The LCT Leadership Summit always offers an inspirational component, set up to motivate operators to strive for better client service and overall chauffeured experiences. At this year’s Summit in Miami Beach, the Disney Institute detailed how to provide the ultimate service experience.
So when the service bar gets set high, the low points become more noticeable. Fresh off the latest advice and expectations from our Summit, I would like to share three random service failures I experienced in the past year that prove the need for a concerted industry effort to instill consistent professionalism.
I won’t publicly mention the names of the reputable, NLA-membered companies involved, or the dates of the incidents, but I guarantee you would GASP if I whispered the company names in your ear.
Travesty No. 1: A surly chauffeur greeted me in an airport baggage claim area. He stood among several other chauffeurs holding up signs with client names. My chauffeur was the only one without a baggage cart. It all goes downhill from there: He grumbled about the day’s traffic while I made small talk. After I retrieved my luggage from the carousel, since he never offered to stand with me and help, he pulled one roller suitcase while I followed him pulling the other. When we got to the SUV in the parking deck, instead of stopping with the luggage at the trunk area and then walking around to open the right rear passenger door to let me in, he simply opened the hatch and started loading up. I opened my own door, got in and shut it. He never asked me about my climate control or radio preferences, or what route I wanted to take. I had to tell him the best route. The music of an FM station blasted when he started the car. Instead of turning it off, he put it on ultra-low volume and it played throughout the ride. For the first 15 minutes of the ride, he kept his driver window rolled down. He later powered it up to a crack and turned on the climate control. I guess it was all about his comfort. At one point, he braked abruptly, and generally drove in an impatient manner. Shame on me, but the only reason I cash-tipped this coarse, sloppy chauffeur was out of respect and fondness for the owner of the company. After five years as LCT editor, I sympathize with limousine operators and know how difficult their lives can be.
Travesty No. 2: I stood in the breezeway along a hotel driveway waiting for my ride to the airport. I was five minutes early. No chauffeured vehicle was in sight. But as I scanned the hotel parking lot, I noticed a Lincoln Town Car parked in a row of cars with the chauffeur sitting inside. He was slumped back against the headrest asleep. About three minutes before my pick-up, I walked out to the parking lot and knocked on the driver side window, waking him up. I didn’t want to risk being late for my flight. “I think I’m your 8:30 pick up,” I said. I walked back to the breezeway and he drove up, opened my door, and loaded up the luggage per SOP. Now, in fairness, the chauffeur was friendly and drove well. The rest of the ride was fine. But he did not create a good first impression. Shame on me again, but I tipped the chauffeur because I felt bad for him and out of respect for the owner of the company.
Travesty No. 3: This one qualifies as the worst in my book. My best friend was getting married last fall, so knowing my line of work, he asked me to recommend a limousine company on behalf of his bride-to-be, who really wanted one for her big day. Of course, I was fully confident and effusive in referring them to a company that I knew to be excellent, and whose owner, once again, I like personally and admire. The couple rented a black six-passenger Town Car stretch. [I told them black stretches look more sophisticated for weddings than the traditional white — just my opinion]. After the ceremony, the couple emerged from the chapel, perched along a scenic stretch of California coastline, for the usual cluster round of picture taking. The stretch limo was parked along the chapel driveway. Standing next to the limo, a paunchy, bored-looking chauffeur was smoking a cigarette with his tie loosened and jacket undone. When the couple came to the limo to take photos of the bride getting in and out, the chauffeur stood there and did nothing — no door holding, no respecting the bride by offering to help her, no picking up the wedding gown trail. He just smiled, gawked — and kept puffing. I was alternately horrified and furious. Not wanting to cause a scene, all I could do was stand there and seethe about this clueless dolt of a driver. Fortunately, my best friend and his bride didn’t notice, or didn’t care, or were too caught up in the happy day to say anything. Embarrassed, I have never brought up the subject. But I will never, ever recommend this limousine company again. In fact, I would rather tell a future client to take his chances and use Uber for a wedding run than rely on this provider.
Granted, even the best companies can have bad apples and bad days. But I’m not the most frequent user of chauffeured service, and if these three incidents randomly happened to me in just one year, you can bet similar ones are occurring with other clients. We’ll certainly try at LCT to provide helpful customer service and chauffeur training content, but if “limo” is to always be uttered in the same breath as “Ritz” and “Disney,” we’ve still got some cleaning up to do.
— Martin Romjue, LCT editor
The more casual and coarse society gets, the more chauffeured service can gleam with a counter-couture-culture.