NOV. LCT: Despite challenges hiring drivers, business is thriving as operators expand their services at a more measured pace.
VIENNA, Austria — Imagine this: You travel for the first time in your life to a strange and rough place. You leave your car for five minutes because of an emergency. When you come back, it’s gone!
You have left all your documents such as passports, tickets, itineraries and telephone numbers in the car along with your mobile phone. You look around, you don‘t know exactly where you are, you don‘t speak the language, and you don‘t know anyone.
In a single second, you realize that it doesn‘t help that you are 1) An American; 2) You own or work for a big company; 3) You have an administrative assistant or colleague who speaks three languages.
Because you are completely alone and unmoored — with only your experiences, knowledge and skills.
Remember this scenario, because that’s the point where the salesperson in you starts to work. You want help from a stranger but you have to sell this person on why you are worth the time to do something for you the way you want and need it.
That’s the same principle that applies to attracting and pursuing affiliates. Being in the above situation makes you think of and notice multiple ways of nonverbal communication — you suddenly can read things you have never seen before and you find you can communicate with strangers in a nice and devoted manner you ordinarily would never have talked to.
You unpack all your manners and charm and try to discern what the other person is thinking without saying anything that alienates them — in order to get what you want. Now that’s what you call real sales.
Why will you need that approach when getting business from Europeans?
Europeans have spent their entire lives fighting for their own identities and their own space as well as for being unique, not uniform. Therefore, every single country in geographical Europe (46 countries in total) thinks what it does is the best way and everyone should do it like them.
But just as you can‘t survive without anyone else in Europe, you must learn quickly to deal with people and find out what they need to trade against what you need. With European operators, it’s all about dealing with people, talking about it, and arriving at a solution together.
There are some general facts you should be aware of when comparing the U.S. and Europe.
US: If you drive from the north to south, east to west, through all the states, you will:
Europe: This is different in Europe. If you drive from the north to the south in Europe, these are some things that you encounter: 46 countries, 23 official languages (about 110 languages including dialects), 33 currencies, 46 heads of states, some Kings and Queens, unique ethnic foods, varying laws, driving on the left or the right, being able to drive as fast as you want or not even one kilometer more than allowed, and signs, habits and mentalities that vary in each country.
So you can imagine that it is already quite an adventure traveling through Europe but it can be even harder to work with all of these differences.
How does that affect you when you want to farm out to Europe or take in business from Europe?
Europeans are not thinking, speaking, or even living alike. So to presume you might know how a Spanish, German or Swede might react to what you say, expect, or want is senseless even for a European like me. The only way you can deal with that is by asking, listening and learning.
If you are the type of person who says: I have done this many years, I know everything, then you should not start farming chauffeured business in or out of Europe.
One thing that Europeans have in common is that they have learned how to deal with and adapt to all types of peoples and cultures. They know quickly if someone is only telling a story or can really do the job. As we don’t have so many large Europe-wide companies, it’s much more about who you are and what company you work for.
Chauffeured client differences
Here is a primer on the main differences between clients in Europe and the U.S. and how to avoid offering unnecessary services:
Company sizes: If you own a company with one or 500 cars (30 is already really big in Europe), that doesnt matter. People only have to believe you that you can do the job. And that‘s what you have to sell: yourself, not your company. Don’t exaggerate; always tell the truth about what you got — to be small is sometimes a big advantage.
Personal contact, honesty and flexibility are key factors: Rather than knowing you put a bottle of water in the car, European clients worship a person who they can call in emergencies who deals directly with them — not a call center but someone they have talked to before and knows all the details about how to handle their client(s). So the smaller the company, the more likely it will be that you get the same person. That’s a key sales arguement for smaller companies.
Rate transparency and charging: If you give a European client a rate, it has to be FINAL. Even if there is only five cents added to what you quoted before, they will not trust you anymore and they will never come back again, feeling ripped off. Also, charging automatically after the ride without giving the client the chance to check the receipt is considered rude and dodgy.
Expectations of clients: European clients expect the car exactly at the time they ordered it. So offering them an arrival 15 minutes ahead will not help sell your company. Also 15 minutes free waiting will not help since Europeans get to the car at the time they ordered. It‘s considered extremely rude to let the chauffeur wait. So if a European is late, it is for a serious reason and normally does not happen. Only high class clients who are used to just having the chauffeur wait will do that. Regular clients will do exactly what they ordered.
