A-ha, told-you-so moments don’t come along too often, so when you get one, it’s worth relishing and sharing. I’m experiencing this over an article from our July 29 LCT E-News
about how integrity and trust will determine the future success of luxury brands. As the article from the LuxurySociety.com states: “Openness, honesty and integrity are now some of the central driving forces behind a consumer’s decision to buy, and companies need to embrace this new way of thinking.”
Trust is the major attribute that defines companies and services in the luxury sector, the article asserts. I couldn’t agree more. It’s refreshing to see some old-school values return to the forefront in a price-driven, loud-mouthed, spam-a-lot, race-to-the-bottom-line consumer culture. Limousine services fit right into the long-term solution to this problem.
A chauffeured transportation company may not be able to compete on rock-bottom prices, but it sure can reap loyal clients based on reliable, ethical behavior and service.
Therein lies the winning trump card against the bad boy transportation network companies (TNCs), such as Uber, which are trying to buy, bully and smack-talk their way past regulators into a privileged status. Just add up the TNC drivers with criminal backgrounds, actual crimes against passengers, price gouging . . . the always-on media Muzak of TNC travesties that never seems to end.
“When the only choice we have is the difference between a couple of [dollars], good value for money is no longer enough,” the article states. “The behavior of companies, and the ability to trust them, is fast becoming the only way to stand out from the crowd. If consumers trust luxury brands, they will make time to listen and engage with them, share their content and tell their stories. Luxury is not about exclusivity and status anymore but about networks, connectivity and community.”
Are You A TBTN?
The emphasis on integrity-based luxury brands comes amid the ongoing industry regulatory battle with TNCs, where limousine and taxi operators are drawing distinctions from TNCs by taking the ethical high road on client safety, driver background checks, insurance coverage, and labor law compliance. These are the main advantages of what I call trust-based transportation networks (TBTNs).
The theme of TNCs vs. TBTNs emerged again the following week in an Aug. 5 LCT E-News article about the advent of iCars, an on-demand and pre-booked reservation system and app for the private transportation industry. It was launched by Gary Bauer, a 25-year industry veteran and owner of Bauer’s Intelligent Transportation in San Francisco, who plans to take it to cities nationwide. “iCars offers a high-end professional on-demand service provided by operators who meet, or exceed, all of the requirements the limousine industry complies with such as commercial insurance, employee status, driver drug testing and background checks, vehicle maintenance, safety requirements, and a laundry list of stringent items operators need to comply with in order to come on board,” according to the article.
Survival To Success
As an industry, we see a three-pronged approach to TNCs taking shape:
• No. 1 is the regulatory and political efforts being waged by the leaders of industry associations.
• No. 2 is the technological upgrades by entrepreneurs such as iCars’ Bauer.
• No. 3 comes back to you, the everyday operator or vendor. For the industry to succeed against TNCs, every operator and vendor should run a service as squeaky clean as ever.
There’s hardly any margin for errors, honest or not, when an industry’s major selling points are integrity and respect for the law. That means everyone needs to pursue the same superior standards.
North Carolina operator H.A. Thompson recently elaborated on that point in a letter he e-mailed us: “What has happened to integrity? My definition is how you treat time, money, and people. There is so little of it in business, sports, politics, and religion. Without it, can you survive? Not usually. I try hard to preach to drivers and staff how important it is to be honest and live by the rules we set in the company. Because if you don’t, the price is very high. And especially when it comes to finances, which is usually the downfall of most companies.”
Thompson underscores the point of the Luxury Society article: We can’t cut corners on trust and integrity. There’s too much at stake. In a digital world, incidents and perceptions go viral. Competition is merciless. Clients talk. Social media users chat, share, comment and link. No one can hide. For businesses, damage control no longer means dancing your way out of the limelight. As the article states: “In the past, trust was something that companies could manage through press releases and word of mouth. Nowadays, consumers can simply Google the truth.”
Building and preserving an ethical company reputation rests on avoiding bad behavior in the first place. How are you running your business when no one is watching? If you don’t want a video of it to be seen in a convention hall full of your peers, chances are you shouldn’t be doing it. Businesspeople who get that point will survive and stand-out in a luxury market reorienting to reliability and trust. Right and wrong now equals profit and loss. I am telling you so.