Meet the Buyer panelists Evan O'Donnell of AKA Rittenhouse Square and Mark Kingsdorf of Queen of Hearts Wedding Consultants field questions from the audience as PRLA board member Mike Barreto moderates the discussion.
CHESTER SPRINGS, Penn. — To better understand what clients value most in chauffeured services, the Philadelphia Regional Limousine Associationwent straight to the source. At its March 13 member meeting, the group invited four potential buyers to participate in a Q&A panel titled “Meet the Buyer.” Here’s what the panel had to say, in candid terms, about what clients expect from a limousine service provider.
One of the top priorities for buyers is transparent communication, especially in terms of pricing and vehicle capacities. If a catering company can provide a bottom-line price, “why can’t limos?” wondered bridal consultant, Mark Kingsdorf, of The Queen of Hearts Wedding Consultants. Kingsdorf expressed the need to be able to compare apples to apples when choosing a vendor.
A dose of reality would help facilitate the procurement process, said Kingsdorf: “A 10- passenger doesn’t necessarily fit 10 people, especially with a bride in a dress and girls with flowers.”
From the corporate side, Nancy King, global travel manager at Aramark, echoed this sentiment. Her only concern is an “all included” bottom line fare so she can crunch the numbers. In other words, the panelists emphasized that dancing around the price isn’t helping you in the eyes of clients, especially business savvy ones.
As the editor and publisher of Mid-Atlantic Events magazine, Jim Cohn has conducted “secret service” reviews of limo services. One consistent lapse in service he’s seen is chauffeurs talking on the phone with a client in the car. “On the cell phone, texting, that’s a problem for the person sitting in the passenger seat,” Cohn said.
Although it may often go overlooked, Kingsdorf believes that it’s important to be “professional during downtime,” when passengers aren’t in the car. For example, just because most members of a wedding party are at the ceremony, doesn’t mean everyone from the party is. Someone may come out to use their cellphone or smoke a cigarette. How chauffeurs behave in front of the church matters, not just to current clients, but potential clients — friends and family of the bride and groom.
Proactive communication and coordination also topped the panelists’ concerns. To allow for the smooth transport of large groups for events and meetings, Cohn said that a key staffer should be onsite to coordinate the operation. Often, there is not enough staffing and confusion reigns. King agreed with this, adding that if someone can’t be onsite, someone should at least be immediately available through dispatch.
For Evan O'Donnell, general manager of AKA Rittenhouse Square luxury hotel residences, giving a heads up to the hotel staff about an arrival is highly appreciated. That way, the doorman can anticipate that arrival, the front desk can prepare, and a seamless drop-off can occur, which will set the tone for their entire stay at the hotel. Additionally, a live update of car’s status also can help calm the nerves of event planners and concierge services.
What They Like
All four panelists believe that when limousine operators excel, it’s typically in regards to the high-touch, extra-effort service they provide. As O'Donnell said, a seamless transition from airport to car to hotel can set the tone for a client’s entire stay. Assistance in managing this process is highly valued by hotel managers and doesn’t go overlooked.
From a wedding planner’s point of view, Kingsdorf praised the “tangible touches” with the client that many chauffeurs are capable of: Lifting the bride’s gown as she’s getting in the car is something Kingsdorf often defers to the chauffeur when he’s frantically running around.
And even though Aramark is a company of 259,000 employees, King said that she’ll often use small companies for the top 30 executives because of the “hands-on touch” they often provide.
— Denis Wilson, LCT East Coast Editor