Operations

Gotcha! LCT’s Mystery Ride Reveals What Your Clients Really Experience

LCT Staff
Posted on January 1, 2003

Much can be said for conducting mystery rides. As owners of companies, we can easily get so caught up in the daily grind of back-office operations, we forget to keep tabs on what matters most - our service.

Mystery rides conducted by owners are immensely beneficial in bringing the basics back to the forefront of business. They not only keep owners in touch with reality, they are a true snapshot into the mind’s eye of the customer. Owners will learn the truth good or bad, about the level of service their company provides. What is the real first impression your reservationists project? What really goes on in that back seat? What is the last - and lasting - impression your clients have of your company?

The real answers will probably amaze you and may either elate your sense of managerial finesse or horrify you to the core. The good news is that once you evaluate your own company through the “client experience,” you will uncover the truth about your luxury service and can move forward to either enhance your programs or fix the problems.

It’s really quite simple to get a feel for how your clients perceive their “travel experience” when you place yourself in the vehicle as the client. Just think about all the things you would appreciate if you were the customer. A rushed pickup from the airport to an important meeting? A supply of freshen-up items, such as breath mints and a cologne sample, is obvious. If it’s been a long day and you just want to sit back and not think, how about a headset with relaxing music to help you unwind?

Your clients may very well feel that you treat them like princes and princesses. But it can never hurl to walk in their shoes from time to time. We promise you that you’ll get new ideas on how to treat them like kings and queens.

To make the case that this exercise is no waste of time, LCT staff conducted a mystery ride of our own (and we’re planning to do more of these this year). For the sake of protecting the privacy of our target, we’ll call the company that we hired, “Ajax Limousine Service.”

THE RESERVATION:

How expeditiously was the phone answered?

Ajax Limousine Service answered the phone within two rings. The rule of thumb for your reservationists is the phone should be answered after no more than two rings.

On hold

Ajax did not place me on hold at all.

Rule: Do not put reservation calls on hold - ever! We are not selling take-out pizzas. No matter if you are all alone answering the phones or if you have a full-service reservations department, no client who is booking a trip should be placed on hold. Take the entire reservation and end the call uninterrupted.

Voice

Ajax answered the phone (in a flat, tired sounding voice), “Ajax Limo Service.”

Rule: Always address each call, “Good morning/afternoon/evening! This is Jane Doe with Ajax Limousines. How may I be of service?” Make sure that the person you have answering the phones has a pleasant and upbeat phone voice, be sure that you invest in a quality answering machine if you are unable to man the phones at all times.

The next best alternative is hiring an answering service so your clients talk to a real person. Whether you are a big or small company, you must give the impression that you are a professional company. Old, scratchy answering machines are unacceptable.

Answering the phone while driving is the height of unprofessionalism to both your client (passenger) and the caller. Be sure that you make you first company impression perfect. If a client feels good upon booking the reservation, he or she will be more apt to have a positive experience during the ride.

Intro

Ajax did not offer an intro. They waited for me to ask to make a reservation. However, once I began speaking, the reservationist was very accommodating. The overall process was quick and organized.

#1 rule on bookings: Your reservationists should be ready to respond to a booking immediately. They should start with a friendly, “I’d love to help you with reserving a vehicle. What is your preference - sedan, limousine or SUV?” Following this, the reservationist asks for the number of people in the party, preference of vehicle color, date of booking, times, type of occasion, names of special guests (i.e., find out the birthday person, the anniversary information, the bachelorette’s name, the bride and groom, etc.).

The callback or written confirmation

While Ajax did reconfirm the reservation details upon booking, I did not receive a reminder call the day before (like many service businesses do nor did we receive a written confirmation via fax or mail.

#1 rule on confirming reservations: It’s best to both call the day before to confirm the pickup location and time, and send a written confirmation that includes all the reservation details and price. At the bare minimum, one of these two types of confirmations should be done with every reservation, even your corporate accounts that run steady schedules with you. Mirror other types of service industry businesses such as hotels. Beauty salons are famous for their personal calls the day before an appointment.

THE PICKUP:

On time?

Ajax’s chauffeur called us from his cell phone to advise that he was stuck in traffic and was running 20 minutes late. Thus he was promptly 20 minutes late.

#1 rule regarding pickups: Never show up late. Being late for a pick up is usually avoidable. Chauffeurs should know the fastest routes to their destination, and they should be trained to factor in enough time during key hours of the day. They should know where the accidents are before they take specific routes. There are plenty of resources - from simply listening to local news stations to using more sophisticated GPS and mapping systems readily available.

Type of vehicle?

Ajax never asked what type of vehicle we wanted. We specified a limousine for two people celebrating a wedding anniversary. We were shocked to see a white 120-inch stretch round the corner. We were in a vehicle that was all dressed up with neon lighting and mirrored ceilings. When we balked at the limousine, the chauffeur was surprised. He thought we’d love the vehicle!

#1 rule on vehicles: Always ask what type and color of vehicle your clients prefer. Don’t guess at what they might like and don’t surprise them with “free upgrades” to something unexpected. If you find that you are in a bind and there is no black six-pack available for your pickup, you must call the client and explain the situation.

Condition of vehicle?

Our super-stretch was dirty. The bar had beverage rings on the black lacquer. The windows were dirty, one light fixture was out, and there was a small but noticeable rip in the interior upholstery in our line of sight. Also, the chauffeur did not place barware out. (We asked where the glasses were and he said that the company only put them out on request. They were stored in the trunk.) It was unsightly to look at an empty bar. There were no special amenities prepared for our special occasion.

#1 rule on the condition of your vehicles: Have zero tolerance for dirty vehicles. Why would anyone spend $50-$100 per hour to be driven in a vehicle that looks like it’s been off-road racing? Your vehicles should be inspected before leaving the lot and must be spit-polished clean.

