NOV/DEC 2010 LCT: MAKE IT MORE THAN A RIDE: From special pillows to premium concert tickets, operators must deliver the goods for expectant clients. Knowing how to leverage contacts and connections is they key to repeat success.
The luxury transportation business now spans more than just the rich and famous — the rich and not so famous and the average guy who wants to be rich and famous are growing market segments.
All clients now, no matter what their station in life, are prone to asking for extra services. It’s become part of our retail, service-oriented culture. The extra services can be as simple as making sure the limousine is stocked with Diet Dr. Pepper to as complex as getting front row tickets to a local concert. Working the right connections and developing a lengthy contact list in many different service sectors is crucial to meeting most requests.
What do they want?
In nearly two decades of service, I have been asked for many things. Amenities in the car are never a problem and most of our clients know that anything they ask for will come with a fee. If a client wants a pillow and blanket in the vehicle, we can provide it. If they want a certain beverage, we can stock it. I have been asked for front row concert tickets, VIP arrival to the front of a venue, and even for things that I and no reputable operator would ever deliver, such as prostitutes and drugs. I know there are operators out there that will “lead” a client in the right direction to the latter, but I am not one of them.
Another common request is for us to make restaurant reservations or recommend a restaurant for a special occasion. Knowing the owners and managers of the area’s most popular high-end restaurants is a must. In many cases, popular restaurants will hold a few tables for their own VIP clients or “regulars,” and having contacts at the restaurant can clearly help you get your clients in the door and seated promptly.
Going the extra mile
Christine Bennett of Showcase Limousine in Boise, Idaho knows all about these special requests and has gone as far as providing pillows to a hotel when her celebrity client complained about the pillows at 2 a.m. You don’t need a contact to handle something like that, just a willingness to go to Wal-Mart in the middle of the night and make it happen. “We are concierges on wheels,” Bennett says. If a club or restaurant is closed when a VIP wants to go there, Bennett says she gets it opened.
When one of my clients was traveling to Miami and wanted to dine at a posh restaurant that doesn’t take reservations, I knew I had to make an extra effort. My client told me she does not wait in lines. While that may sound pompous, that is how many of our clients feel and they have the money to back it up.
One call to Carla Boroday of Associated Limousine Services, Inc. in Miami took care of the arrangements with the maitre d’ for immediate seating when the limousine arrived at the restaurant. Of course, there was some money exchanged between my client and the maitre d’, but my client doesn’t mind paying and Boroday had the connection that I would have expected her to have to make it happen.
I recently called a popular out-of-town restaurant to let them know I had a VIP coming in. My relationship with the restaurant is such that I don’t even need to identify myself. I just said, “Hello Mary” and began my conversation. The owner and I know that this particular client charters limousines about five times a month and is demanding but generous. I later heard from my client that they were acknowledged by the staff by name, provided free dessert, and were told that they were “very special clients” of our company. That put a huge gold star on our record of service for this client.
Because of the nature of the work we do, we are privileged to be connected with powerful people such as arena managers, celebrity managers, high-level executives, and people in high places for the purpose of making arrangements. Just because the job is complete does not mean you should discard the information. You may need it again in the future. There are two types of contacts that always should be saved: Those that order service for someone really important, and those who meet the person at the destination. Typically both parties will want to be in touch with you and could be vitally important to you in the future. Although they pay for service, there is always the perception that you “helped them out” and are responsible for transportation of important people.
There are things we can acquire for a fee and there are things that are simply favors that we are asking for. Whether you decide to “burn a favor” should be weighed by the benefit to all parties. For instance, Bennett arranged for the musician Sting to do wine tasting after his concert ended in Boise. The winery gets bragging rights about serving Sting in its tasting room in the middle of the night and Bennett was well compensated for delivering above and beyond expectation. This is not something you would want to ask of the winery for a bachelorette party looking for free drinking; such requests should be evaluated before acting upon them. As the exclusive provider of transportation for our local arena, we are fortunate to be able to buy tickets to any event before they go on-sale to the public. For one of our regular clients, we would certainly purchase tickets to a show for the client and add the ticket price, along with a handling fee to their bill for the night. Again, this is not something you can or should offer for every client.
Cold call arrangements
On some occasions, a client may ask you for something that you cannot readily deliver. It doesn’t mean you have to say no. You just have to make a few phone calls and be persuasive. I once had a client that wanted to go on a movie studio tour but didn’t want to ride the conventional tram at Universal Studios with other tourists. I called the guest relations department at Warner Brothers and explained that I had a VIP client in a “very high level executive position” that wanted a private tour. I was informed that we could purchase such a tour for a fee. I simply added the total and a small handling fee to the total bill for the day. I have had the same success with restaurants that were “sold out” but took my reservation assuming someone arriving by limousine and having a third party call on their behalf was going to be throwing wads of cash around. It never hurts to ask for exactly what you are looking for. In general, people like to help people. The worst thing that can happen is someone says your request cannot be accommodated.
Never promise to make something happen for a client until you are absolutely sure that you can deliver and make the arrangements. It is better to let the client know that you will do the best you can, even if you have a relationship or contact. If you can’t deliver on a promise that you made, it will not sit favorably with a client. A much easier call to make is to tell the client that you have made the specific arrangements and everything is ready to go.