This year’s summit took place Oct. 17-19 at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach in Miami. Attendees kicked off the event with team building beach competitions that set the tone. Two fun-filled hours of kayaking, a tug of war and volleyball got people sweating and forming bonds that would continue long after the sun had set.
The weather was hot and so were the topics at the educational, motivational and round-table sessions. Experts from within and outside the industry discussed corporate travel trends, business development, quality control, strategic alliances, buyer perspectives, pricing models, efficiency building, legal issues, human resources and the essentials of leadership and management.
Evenings were filled with fine food, music and more networking opportunities. The Ritz-Carlton hosted a Hawaiian beach luau, complete with Hawaiian dancers and musicians, and the final night featured a restful and scenic dinner cruise on a yacht sailing around Biscayne Bay. Corporate sponsors included Ford Motor Co., Dav El Chauffeured Transportation, Executive Coachbuilders, Krystal Enterprises, Livery Coach Software, London Executive Sedan and Royale Limousine Manufacturers.
The workshop schedule included:
Quality Control/Customer Service Roundtable
Sara Eastwood, LCT publisher, moderator
Eastwood moderated an open forum on providing great customer service. She said, “Our reservationists are our storefront and create our public perception.” Therefore, great service begins with answering the phone.
Eastwood and her assistant, Tamara Munro,s called some of the most successful limousine companies in the country to see how they answered their phones, but found that a surprising number made a poor first impression.
The essentials for creating great service are having the right work environment; establishing a customer service mantra stating your aims; communicating expectations through ongoing retraining; and acknowledging and rewarding good employees.
“Make sure only the most positive, best informed, most pleasant employees are placed in customer service positions,” Eastwood said.
Suggestions from the audience included placing a mirror next to the phone so receptionists will remember to smile each time they speak with customers.
Others suggested recording the receptionists’ voices so they can hear themselves speak; posting complimentary letters; giving rewards; saying “thank you” to great employees; make retraining sessions also be cross-training sessions; and “praising in public, criticizing in private.”
Strategic Alliances/Building Industry Partnerships
Ty Bobit, Bobit Business Media president, moderator
The discussion centered on how the limousine industry can network with such organizations as airlines, hotels, sports teams, colleges, suppliers, other operators and the media.
Panel participants and the audience came up with ideas for creating alliances, including using alliance tradeoffs for marketing and promotion; offering driver referrals for restaurants, nightclubs, country clubs, etc.; offering tickets for sports teams and other venues; and soliciting airline referrals for travelers from other cities.
Operators were warned to investigate those you would ally yourself with and to make sure those you farm out work to have adequate insurance protection – otherwise you may be held responsible.
Using disclosure forms and maintaining a supplier diary were also suggested. Most alliance contracts last for three years, so be certain you’re expanding your marketplace, rather than taking on additional costs with no gain. About 75 percent of joint ventures fail.
Building Efficiencies in Your Operation
Neil Weiss, LCT associate publisher, moderator
Hiring and training employees can be accomplished in mass sessions to save time and effort. You can also conduct group job interviews, asking back only the best potential candidates to return for follow-up conversations.
Train in groups and cross train to instill team spirit. Employees will be able to help other departments in an emergency and will better understand the stress their co-workers face.
Advertise for employees on the Internet using www.monster.com. Those who respond will have some computer skills and can learn to map out jobs easier than employees without computer experience. Schedule retraining sessions weekly or biweekly for maximum benefit. Those employees who do not grow with the company should be weeded out during retraining.
Take computer courses that help in time management, with programs such as Microsoft Outlook.
By using a technology that digitally records incoming and outgoing phone calls, operators can be certain of exactly what was ordered.
Human Resources Today/Legal Issues
Michael Morrone and Manesh Rath, Attorneys at Keller & Heckman LLC, speakers
Mandatory overtime pay for chauffeurs is a national issue. However, the “overwhelming majority of the limo industry is not subject to the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) overtime pay requirement.”
