Operations

How To Be Ready For The Five-Star Clients

Linda Jagiela
Posted on March 21, 2014

The private plane is circling the airport. Your chauffeur and vehicle are on the tarmac awaiting the arrival of the celebrity guests. It’s your moment to shine — can you do it?

Transportation companies are not all created equal. Serving upper echelon clients who stay at hotels that cost thousands of dollars per night and who travel on private planes requires a special understanding of their expectations for chauffeured service.  

Chauffeurs who usually drive airport transfers may not be as suited for this type of work as would road show chauffeurs. Training your chauffeurs in the special protocols for clients in the national or international spotlight may glean you more of this coveted work.   

Expectations
What do high-profile clients expect of their chauffeurs and transportation companies? “The chauffeur needs to know everything,” says Julio Fabre, the director of business development for US Sedans in Miami, who worked as a professional concierge for more than 12 years. “He needs to know how to get around the roads, routes and detours. He needs to know where to find certain things. He needs to be a rolling concierge.”

High-profile clients differ from the everyday business person. Knowing who makes the decisions and when to act is the key, Fabre says. “Celebrities and high profile clients often have handlers. They typically are the people conveying the needs of the client. Sometimes, though, the celebrity will change the course of direction. Chauffeurs need to be flexible and roll with the changes.

“There are often people at the properties waiting to meet the client,” Fabre adds. “If you are required to make 15-minute out calls, you better do it. These are often the people who have hired you in the first place. You want to help make them shine. Make sure you understand who all of the clients are.”

The demons are in the details. “You need to know how the celebrity wants to be addressed or even if you can address them at all. I have heard of chauffeurs ask for autographs or gotten chummy with the crew and the band. Chauffeurs should not get overly friendly. They should have tact like a butler.”

Coveted Clients
Tom Pepplar, operations manager of Signature Limousine Services of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, says consistency is critical when attracting and keeping the most frequent high-end clients. “A large portion of our business starts with a client getting off a private airplane. Our clients expect our chauffeurs to be impeccably dressed, in a clean, new model vehicle. They expect to get the vehicle they ordered. The chauffeur should be at the FBO [fixed based operation] 30 minutes in advance of the flight landing and they should not leave. They should always check in with the FBO to let them know they are there and the tail number of the plane they are meeting in case the pilot calls to check.”

Chauffeurs should show confidence and think fast, Pepplar says. “For example, we had a client who we picked up off a private plane late at night. They had their pet dog with them. When our chauffeur dropped them at their home, they realized that they failed to get dog food. The chauffeur immediately volunteered to go pick it up for them and bring it back to their home. It’s the extra details and little things that make your clients loyal to your service not only for VIPs and high-profile clients but for everyday clients.”

Pepplar’s chauffeurs are all college educated. Most are chauffeuring as a second career after retiring from middle management jobs. They bring a lot of sophistication to their roles. Such a background is key to understanding the value of silence, in which the chauffeur greets the client, confirms the itinerary, and then shuts up. “Chauffeurs need to speak when spoken to and answer the questions asked,” he says. “Confidentiality is also critical. Our clients know that anything said in our vehicles will never leave those vehicles.

“Your chauffeur and your vehicle is the image the client sees of your company. You always want that image to be the best.”
 

Julio Fabre, the director of business development for US Sedans in Miami, says chauffeurs must be well-rounded rolling concierges when serving high-profile clients and celebrities.
Julio Fabre, the director of business development for US Sedans in Miami, says chauffeurs must be well-rounded rolling concierges when serving high-profile clients and celebrities.

Deal Breakers
Confidentiality breaches are the ultimate deal breakers when your vehicles carry VIP/high-profile clients. Loose lips really do sink the ship when it comes to celebrities. There are many television shows on the air today that pay good money for gossip tidbits. Being associated with this type of business will get you black-balled.  

Many celebrities work hard to keep their identities secret. They travel under assumed names and fly on planes with blocked tail numbers. “When it comes to celebrities and high profile clients, you are only as good as your last job,” Pepplar says. “Every job needs to go flawlessly and we drill that down into everyone who touches the trip.”  

Being late equals lost clients. “You often only get one shot with a celebrity. Don’t blow it,” Fabre says. “Always be where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there.”

Recognize that celebrities do not always have the same temperament as other types of clients. They are used to getting exactly what they want when they want it. Author Sinclair Lewis was reported to have fired his chauffeur in 1934 for not following his backseat driving pointers, reported the Pittsburgh Gazzette on June 19, 1934.  

Not much has changed in 80 years. Last year, celebrity Kayne West was reported to have fired a British chauffeur because he took too long to deliver his lunch, according to the website sheknows.com. Model Naomi Campbell allegedly hit her chauffeur in the back of the head with her cell phone in 2010. Most celebrities do not exhibit this extreme behavior, but chauffeurs should be aware that it can occur and they should be trained on how you expect them to handle it.

Getting More Business
As expected, high-profile business is not given out randomly. Transportation companies that do this kind of work always have to earn their stripes. “Word of mouth is typically the best way to get this business,” Fabre says. “People talk to other people and they tell them about both good and bad service. Often, handlers [look after] more than one celebrity when travelling in the area. They tend to remember the good experiences.”

FBOs also are a strong source of referrals, since the staff often observes the quality of various chauffeured vehicles and how the chauffeurs behave, Pepplar says. “Even when the client isn’t in our car, our chauffeurs are always a good representation of our company. Chauffeurs who are too chatty with the staff of an FBO can cost you potential business and you won’t even know it. It’s important to train your chauffeurs that the eyes of the client are always on them even when the vehicle is empty.”

At the end of the day, clients expect outstanding service. Driving celebrities and VIPs can be a tough but profitable game. Companies that decide to pursue this market niche should make sure they have consistent training and understanding at all levels of the business.

Related Topics: building your clientele, client markets, customer service, difficult clients, How To, Southern U.S. Operators

Comments ( 1 )
  • anthony

     | about 4 years ago

    i enjoyed the article.... in the industry there are 2 types of limousine companies - corporate and retail. the corporate business was built with guidelines such as: quality chauffeurs, quality vehicles, clean interiors, quality alcohol and mixers. the corporate limousine company will keep growing from the standards they have set in place from the begining. retail limousine companies- often are run as a taxi limousine company. drivers are hired without experience, vehicles are sent without being washed, cheap alcohol and most of the times no ice or driver with old white shirt/ nasty lookign suit. my personal story: i was assigned a president of a corporation for an award show, they had requested corona beer. I went to gelsons market 2 hours prior to pick up and got limes and corona beer and a tray of crackers/cheezes. i communicated with the handler via text and the client and his guest came out of the hotel and i opened the door and they entered the limousine. (3 seconds) . at the award show the valets open the doors. at the end of the award show i drove to the hotel and let the vip clients out of the limousine (2 seconds). i had contact with the clients for 5 seconds and they where on their way to their room. a week later i received a card fromt he handler that adviced me the client was very impressed with my service and wanted to send me a 100,00 dinner gift certificate. to this day i tell the story to others so they understand you can have a vip client and only have 5 seconds to interact and do your job. my secret is to treat every client as a vip no matter who they are. this keeps my quality control way and beyond expectations.

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