By Jon LeSage
As chauffeured transportation companies expand globally through affiliate networks, websites, links, press releases, and other methods, having a strong brand image has become more important. Many companies in the industry have names that are quite similar to another operator in another metro area. Locally it doesn't matter; globally, this can be problematic. Having a good brand name plus a memorable brand image matters quite a lot these days. So does having clean and professional office and garage locations, effective phone greetings, and excellent client services. All of this will define your company's brand image.
Here are some of the market trends we're seeing in the chauffeured transportation industry:
Logos: The larger operators in this business are investing more in brand imaging. They'll usually hire an outside vendor to design a logo image, and then create the artwork. Then it ends up on the company website, business cards, letterhead, promos and brochures - on everything. Once again, it is important to have a unique and memorable brand name, and a brand image that can always be remembered and recognized. Search the web for chauffeured company websites and see what they're doing these days. Brand imaging is getting better in this industry as these operators expand their presence globally.
Communications: Your clients, and everyone else you deal with, need concise, clear communications from you. If I go to your website, or look at one of your brochures or advertisements, or read one of your newsletters or press releases, I want to get to the point quickly. In journalism school, you're taught to write your lead summarizing the high points in the first sentence or two, and then expanding and building on these points in the next sentences and paragraphs. You cover the who, what, when, where, and how right at the beginning, and then provide the details that fill in all the blanks. It's no fun to have to read a letter or press release two or three times to understand what's trying to be said. Get to the point, and get some assistance from outside your company to resolve this problem, if needed. Successful operators tend to choose consistent, clear, professional phrases and sentences to describe their identity, which are used in press releases, brochures, requests for proposals, client letters, websites, etc. If you want others to gain a positive image of your company's identity and accomplishments, it's important to do this well.
Office: I enjoy visiting operators who've expanded their offices and made them look very nice. It doesn't have to be perfect, or look like a Fortune 500 headquarters. It needs to look clean and professional. This can certainly be expensive for operators, and difficult, as they get busy and do business 24-7. But it certainly helps improve their images. Look at the large operators who have affiliate network meetings, such as BostonCoach and Commonwealth. Both of these companies have moved to larger, nicer facilities, and get good reviews from visiting affiliates. Operators with smaller fleets can do something simpler and less expensive, but can go the same route and get positive feedback from visitors. This does matter. Starting your business out of your house and garage, or maybe renting office space in a cheaper rental area in your town, make sense for start-ups. You do what you gotta do. Once you grow and expand, and especially once you decide to go after corporate clients, think about your company's identity and image in everything you do.
Phone: More and more is happening on the Internet, but there will always be phone communications. Some people prefer to book rides over the phone, change their reservations, book group transportation trips, and ask questions about your vehicles, rates, and services. It's essential that they enjoy the phone experience from the very first seconds they make the call. The problem is calling a limousine company and having unpleasant experiences: talking to an employee who doesn't sound very good or handle the phone call very well; or getting a voice mail or automated system that takes a long time to use and gets confusing. Clients want to get things done quickly and clearly. Think about your favorite corporate phone systems and what you like about them, and have this system established for your company phone. This will mean using a good automated system and training your employees on handling phone calls well. And think about what happens when upset clients call - they're waiting and waiting at the airport for you to pick them up, they didn't like the ride or the chauffeur, or other complaints. How your staff handles these moments really matters.
Customer Service: As I just said, how you handle client complaints matters very much. Great companies handle these problems well. Ritz-Carlton uses these moments to give their clients a comfortable, luxurious experience. Answering clients' questions, handling special requests, and guiding them through the entire experience, are important elements for success. Sure it's also about having clean, high-end vehicles, well dressed and groomed chauffeurs, and having the right website, logo, business card, letterhead, office space, and everything else. But it's mainly about people-to-people contact. When clients think about your company, they will think first and foremost about chauffeurs, concierges, reservation agents, and sales reps. (Of course, the ride experience provided by the chauffeur counts the most.) Rarely will your clients meet owner/operators and managers, but these company leaders must build the best customer service environment that they possibly can. Having a really cool brand image and logo will follow behind the service experience, but you want them to be well linked, and the best they can be.
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