You should personally inspect every one of your vehicles to be sure they are all properly working. Rips and tears, broken knobs and lights - both inside and out - are absolutely unacceptable.

Also, make it a rule that you provide at least a congratulatory card for all special-occasion work. Truly professional companies often provide champagne, a rose or something special that acknowledges the occasion.

Your corporate accounts should be greeted with their favorite coffee or soda along with bottled water as a main staple. All night-on-the-town work should include a stock beverage bar (non-alcoholic is fine) and fresh ice.

Chauffeur etiquette

Our chauffeur was in fact impeccably dressed and very nice. He opened the door and held out his hand to help us. He forgot to acclimate us to the vehicle, however.

#1 rule on chauffeur etiquette: The happiest chauffeurs are truly the ones who maintain a professional and traditional appearance. Your drivers should be trained to put on the full chauffeur uniform without cutting corners.

The uniform has a profound psychological impact on overall mental attitude. If your drivers feel the part, they will more likely act the part. Make sure your chauffeurs mirror “bellman service” by introducing the vehicle, pointing out its features and amenities, and demonstrating how the mobile electronics work.

THE DRIVE:

Smooth ride?

The limousine had bad suspension. It rattled and creaked on the freeway.

#1 rule on vehicle road worthiness: It must be T-I-G-H-T! No rumbles, creaks or moans are acceptable. Make sure the vehicle does not ride like a bucking bull. Owners must make if a habit to ride in the back of their vehicles on interstate and city roads at least once a month. Chauffeurs can become tone deaf to certain noises that they get used to.

Chauffeur behavior/attitude on the road

Our chauffeur was too talkative. He engaged us in a conversation that we could not end. He went so far as to turn on the vehicle speaker phone so he could carry on his conversation more clearly. We became very uncomfortable to the point where we finally just put the divide up and cut him off!

#1 rule on chauffeur/client interaction: Train your drivers to speak only when spoken to. They should never lead a conversation, pose personal questions or become overly engrossed in a conversation. They should be sensitive to multiple parties, especially couples. Chauffeurs should take caution with repeat clients. It’s easy to cross the line with familiar people. The best way to safeguard from being overbearing is to consistently follow the client’s lead. Let the client always have the last word.

Driver preparedness—know the route?

The Ajax chauffeur was very familiar with his city and had no difficulty finding our destinations.

#1 rule on chauffeur preparedness: A lost chauffeur is a lost customer. Your drivers should prepare each day by looking over all their pickups and studying them. They should be tested and retested on their city’s features, including best restaurants, clubs and special attractions. They should know what shows, concerts, and events are in town and be prepared to act as a rolling concierge.

FIRST STOP: DRINKS

How did the chauffeur handle the waiting period?

We told the Ajax chauffeur we’d be in the bar for one hour. He gave us his cell number to call when we were ready. We called him 30 minutes later because we decided we wanted to leave. He advised us he’d be there in five minutes, since he was about to order his dinner.

#1 rule on leaving clients: It can never be allowed. If anything should go wrong and your clients are forced to wait for a pickup it will likely cost you the entire night’s work. Chauffeurs should pack a meal or snack and stay closely parked to their client’s locale. Letting them run errands, make fast-food breaks and such is a recipe for disaster. If anything should go wrong or the client needs to make a quick change of plans, the chauffeur can create a huge problem for your business if he or she cannot be found or if the chauffeur forces the client to have to wait.

SECOND STOP: DINNER

How did the chauffeur handle the waiting period?

The Ajax chauffeur parked across the street and didn’t dare move this time. When we stepped out from the restaurant after dinner, he saw us and pulled up to us immediately.

Rule: This is how the textbook tells us it should be done.

THIRD STOP: CONCERT

The Ajax chauffeur did not have a plan for dropping us off at the concert. Police were directing traffic and things got very confusing. We ultimately jumped out of the vehicle at a stoplight, which the chauffeur admitted could have resulted in a traffic ticket.

#1 rule on handling special events: Special events require pre-planning. Chauffeurs must know the limousine drop-off points at major events in advance or they will undoubtedly find themselves in similar situations to the one above.

How did the chauffeur handle the waiting period?

The Ajax chauffeur told us he needed to go back to his office to “get something.”

However, upon leaving the con­cert, we called him on his cell phone and he did have a pickup plan that he outlined for us. We were able to go straight to the limousine without incident.

#1 rule on special event parking: Chauffeurs park in the designated parking place for limousines and stay there. They do not leave their client’s locale. They offer a pager or a cell phone number for the client to use at the time of pickup and define the pickup location. If the vehicle parking is far from the event doors, the chauffeur should meet the client and physically escort the client to the parked vehicle.

THE FOLLOW-UP:

Ajax did not send a thank-you card or any other form of follow-up, including a “How did we do?” comment card.

#1 rule on customer follow-up:

Always follow up with at least a thank-you card to each and every client. The last impression is a lasting one and yet it’s so common to neglect follow-up. Take heed from the hospitality industry and make sure you follow up with every client to at least thank them for the business. We recommend that you take this one step further and create incentives such as the premier rewards programs so widely used in the service industry. “How Did You Like Our Service?” comment cards are very beneficial too. Just make sure that it’s a simple postcard survey with a return stamp and be sure the postcards are sent directly to you.

THE BILLING:

We received the invoice two weeks after the trip which we felt was timed just right.

#1 ride on billing clients: Billings to clients should never be sent beyond 30 days past the trip.

Related Topics: chauffeur behavior, customer service, reservations, special events, telephone etiquette, vehicle maintenance, waiting issues

LCT Staff LCT Staff
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