult-to-understand product sold primarily by thousands of independent sales organizations (ISOs), who are sponsored by banks as the effective sales and support arms of their merchant services divisions. As a result of this highly fragmented marketplace, service offerings are often unstandardized, and a solid understanding of the product, your ISO’s policies, and the agreement you are entering are of paramount importance. To help you through this process, below are five questions that any business should ask its current or prospective payment processing provider.

1) What’s my processing cost as a percentage of my revenue (the effective rate)?

Payment processors charge direct processing fees, payment gateway fees, and often additional monthly fees, which should all be added together every month to understand your true, effective rate. As a general rule, asking for interchange plus pricing (meaning the standard fees credit card companies charge, or interchange, plus a markup to your merchant services provider) will give you the most transparency and lowest rates. Regardless, ensure when you’re comparing providers that you’re making the apples-to-apples comparison, which is your effective processing rate.

2) How quickly can I get my funds?

In small, growth businesses, cash is king. Check around to see if you can get next-day funding, meaning if you process your payments the night before, the cash will hit your account the next day. If not, two-day funding is a common option as well.

3) Is your gateway integrated with my back office software and/or online shopping cart?

There are few worse productivity drains than processing payments manually outside of your existing technology solutions. If you’re using Limo Anywhere but not processing on our system, be sure to ask us for one of our preferred payments partners, or if not, check to ensure we are integrated with the gateway of the payment processor you’re planning to use.

4) Who is my point of contact?

Customer support – for technical problems, chargebacks, or other issues – is an important part of your decision. When your access to cash depends on it, make sure you’ve got a 24/7 point of contact if and when issues arise.

5) How much is the setup and/or cancellation cost?

Cancellation fees are common in the industry, not unlike cell phone contracts, because the cost of acquiring new business in a competitive marketplace like payment processing is very high (meaning it takes several months for the ISO to break-even on your account). If you’re signing a contract, check to make sure the cancellation fee is reasonable – $500 or less. As for that setup fee? Make sure you’re shopping that fee and/or negotiating to have it removed.

Many Limo Anywhere customers process payments through our software, and as a result, we have close knowledge of the payment processing industry, as well as qualified, preferred partners with whom we work closely. If you need help finding a good payment processing solution, don’t hesitate to contact us.


 

The evolving nature of pricing styles in the limo industry

Here at Limo Anywhere, we consider ourselves lucky to serve a variety of different types of operators. Small and large, sedan and specialty focus, retail and corporate focus – our 3,500 operator customer base has a little bit of everything. So while we’ve helped customers build and implement rate structures of all types, we can certainly attest that for many years, “zone-based” pricing was the the bread and butter of the limo industry.

In the age of TNCs, enhanced focus on ground transportation spend from travel managers, and blurring lines between the consumer use occasions for taxi and limo service, however, we’ve noticed that pricing structures are adapting as well. So, what pricing structures are we seeing used frequently in 2014?

1) Per-mile pricing

Once the near-exclusive domain of taxis, this type of pricing is gaining steam in the limo industry. And why not? There is an argument to be made that this is the most “fair” way to price, and certainly it’s easy for consumers to understand. Many regulatory authorities will only allow this style if the price is established beforehand, however, so be sure you quote the rate upfront if that’s the law in your locality (and frankly, this is a much better consumer experience).

2) Per-minute pricing

The limo industry has always had hourly pricing, but what about per-minute? It’s more common than you might think, and helps operators to be compensated for time and effort, in addition to mileage. Be careful though, especially if you operate in a city with heavy traffic – there are few worse consumer experiences in ground transportation than seeing an astronomical bill based on bad traffic outside of the consumer’s control.

3) Per passenger pricing

For years a popular choice with specialty providers, in the age of ride-sharing, this pricing style has come back into focus, especially for those providers with a customer base heavily skewed to retail. If you have street pickups (“hails”) or ride-sharing as part of your business, this can be a quite sensible way to price those products.