Contracts (clients and affiliates): Contracts are no basis for working in Europe. Contracts serve mostly only the lawyers at the end when something happens. That‘s because Europeans try to deal and talk about everything and reach a consensus at the end. The only exceptions are the Germans and the Swiss. They love contracts.
For example, if you try to force an Austrian limousine company to sign a contract, it will probably not work with you. Europeans overall are afraid of contracts, although you have far fewer opportunities to file a civil suit in Europe than in the U.S.
Chauffeured transportation supplier differences
Below are some tips on how American and European operators can better handle intercontinental referrals and requests.
Company size, waiting times, last-minute bookings and 24/7 availability: A big company in Europe at most will have only 30 fleet vehicles because there are so many laws for licensing and employees. You just can‘t afford more. The average limousine company in Europe has five vehicles. They have to find good partners to help them out when they get more demand. No one can survive alone. That’s why you sometimes get the supplier of the supplier. So it’s very important that you also know the affiliate of the affiliate.
In southern Europe, the system is mostly based on many one-vehicle owners united into a group, who share administrative staff that disperses and arranges rides. So the operator can own a car but not have to employ anyone. That avoids heavy overhead and keeps employment-related costs down.
When you have only five vehicles, it’s obviously difficult to plan your day if you don‘t know what the client is doing. If you have 250 vehicles, you don‘t mind waiting eight hours. But you have to consider that when you farm out into Europe, the client has to be a bit more precise. Last minute jobs are difficult to handle due to the smaller chauffeured fleets.
When you run a small fleet, you cannot afford an employee to do a night shift on the phone (employees cost DOUBLE wages at night and they have to get the same time off that they worked during the night). So if you employ someone for a night shift, you pay him double the amount as for a normal shift and he must get one day off for every day worked. A company with five vehicles can‘t even get enough revenue to pay for that. So it’s mostly the owner/operator who picks up the phone at night. Please consider that if you want to call without it being an emergency!
Job reputation and who does the job: To own a limousine company in Europe is not as impressive as in the U.S. In southern Europe, the reputation is a bit better, but in the middle of Europe the companies mostly come out of a taxi background, which can be a problem. To be a chauffeur is even worse; you do that normally as a student job or while you are unemployed or when you are retired. The pay is low. Only in the high class companies are chauffeurs considered full time.
Automation and talking to clients: Because you can never get an overall European booking solution due to the different laws, every nation does its own thing. And for a small company it‘s not worth buying a big software program. So the employees and clients do many things manually. Everyone must think about the entire transfer, which results in more consultation, which is considered professional. In Europe, the chauffeurs and/or company reps speak directly with the clients during and after the bookings to find solutions. If the client asks for something unreasonable or impractical, the chauffeur or operator can tell them so and suggest an alternative. That differs from the U.S. where the client is always right and never questioned, no matter how impractical or nonsensical their bookings/requests. Since European operations are smaller with fewer resources, the client and company can talk more candidly and are more aware of reasonable limits. However, after a transfer is arranged, there should be no changes made by the client without a mutual agreement to avoid unexpected wait times. Clients must know exactly what they want and stick to it.
Mentality differences: With so many diverse people, there are many ways to handle client expectations. For pre-arranged as-directed chauffeured runs, such as in Austria, Germany or Switzerland, it is acceptable when the client just gets out of the car and comes back after five hours. But it is nevertheless considered rude. In countries where honor is a major virtue, such as in southern Europe, if a client just gets out of the car and says nothing, the chauffeur might leave. So when you are looking for an affiliate, make sure you tell them exactly what sort of clients you are farming out and what they expect, and make sure it is understood well.
Lawsuits and threats: European laws are easy. A client can try suing a limousine company but in most cases he will not win. The law (nearly everywhere in Europe) is clear: If you have ordered a car and it‘s not there, you have to tell the provider and they have a certain amount of time to solve the problem (depending on the distance, normally ½ hour). If they can‘t solve the problem, they must pay alternative transportation of the same type. You can neither sue anyone if your car is not there nor can you get money from them for missing your flight. That’s why suppliers will not react to threats such as, “We will sue you if you don’t do. . .“
Private citizens have more legal rights and are protected by consumer laws, but B2B arrangements are not. If you want to work with Europeans, both sides must learn more about how the other conducts business and how good communication must get all questions answered to avoid misunderstandings. I personally have done nothing else the last five years and I get surprises every day. But it is very rewarding to learn so much about diverse people.
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