Tim Rose brings his expertise to next year’s highly anticipated event.
ROCKVILLE, Md. — Loyalty doesn’t come easy anymore in a culture of abundant choices and instant communications. Tastes and preferences can change with the touch and flash of a smartphone, as consumers want it all now.
That can be a challenge for chauffeured transportation companies, for whom generating revenue from repeat customers counts far more than getting the same amount of business via high-volume customer turnover. Loyal clients always can be cultivated and kept as a chauffeured service learns more about their habits and routines that can be filed away.
Knowing how to focus, listen and negotiate are required skills for competing in such an environment, says one veteran operator who runs one of the three largest chauffeured fleets in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. region. At RMA Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation, founded in 1988, CEO Robert Alexander oversees an operation of about 120 vehicles that boasts strong revenue growth, low employee turnover, and most importantly, high customer retention.
Although customer retention rates are unverifiable at private companies, a percentage rate in the mid- to high-90s is considered strong, especially at a company such as RMA. It averages about 325 runs per day, with 250 on slow days and 500 on busy ones.
Retaining customers depends on how well you listen, and what better place to start than with each ride, Alexander says, via e-surveys and follow-up phone calls. “The best time to talk to a client is right after the service. If they had a bad experience, the company’s core values are still the same, we just didn’t deliver what we were supposed to do and now we are going to fix it.”
RMA hires an outside service to regularly and randomly survey a set percentage of customers and then mines the data. “We read surveys and look for nuggets,” Alexander says. “How do we compare to other limo companies? If we don’t get ‘exceptional’ or ‘yes,’ what can we do better? How can we be excellent in this category?”
Every company in the chauffeured transportation business invariably will have some service failures, given the 24/7 high-demand nature of the business and extensive coordination involved, Alexander says. “No business can say they haven’t had a chauffeur make a wrong turn, or had a bad day, or made a mistake.”
Do all you can
Rule No. 1 is to do everything you can to keep the customer. “If they call and say they don’t want you, it’s better to find out what went wrong,” Alexander says. “You want to take care of them when they are at their worst. You want them in love or angry; it’s in the middle of the road when you lose them.”
Fully engaged customers are more likely to remain loyal. “If you screw up and they yell at you, you can say, ‘How did we screw up? How can we make it up or make you feel valued again?’”
To remedy a service failure, RMA uses various approaches, including issuing frequent rider points, providing free rides, sending gift baskets, or getting creative, such as suggesting a free stretch limousine trip the next time a client is vacationing with the kids.
Give and take
Solving a customer complaint or grievance boils down to skillful negotiating that steers the outcome to a reasonable option. “We’ll lose the battle to win the war,” Alexander says. “Any time and every time people want to feel that you care and have a unique and special experience. The minute you don’t, it’s Adios.”
Operators should be flexible, as opposed to saying, “Oh, here’s a free dessert,” Alexander says. “They want to hear you are sorry, fix the problem, and what you’ll do so it doesn’t happen again.”
Although customer retention should be considered a process or negotiation, it doesn’t mean you’ll give away the store. For example, if a client demands 10 free rides, which is unreasonable, then you try to talk it down to five or two or some combination of incentives, Alexander says.
“Both parties have to walk away feeling good about the situation. All people want is to be heard, and they want you to understand and appreciate them. They want someone who will listen and make them feel like they are valued.”
And if someone just disappears? There will always be a small slice of clients who lose jobs, move away, pass away, or can’t afford to pay, Alexander says, but it’s worthwhile to at least call up and ask. “We follow up and see what happened to them.”
Strong customer retention also depends on good training and consistency of service across an affiliate network.
From the client’s standpoint, the distinction between the host company and the affiliate company is irrelevant, Alexander says. “The client doesn’t care. You are selling seamless travel. You have to solve the issue right there.”
That’s why it is important for operators to form connections with affiliates that share the same intense focus on customer retention, specifically a clear understanding that in the event of a service failure, there will be answers and solutions right away.
“All we want to know is what happened and then explain why it won’t happen again,” regardless of the location and service provider, Alexander says.
Such customer attention stems from constant training and learning from bad customer service experiences. RMA, which has about 200 chauffeurs and employees, strives to keep an open, non-confrontational environment with good communication. Managers frequently talk with employees about good customer service, clip useful articles that are shared with them, and send out instructional e-mails. The company also encourages customer service agents and chauffeurs to interact on any issues or concerns.
“We all have had bad service experiences,” Alexander says. The bottom line: “What can I learn? How can I apply it to my business?”
Tim Rose brings his expertise to next year’s highly anticipated event.
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