4) Zone-based pricing

The old reliable. What’s so good about zone-based pricing? If you’re operating an airport pickup or dropoff business, the taxi industry’s pricing models often make this decision for you. And as a consumer, it’s both simple and predictable. We have seen increasing use of hybrid models, however, with zone pricing used for airport business, and a per-mile option for point-to-point work.

While these are the four most common pricing styles in our experience, it will be interesting to see how ground transportation pricing evolves in the coming years. Either way, Limo Anywhere will be there to support your business’ needs.


 

Thoughts on demand-based pricing

One of the largest shifts in the ground transportation industry since the advent of the “app-based competitors” – or “TNCs” – has been the proliferation of dynamic, demand-based pricing in the marketplace. While the ground transportation industry has always used hourly minimums, truly dynamic pricing – which was primarily the domain of airlines and hotels in the early 2000s – has now become a significant part of the pricing equation in ground transportation, shifting the supply and demand landscape in what are likely irreversible ways. While there are staunch advocates of both static and demand-based pricing models, there are certainly pros and cons, and the decision to use or avoid surge pricing can have material impacts on your business.

Pros of Demand-Based Pricing

  • Keeps drivers and affiliates happy and engaged, even when conditions such as traffic or weather make operating more difficult; if you use independent operators, this can be a very high priority
  • Enables higher revenue per ride and per vehicle during times when the cost of acquiring additional supply to service additional rides may be high
  • Allows companies to “stay open for business” at all times by better balancing supply and demand, driving brand loyalty and customer retention
  • Better matches pricing to customer needs, ensuring the highest-priority ground transportation needs are able to be served

Cons of Demand-Based Pricing

  • Can be difficult to pass through to corporate customers who have pre-negotiated rates and a long-term agreement or contract; static pricing may be a requirement to win a new account
  • It can be very difficult to find the “just right” price that balance supply and demand accurately
  • Operating a truly data-driven surge pricing strategy requires expensive human resources and data analytics tools
  • Risks alienating long-time customers who are accustomed to certain rates for certain routes

If your business is primarily driven by retail customers and/or if you are heavily reliant on independent contractors, demand-based pricing may be a great tool for your business. Conversely, if your business is heavily corporate or you own vehicles and employ drivers, it may be a less attractive option. Regardless, it’s a pricing model that’s likely here to stay, the decision of whether to use it should be deliberate and informed, and it may be worth revisiting quarterly or annually to review whether it’s right for you.


 

Demystifying the basics of search engine optimization (SEO)

Search engine optimization – or SEO – is often described differently depending on who you ask, and is usually associated with several less-than-flattering words (black box, witchcraft, and voodoo all come to mind).

Simply put, SEO is the practice of optimizing your website to rank more highly in unpaid searches on search engines such as Google and Bing. How do search engines determine the rankings? In theory, it’s quite simple – they use mathematical algorithms to determine the relevancy of your website to any given set of search keywords. While “it’s just math”, in practice these algorithms are not made publicly available, which results in quite a bit of “guesstimating” as to what will ultimately help your page ranking, and in turn results in frustration from website builders and business owners. With that said, however, the basics of SEO are quite well-known, and should be practiced by anyone with a customer-facing website.

1) Content is king

Populate your website with content that is relevant to your target audience and will be appreciated by your customers and prospects alike, resulting in long website visit times and strong website traffic. Keep your keyword use limited to the normal flow of content (many SEO experts will recommend keyword densities in the 3-5% range), and focus on natural content that keeps your human website visitors engaged.

2) Mind your meta tags

Specifically, title tags (the text that appears as a link to your website in search results) and meta descriptions (the text that describes your website below your web address in search results). Beyond ensuring you have them, keep both title tags and meta descriptions concise, relevant, and compelling.

3) Optimize your site performance and user experience

Search engines, like humans, like fast, clean websites that work properly. Make navigation easy and logical, avoid slow-loading pages and dead links, and ensure the site is pleasing to the eye.

