10/14 update: Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calls for more scrutiny of stretches nationwide.
Clear and fast communications between office staff, chauffeurs, and clients is critical to providing superior service. When you learn the pitfalls and proven ways to avoid them, you can orient your operations around excellent communication techniques and procedures.
Importance of Basic Communications Serving the luxury transportation industry requires constant communication from the time a call comes in until the trip ticket is finalized. Everyone involved must be clear about the message. Among medium to large operations, the odds of failure increase with each relay of the message.
The process usually begins with a reservationist who quotes a rate, assigns a type of vehicle, gets payment information, and obtains pickup and drop-off directions. This is then passed on to a dispatcher who gives it to the chauffeur. The chauffeur executes the paperwork with the client. If all goes well, everyone is on the same page. If it goes wrong, the results can kill your bottom line. A mistake can discourage future business and cause you to lose a large corporate account; what’s more, you now have to give the ride for free.
The Reservations Process Good technique begins with the reservation. Technique involves establishing your personal method of taking a reservation.
Every set of questions should be in the same order every time for the type of trip being booked. Questions should seek: 1) client information; 2) details of the trip asked in a logical order, such as pick-up time, location, destination and drop-off time; 3) payment information. You should conclude with a final summary repeating the information as you understand it. Always finish with the question, “Is there anything else I can help you with today?” This allows your client to have the last and final word and the opportunity to ask you any lingering questions.
Using Cue Cards Cue cards are actually pre-written scripts you or your employees can follow to make sure all information is collected according to the type of trip. These scripts can be placed in a binder with tabs marked with various types of trips such as weddings, funerals, airport trips, hourly charter, etc. Cue cards are helpful for training new reservationists.
For a wedding reservation, the questions would include the church name, the reception location, any stops along the way for photos, and specific instructions such as a requested route of travel. Of course airport cards would include questions such as where the chauffeur will greet the passenger, name of the airline, and flight information. The card should contain specific instructions to be given to the client such as, “You will find your chauffeur in the baggage claim area of Terminal 5. He will display a sign with our logo and your name.”
Mission Critical Information While collecting information, it is crucial that all details are accurately taken and repeated back in a way that both parties clearly understand the arrangements.
There are some things you can do to reduce the risk of mistakes. Using the phonetic alphabet can help reduce the chance of spelling a client’s name wrong, and help verify pickup and drop-off locations for appropriate mapping. The phonetic alphabet consists of using words to verify a letter such as asking is that “C” as in CHARLIE or “E” as in EDWARD.
Because many letters do sound alike over the phone or through a radio system, it is important to distinguish exactly what is being spelled. Never assume. If the last name is Smith, it could be Smyth; and no one likes their name spelled wrong on an invoice. Verify it by asking, “Is that the common spelling of Smith?” Even more essential is getting the pickup location right. A wrong address could put the vehicle miles from the correct location. Many street names sound alike or similar such as Bill Avenue and Beale Avenue. Unless it is perfectly clear, such as California Avenue, do not assume anything. Always verify the spelling of the street name and repeat the address numbers.
Try to get as much information as possible to help the chauffeur execute the job. The more information given to the chauffeur, the greater the likelihood of delivering exemplary service by having routes of travel, backup routes, and knowledge of any special needs or requests. Take the reservation as if you were going to do the job yourself. An equally important part of the reservation is the type of vehicle assigned. Always get the intended passenger count for the vehicle and describe the vehicle when reading back the information for the final time. Include a statement such as, “I have you confirmed for a black, eight passenger super-stretch limousine.”
When creating your own technique, use a “closing confirmation statement” such as, “I have you confirmed for Friday, Jan. 18 at 6:30 p.m. We will pick you up at 1-8-1-2 Beale Avenue, spelled B as in Boy, E as in Edward, etc. You will be in a black, eight passenger, super-stretch limousine. You are going to Valentino’s for dinner and expect to return home by 9:30pm. Your total price for this trip is estimated to be $325 which includes a 17% gratuity for your chauffeur, taxes, and administrative fees. Any other gratuity bestowed upon your chauffeur is left to your discretion. Other charges may apply for tolls, parking, or other incidentals which your chauffeur will inform you of during your trip. Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
Key Communications Tools • Use the Phonetic Alphabet to verify spelling • Repeat details such as addresses and phone numbers • Verify information such as street names, flight numbers etc. before service begins • Repeat all radio/Nextel transmissions as you heard them • Avoid abbreviations except for standard abbreviations used in your company • Assume nothing • Ask the client if there is anything else you can help them with • Confirm all details before hanging up
Phonetic Alphabet A Adam/Alpha B Boy/Bravo C Charles/Charlie D David/Delta E Edward/Echo F Frank/Foxtrot G George/Golf H Henry/Hotel I Ida/India J John/Juliet K King/Kilo L Lincoln/Lima M Mary/Mike N Nancy/November O Ocean/Oscar P Paul/Papa Q Queen/Quebec R Robert/Romeo S Sam/Sierra T Tom/Tango U Union/Uniform V Victor W William/Whiskey X X-Ray Y Yellow/Yankee Z Zebra/Zulu
Dispatching Once the information has been verified, everything you have should be passed on in writing to dispatch. Dispatchers should double-check the information verifying maps for the street and making sure the street address given matches the address range number of the street. Verify flight numbers with the airline and any special requests or requirements. The best chauffeur and vehicle are then assigned based on knowledge and experience of the job to be done.
If dispatching by Nextel, make sure all information is relayed using the phonetic alphabet and requiring the chauffeur to repeat back the information as he heard it. If you dispatch by text or other written format, be careful with abbreviations.
Make sure your company’s standard abbreviations are taught to your chauffeurs. If your company does not have common abbreviations, do not allow dispatchers or reservationists to create their own in written documents. There is a major risk of misinterpretation between parties. All common abbreviations used in a company should be put in writing and each company employee should have a copy to avoid guessing at letters.
Final Communication The client should sign a written document indicating the ending time and location of the ride, and the final charges the client can expect to have charged to his credit card or invoiced. The chauffeur should make a closing statement such as, “Thank you for allowing us to serve you tonight. It has been my pleasure. I hope everything was as you expected it would be.” This gives the client an opportunity to share anything that may have been perceived as a negative event during the ride. There should be no further communications about this ride. Unfortunately, one of the most frequent negative experiences in our industry is final charges. This happens when the client incurs overtime and doesn’t realize it, or incurs other charges such as parking or tolls not told about in advance. Some companies don’t tell clients the gratuity is included. So the clients then become upset when they see a gratuity listed on their invoice after already having given one the night of service.
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