Uber causes a lot of problems and uses dubious tactics, but it sure makes it easy to get a ride. Is the limousine industry doing all it can for convenience?
TORRANCE, Calif. — It finally happened. This week I held a two-and-a-half-day exhaustive annual planning session with my team consisting of 10-12-hour days. So on the final day, it was no surprise to anyone I had failed to remember to book my ride back to the airport with a limousine company.
Feeling bad about the last minute gaffe, I told my editor, Martin Romjue, I was going to go by way of Uber rather than bother with an operator in the area. Taxis scare me because I’ve had so many bad experiences with them. Martin looked at me as though I had 10 heads and told me that would be absolute treason. What would the industry think if they ever found out? Martin asked, horrified. It was 9 a.m. and I needed a car by 11 a.m. for the 20 minute ride to LAX.
I e-mailed a company in the Southern California market with a medium to large fleet. The rep responded I did not give enough notice and they could not get me a car in time. I circled back to my editorial team and advised them that time was of the essence and I had no choice but to take a taxi or “Uber it.” I don’t have the Uber app on my phone so Tim Crowley, our senior editor who occasionally uses TNCs as part of his assigned “research” for LCT, booked the ride for me. While I was standing there, he did his thing and summoned Uber Black. Within 30 seconds, “John” contacted Tim to confirm pick up in five minutes with a Mercedes-Benz S Class sedan.
The car showed up in four minutes. The college student driver, while dressed a bit casual (and a stark contrast to his clean, spotless vehicle), knew his chauffeuring stuff. He used excellent etiquette and safe, smooth driving skills. It was a no-fuss-no-muss experience, surpassing that of a taxi. I cannot think of one operator who would have tolerated a chauffeur in jeans, an untucked button-down shirt and sneakers, so that was a big flaw.
However, I’ve been in the limousine industry for 24 years, so I have a discriminating eye and am very picky. The “average Joe” passenger might have been so impressed by the Mercedes-Benz and the driver’s efficiency (and so angry at the limousine company who rejected the trip), that he easily could have overlooked this detail.
I wish I could report to you I had a ride from hell. Perhaps it was just beginner’s luck that my first Uber experience was good. Maybe it was serendipitous so I could share this story with you as a cautionary tale — firsthand food for thought — to remind operators we are on the razor’s edge here with Uber service compared to ours.
Our clear mark of distinction always has been our service. And, thanks to on-demand technology, clients now expect us to perform in tighter time frames. We may not have to be Johnny-on-the-spot to please our clients but we need to do better in our communication and execution. And we should watch our back when it comes to service.
Uber is trying to mimic us, and the brand borders could blur even further if we are not on our service game at all times. Strong, consistent, prompt, clean chauffeured service in all respects must be top-of-mind now and into the cyberspace future. Our industry depends on it.