4) Use free analytics and webmaster tools

For most, Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics has enough functionality to help inform SEO decisions. What keywords are you receiving impressions for? Where do you rank? What’s your click-through rate? It’s all there, and it’s all free.

At the risk of oversimplifying, the goal of search engine algorithms is to maximize relevancy to consumers. If humans like your website and your business, search engine algorithms likely will as well.


 

A few paid search tips we’ve picked up along the way…

You’re reading this blog, which means you’re probably in the limo industry, and most likely you excel at all things ground transportation. But digital marketing – one of the most popular advertising channels in the limo industry – is a completely different landscape, and one that poses a bit of a hurdle for many small businesses due to its complex nature. Since we learned paid search (one type of advertising under the broad “search engine marketing” or “SEM” umbrella) on the fly, we wanted to share with you our thoughts on a few of the not-so-obvious questions we had.

1) Why should I pay to advertise on my own brand name?

We agree, it doesn’t make sense at first…but the benefits of doing so vastly outweigh the costs. It’s cheap, it’s easy to rank highly, and it signals legitimacy in the marketplace in the minds of your customers. And, perhaps most importantly, your competitors will likely bid on your name in an attempt to steal your customers, so it’s imperative that you outrank them. There’s a reason nearly every large brand you can think of advertises on their own brand keyword.

2) Negative keyword? Say what?

Negative keywords are those keywords for which you specify that you do not want to show your ad. A good way to see what negative keywords you should be using is to look at the search data itself (available in your search engine’s advertising dashboard) to see what types of search queries are drawing clicks. If, for example, your bid on the broad phrase “car service” is bringing in clicks from people searching for “car service mechanics”, you need to add the word “mechanic” as a negative keyword.

3) $10 per click? $100 per click? $1,000 per click? Where’s the manual on how much I should bid per click?

Generally speaking, what matters is conversions – that is, the number of times a user completes a specific action on your website (for example, booking a ride). It’s a bit misleading that you bid on a “pay per click” basis; the number most people measure is “cost per conversion”, or your total spend divided by the number of conversions the campaign produces. Ensure you’re using the free analytics tools the search engines provide to track conversions and measure and enhance your marketing effectiveness. If you know what you want to pay per conversion (which is, of course, a function of the financial value of the conversion and the long-term financial value of the customer), it’s easy to back into the math on what you should pay per click to keep your business humming.

4) One ad is all I need, right?

Always, always run two ads against each other on a rotating basis in each ad group that you have. Once you feel that you have enough data to say one is better, write text for a new ad and run the test again. Always be testing!

5) Is it worth advertising on mobile?

Mobile accounts for roughly 25% of total paid search spend (according to search marketing agency Covario) and the cost per click tends to be significantly less on mobile than on desktop. Need we say more?

Paid search marketing is a great way to attract new customers, and can be an exciting new avenue for your business. We hope these tips were helpful!


 

What’s cloud-based software anyways?

One of the questions we field most commonly here at Limo Anywhere is “what’s cloud-based software, and why is it the best option for me?” To which our response is usually “great question!”

Cloud-based software is, in a nutshell, the provision of software as a service which is accessed over the internet. This differs from the “traditional” software model which involves products installed locally on a computer itself; instead, cloud customers use a web-based interface to access software running on physical hardware at a remote data center. Historically, local solutions were how technology was consumed (remember those pretty Microsoft Office packages?), but in the past several years cloud computing has penetrated nearly every corner of our technological lives – if you’ve ever used Gmail, you’ve experienced cloud-based software.

So, what are the benefits of using the cloud?

Minimal upfront investment of time or money: Using cloud-based software involves no investment in hardware (other than your computer and internet connection), and usually a very small financial investment with a software provider, allowing you to try out products quickly, with maximum flexibility, and most importantly, without needing technological expertise. Decide to sign up one minute, and you can be in the software the next.

Flexibility: Cloud computing can be accurately described as “on-demand”. The services are available when you need them and provide an immense amount of flexibility because of the pooled hardware resources used. In fact, surveys of IT professionals often rate flexibility as the major reason to use cloud-based services – it’s simply an easy way to keep your business nimble and responsive.

