Editor’s note: Part I was published on p.23 of the April 2015 issue of LCT Magazine and online here.
A bride getting married out of town will relax and enjoy her big day more knowing the transportation is coordinated, reliable and impeccably classy. Dr. Jamie Jolly pictured in Central Park of New York City on May 2.
My cousin, Dr. Jamie Jolly, and her finacee, Richard Sterling, were married in New York City on May 2. Jamie, a North Carolina resident, called me for help in arranging transportation. This included airport transfers, an arrival reception dinner, and of course, the actual wedding.
As the longtime owner of a limousine company in Bakersfield, Calif., I found myself at the other end of the service and experienced situations that were delightful as well as troubling. It made me realize the importance of mystery riders.
This is Part-Two of a series about destination wedding transportation and related customer service needs. I have omitted or changed the names of the operations and chauffeurs involved since the focus of this article is B2B education.
Where We Began
When Cousin Jamie called me, I sent her to a smaller but well-known operator in New York. Disappointingly, that operator failed to follow through. I then decided to use one of the networks I belong to.
The affiliate manager we chose to work with at the primary provider was receptive and helpful. We also used a smaller company because the network rates were much higher than those of a smaller operator, and some of the transportation was arranged by other family members on a budget.
The old adage, you get what you pay for, was evident here. The network provided a unique code to each family member, so when they booked their transportation, they received a group rate. The reservations process was easy and logical.
My Arrival At JFK International
I think every traveler has some trepidation about the initial meeting with the chauffeur at a large airport. Will he be there? Where will I find him? How will he find me? I love the text message I received as soon as the plane touched down. It said, “Your car is on location. Ready when you are for your 16:25 pickup. Your chauffeur is Ron. His cell number is —. Our dispatch number is —.” This was perfect. I knew his name, and he knew mine. If I couldn’t find him, I had an alternate number to call.
While I didn’t actually have to call dispatch, I was disappointed that when I tried to call Ron’s cell phone, I received his voicemail. That caused a little anxiety. At the terminal, the process is to collect your luggage before heading out to a sea of chauffeurs holding signs. There was Ron, holding a sign that said, “LUFF.” As soon as we identified ourselves to Ron, he immediately took my wife’s two bags while I handled my two bags. This was a little disappointing, since the airline broke the wheels on one of my bags so I had to carry it. It was 49 pounds at check-in. If Ron had an airport luggage cart, it would have been much easier on all of us.
Bridegroom Richard Sterling and a ring-bearer about to enter the stretch limousine that will take him on his last ride as a single man.
The ride from JFK to The W hotel on Lexington Avenue was mostly uneventful, except for an urgent restroom need as I never saw a restroom upon leaving the airport. When I told Ron about my call from nature, he stopped at a facility that appears to have been designed for chauffeurs. It has gas pumps, a car wash, clean restrooms, a dry-cleaning facility and several fast-food options. Other airports should have this.
Ron served as a tour guide and shared stories of his past life before becoming a chauffeur. He spoke only when asked and never intruded with comments or stories. Cousin Jamie related a positive experience on her arrival as well with no issues and a prompt meet and greet.
Welcome Reception Dinner On A Budget
On the evening before the wedding, we used a budget limousine company. In a true budget conscious reservation, handled by another family member, we did two transfers for the dinner. Our group was separated into two vehicles for the trip there, but we rode back together in a single eight-passenger limousine. There were 10 of us. We ate at a restaurant that was about $100 per plate, so going from the lap of luxury into a sardine can was a letdown.
As we made the 30-minute ride back to the hotel, it became a little warm in the coach. My cousin, seated near the partition, asked the chauffer if he could turn on the air-conditioning. I knew I would be the one to control it as I was sitting on the rear seat. He heard the chauffeur tell her he had no control of the A/C in the back.
As I attempted to turn it on, I realized we were riding in the dark and the control panel was dead. I shouted to the chauffeur to please turn on the master switch up front. Once he did his part, I did my part and turned the lights on. We also had music at that point! That was a rookie move on the part of the chauffeur. Again, you get what you pay for. I suspect we had to pile into one limousine because the other one picked up a job that paid better while we were having dinner.
On the big day, we were back with the network. The limousine arrived early. It was clean and the chauffeur dressed and behaved to perfection. While I considered the service good overall, there were some embarrassing moments. The plan was for the guys to stop at a salon and pickup girls who had previously been dropped off in the morning. From here, the limo would take two trips to Central Park with the bride and groom on the second trip.
The chauffeur had to use the restroom and walked three blocks away leaving the limousine locked! When all the girls came out of the salon with their bags, we, along with the bride, were left standing beside the stretch for about 15 minutes. Many strangers took photos of Jamie in her wedding dress standing next to her locked-out limo. As we traveled to the wedding, the stretch inexplicably died at an intersection. Panic set in. The chauffeur quickly fired the car back up and we continued on our way. Fortunately, the ride to the reception was uneventful.
Back to JFK
The ride back to the airport was the biggest disappointment. No one ever told this chauffeur about the golden rule: Speak only when spoken to and only enough to answer the question. I learned more about the chauffeur’s life story in the 45-minute ride than his grandkids probably know about him. From the moment we left the hotel until he dropped us off, he never quit talking. He was so chatty he actually delivered us to the wrong airline terminal and had to loop around to get us back to the right terminal. At least he provided us with a parting gift — a music CD of HIMSELF!
Lessons From The Other Side
We all want to believe that our chauffeurs are doing the right things, saying the right things and delivering great service. Great service? What is it really? Until you spend some time in the back of someone else’s chauffeured vehicle, it might be hard for even a seasoned industry vet to truly see the difference.
You know what your expectations are but is that really the norm out on the street? If you haven’t deployed a mystery rider lately, you might want to do so. At the very least, call one of your regular clients after a trip and ask how everything went. Ask if the chauffeur talked too much. I wish I would have recorded the chauffeur talking incessantly. It would have been a prime tool to teach my own chauffeurs the art of silent driving. Are your chauffeurs routinely overloading their vehicles? Last, but not least, not one chauffeur knew the name LCT Magazine.
I use the magazine for ongoing training. While it may not be written directly towards chauffeurs, it is chock full of B2B and hands-on, how-to information for every facet of a chauffeured transportation company, chauffeurs included.
Leave some copies out at your business for everyone to read!