The Department of Labor has defined overtime exemptions for companies earning less than $500,000; for vehicles traveling interstate or more than 75 air-miles; for salaried not hourly employees; for drivers on duty 14 hours a day with 10 hours of driving time; and no overtime if working under 60 hours per week.
Wait time is defined as time a driver is not free to go home. Operators should insist on through-ticketing verification of interstate travel for record keeping purposes.
Essentials of Leadership/Management Workshop
Dr. Michael Kami, Corporate Planning Inc. president, speaker
“Limos are not a luxury, but a necessity for a businessman not wanting any distractions,” said Kami, 82, who has taken about 15,000 limousine rides.
Above all, Kami looks for punctuality and service. He expects his driver to be dressed in a dark suit and to be quiet. He does not want his driver distracted by speaking on a cell phone. Electronic billing and GPS are musts.
Kami, who has advised such giants as IBM and Xerox – when they were small companies – said the way to grow is to use targeted marketing and to try to band together as an industry to cut down on the high cost of insurance by creating our own insurance company. He said fuel surcharges are a necessity.
We must think “outside in, not inside out.” Outside in is what others think of us, while inside out is what we think of ourselves.
An example of inside-out thinking is the story of the $100 million genetic tomato. It looked great, packed great, lasted forever – “but tasted like shit.” He said you must have a personal knowledge of computers and information, and you must computerize your company from A to Z.
Although “99 percent of stupid ideas are stupid ideas, find the 1 percent that’s worthwhile.”
Do continuous background checks on your employees and contractors, especially your drivers. You should know if they have been ticketed.
When it comes to quality, Kami said if 99.9 percent was good enough, the airlines would have 18 major airline crashes a day. But ifbring quality control is brought up to 99.9999 percent, the number comes down to seven plane crashes a year.
Buyer Perspective Panel
Helen Holzer, LCT managing editor, moderator
Three travel specialists from outside the limousine industry gave their perceptions of what they look for when booking travel for themselves and others. The most important items were: “being on time, clean, efficient and businesslike.”
Price was not the dominant factor in booking limousines. “Decisions can be blown on that first trip in the car.” If a driver was late or unprofessional, his company will not be given a second chance. “We’re hauling the highest ranking people within the organization. It doesn’t matter what the price is.”
These travel purchasers said they do not expect to see the president of the limousine company at sales presentations.
They said it’s better for the limo company to have a salesman make the presentation rather than the decision maker, because a salesman can’t come down on price. The president may make a quick decision that is not in his best interests. “Don’t have higher ups go. They bargain too freely.”
One panelist said a limo company should “know your customer, know about my company.” Another said, as in any business, “You like to go where they know you.”
Elliott Yama, Strategic Pricing Group, Senior consultant, speaker
The key to pricing profitability is to understand costs and to realize that value-based pricing is often a game. Customers have certain requirements for service levels and expect to negotiate price. They also expect you to earn what they consider a reasonable profit, Yama said.
He likened it to: “Never take off your clothes on the first date.”
In the limousine industry, ad hoc discounting can ruin customer perception of our services.
“We are a highly fragmented business that is price driven, value driven and service driven. We must be on time and meet all expectations every time.” How do these factors relate to value perception?
Yama said we must develop a clear understanding of our own value in comparison to our competitors.
How much can we lower prices and still maintain profitability? How can we maintain our loyal customers, while still providing the best service at the lowest price? Should we even be concerned with low prices? And, when is it time to give up on low pricing and concentrate on promoting quality service?
By providing customers with price/value trade-offs, operators should be able to reach a happy medium. If not, walk away from the deal, Yama said.
Human Resources Today/Outsourcing
Craig Vanderburg, Presidion Corp. CEO, speaker
The advantages of outsourcing your human resources responsibilities to Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs) are numerous. PEOs are called the “HR back room.”
The complexity of payrolls, taxes, benefits, claims, workers’ comp and other issues have caused many companies to pursue the services of PEOs, which can take many of HR’s administrative burdens off your hands.
PEOs can also assist in hiring, firing and promoting; assigning jobs; supplying employee supervision, reviewing performances and risk assessment; and in allocating wages.