Accessible from anywhere: Generally speaking, cloud-based software is available anywhere that has an internet connection. At work, on the road, at the beach – if you have internet, it can be accessed. Have an employee who wants to work from home? No problem! If there is internet, you’re good to go.

Automatic updates: Remember the days of you or your employees downloading updates and waiting for installation to finish, creating a drain on productivity? Cloud-based software pushes updates through on the server level (usually overnight), keeping your business humming and focused on revenue-producing activities.

Security and redundancy: Use of cloud-based software effectively means you are outsourcing to a third party who specializes in the administration of technology services. For most businesses, this is a positive. Why worry about disaster recovery plans and data security protocol when a third party can do it for you?

Employee collaboration and productivity: Documents and data sync up in real-time, and allow for multiple users to access them simultaneously. Your employees work and your business runs in real-time; your technology should as well.

Obviously, here at Limo Anywhere we believe cloud-based software is a fantastic solution for most businesses. Our name does, after all, reflect a cloud-based solution. Even we acknowledge, however, that it’s not a universal product; certain companies, because of their size or particular business needs, may find that purchasing and operating local software and hardware is the best solution. But for most small and medium-sized businesses, cloud software is “just what the doctor ordered”.


 

Limo Anywhere announces launch of fully redundant second data center

Limo Anywhere is proud to announce we are now live with a fully redundant, geographically dispersed second data center, providing valuable disaster recovery and business continuity assurance to our entire customer base.

Named one of the “Seven Standards of Cloud Computing Service Delivery” by Salesforce.com, we believe a redundant data center is one of the most important features a cloud software platform can provide to its customers. By operating a second site that mirrors our main facility we are able to provide extensive backup and failover capabilities, securing our platform’s integrity and ability to operate in the face of threats ranging from hardware or power failure all the way up to a large-scale regional disaster. These capabilities augment the existing backup and security protocol in place at our main site.

We believe we are the only software company in the limousine software space that is able to offer this valuable feature, and hope this provides peace of mind for a customer base for whom we know system uptime and data integrity are critical to business success.


 

Who is Limo Anywhere, and why are we “getting social”?

Hello, and welcome to Limo Anywhere’s first blog post!

With our first trip into the written spotlight, we thought it would be helpful to give everyone a little bit of insight into where we came from, who we are today, and the value we hope this blog will bring to our customers.

Founded in 2004 with one employee out of Dallas, Texas, Limo Anywhere started as a small side project for a friend. Ten years later, with a staff of nearly thirty and a presence in six cities, we have transformed into a complete software solution helping 3,500 operators perform nearly 10 million rides per year. The core mission of Limo Anywhere has always been a simple one: to offer small and mid-sized operators affordable access to the same technology platform and toolkit as the largest companies in the industry. Given how rapidly technology is changing the way ground transportation services are consumed, we are even more convinced today that a great software platform is one of the strongest tools available to any limo operator.

So, why have we decided to start a blog? We’ve picked up quite a bit of knowledge about the way limo businesses operate over the years, courtesy of daily conversations with operators ranging in size from one car to hundreds. We don’t pretend to know the industry as well as our customers, but we do hope that we can use our platform to engage in broad knowledge-sharing on a range of topics. With that goal in mind, you’ll see blog posts and social media activity from us on everything from SEM tips to affiliate management insights, with input from some of the most successful and well-known operators in this industry. And of course, we’ll keep you up-to-date on all of the relevant Limo Anywhere news and updates.

Our newly-formed social presence is only one new venture on deck for Limo Anywhere, though perhaps the most public one. Our exciting line of planned initiatives range from product improvements to support process changes to partnerships that will bring both cost savings and revenue generation opportunities for our customers, all part of our commitment to continually improving the Limo Anywhere customer experience.

We’re ten years in, but we’ve got a long way to go. We’re glad you’ve decided to join us for the ride.