Industry leader and California operator Maurice Brewster contributes insights to a Wall Street Journal article.
Running a 24/7 operation can be a daunting task. We all have to sleep at some time. Medical research shows that irregular sleep and interrupted sleep can hurt your health. Operators at first may be reluctant to delegate such a vital task as answering calls, but technology now makes many affordable options available.
Are You Truly 24/7?
Many companies falsely advertise being 24/7. 24/7 means you answer your phone live all hours of the day or night. It means if someone sends you an email at 3 a.m., within minutes the email will be answered. It doesn’t just mean that you will provide service overnight. Your business office must be “open” 24/7. If the chauffeur has not arrived by the appointed time and the client calls your office and gets an answering machine, you probably will never hear from that client again. Whether you need to hire a call center or an employee depends on your call volume from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. If you seldom get calls in the middle of the night and don’t serve finicky corporate accounts, an answering machine is probably just fine. If you enter the corporate world or the late-night party market, someone needs to answer your phone at all times to provide good customer service.
Sleep is vital to your health and clarity of mind. Trying to run a 24/7 business from your cell phone means the phone controls your life. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has published a report on how interrupted or irregular sleep can hurt the body: It can shorten your lifespan while contributing to obesity, hypertension and chronic sleep problems. Having less than seven hours of good sleep each night can lead to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, anxiety and depression. If calls are waking you at all hours of the night, you need to look at alternatives.
Your options include hiring a night/weekend dispatcher or a few of them. This can be costly because you will have payroll expenses and worker’s comp premiums. If they work from the office, your electricity bill will increase from lights being on all night and the HVAC system running round the clock. You can hire a local answering service. However, if you have ever called a medical office at lunch or after hours, you know they don’t do much but take your name and number. They are usually in a hurry because they have other lines ringing and will not generally represent you well except for being live answering. Or, you can hire a “call center” specifically designed to serve limousine services. There are many to choose from including LimoLive24, one of the original call centers servicing the industry, Limousine Call Center, Pro-Reservations and many more.
Hiring your own dispatchers can be costly. That depends on how you pay your dispatchers, where your dispatchers work, and your levels of direction and control. If you pay a paltry wage of $10 an hour and have two eight-hour shifts per night, you are looking at $160 per night. In a five-day work week, that’s $800 not including any employer payroll expense. You also might consider hiring contractors to work from home. You would pay them per call like an answering service and then commissions on orders taken to compensate them for down times without calls. You need to determine what your nightly call volume and the likelihood of sales to offset this expense.
Call Center Services
The services offered by call centers vary among companies. Most centers are able to answer phones and emails, provide quotes, take orders, perform driver wake-up calls, and dispatch routine orders and last-minute orders using your software system. Depending upon which service you hire, some are even prepared to handle farm-in and farm-out orders on your behalf, upsell your services, and monitor your drivers and vehicles through GPS tracking. Most call centers invest in high-tech infrastructures that include backup generators to keep them running during power outages. One of the most important considerations in procuring a call center is to make sure they have your software and are thoroughly versed in it. Some will try to convert you to their own or tell you they don’t use livery software. These act as a glorified answering service, taking reservations and emailing them to you to insert into your software the next morning.
Growth and Improvement
LimoLive24 is a top-rated call center dedicated to the limousine industry and provides service to several hundred companies nationwide, says Lisa Harding, operations manager. The company uses customer service representatives (CSRs) who understand the client culture such as high expectations of quick and efficient responses as well as proper visual, verbal and mental sharpness during conversations, Harding says.
Andrew Armitage of Vintage Chaffeuring in Plainfield, Ill., began using Limousine Call Center in April. “I’m pretty sure this has been one of my better business decisions,” Armitage says. “If the call center has an issue, they are instructed to call me for clarification. Every representative I’ve spoken to has sounded very professional and confident. They’re booking jobs for me and getting better rates than I was. It’s so nice to wake up to see they booked jobs for me while I was sleeping instead of me waking up to see missed calls and then calling the people back to find out they already booked with someone else. I now realize a professional call center with trained operators is the only way to go. I wish I would have done this sooner.”
Kristen Andrews, owner of Town Car Now of Orlando, says, “LimoLive24 has become an integral part of my business. They confidently handle my incoming calls anytime day or night when I’m unable to answer. My clients love that my phone is always answered by a live person [who] can quote, make changes and take reservations.”
Call Center Pricing
Pricing ranges from 50 cents per hour at LimoLive24 to $490 per month for 600 minutes of service with Limolabs.com. Avoid long-term contracts in case the service doesn’t meet your expectations. Most companies offer month-to-month terms and some offer a 10-day notice to terminate your contract. Additionally, all companies interviewed for this article offer some “wiggle room” in their pricing and create custom pricing schedules based on the specific needs of a client.
“Whether your company uses LimoLive24 on a full-time basis or on a part-time and overnight basis, our average hourly rate conversations start about $2.75 per hour,” Harding says. Both LimoLive24 and Limousine Call Center provide free trial periods of 10-30 days so you can try it out before making a commitment.
Monitor Your Call Center Calls
Hilliard Krecker of Magnolia Chauffeur & Livery in Aiken, S.C. uses an answering service that markets itself as specialists who serve the limousine industry. Krecker was horrified when he listened to recordings of his calls. “I finally had the chance to sit down and listen to how my customers were greeted and how they struggled with call center personnel who can barely read and have a command of the English language that is worse than the average person in New Delhi,” he says. “It was so painful to listen to, I had to have my wife finish listening to them. I couldn’t bear it. I had to go mix a stiff drink.”
He is searching for another call center. LCT attempted to contact Magnolia Chauffeur & Livery at 9:30 p.m. on a weeknight. We were greeted with an automated recording stating that “a live team member would be on the line shortly.” After three minutes of music on hold, we hung up. It is important that you call your own company after-hours periodically to see how your call is handled. Calls handled by the call center always should be available for you to listen to after-the-fact. If a call center can not provide this option, steer clear.
How It All Works
If you are not a technical geek, you might be wondering how it all works. How do your calls get rerouted to the call center and how do they know if you have a vehicle available and who to call out for a last minute job? In the past five years, the explosion of technology, including cloud-based reservations software and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), have made call centers more efficient. Applying older technology, you can use the call-forwarding feature offered by your phone company. You initiate call forwarding by dialing a special phone number set up just for your company at the call center and from that moment on, your calls are answered by the call center until you cancel the forwarding.
To access your software with older technology such as Logmein.com or GoToMyPC.com, the call center can access your software through the Internet and use it as if they were physically in front of your computer. Using new technology, cloud-based software is accessible from anywhere, so whether the call center or you are accessing the software, the program and data are in the cloud with no physical server at either location. You create a user name and password just as you would for an employee. With VoIp, your phone calls are Internet-based and can be remotely redirected from any phone number to any phone number using software controlled by your VoIP provider. This software can allow you to program your phone calls to automatically be rerouted to the call center at a certain time of day and returned to the local office at a specific time as well so it is completely automated. Don’t concern yourself too much over this as the call center wants your business, so they will handle all the technical matters for you.
To get started, make a plan based on your expectations of the call center. Be prepared to discuss what software and phone system you are using.
• What days/times do I want the call center to answer my phones?
• Do I want them to respond to after-hours emails?
• Do I want them to perform wake-up calls for my chauffeurs?
• Do I want them to prepare and email written quotes?
• Do I want them to call out chauffeurs for immediate runs?
• Do I want them to contact my affiliates in other markets if needed?
• Do I want them to track my chauffeurs throughout the run?
• Do I want them to monitor my GPS system?
Once you have determined this information, call and speak to a sales representative about your needs and desires.
Industry leader and California operator Maurice Brewster contributes insights to a Wall Street Journal article.
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