Operations

When Your Customers Have Great Expectations

Jim Luff
Posted on October 17, 2013

As someone who started in the business as a private chauffeur some 20 years ago, I always have been astonished at the things clients expect from me. As a professional, I would seek to accomplish anything a client wanted from me if it was at all possible to do.

There are times when odd requests are made in advance and then there is the more common stuff that comes up during the trip. It can be as simple as making a dinner reservation for the client to loaning him a suit coat or necktie. Sometimes it doesn’t cost a dime to deliver exemplary service. Other times the client’s demands can involve considerable expense.

Who Pays

The bottom line is most clients who ask for “extra” stuff fully plan to pay for the items requested. Perhaps a bigger tip at the end of the night may be the reward for making a dinner reservation. However, when a client who was dropped off at a hotel calls to say he doesn’t like the pillows in the hotel and asks you to go get some other ones that are firmer, there are multiple expenses including the cost of the vehicle/chauffeur and the cost of the pillows from Wal-Mart.  

Expenses such as these can be handled in two ways: You could present the actual receipt at the time you are presenting the goods and sheepishly hold your hand out, or a more practical method is to simply add the cost of the pillows to the invoice of the run and mark it up. Oh, and running an errand is a run! If the car is normally $62 per hour, your client should expect to pay the cost of the car charter AND the cost of the requested items.

Honestly, Neal Diamond isn’t going to care about the cost of either. He just wants the pillows and whatever it costs to get them to his room. For that, he is willing to pay. Just ask Christine Bennett, operator of Showcase Limousine in Boise, who handled this odd request.

Operator Andrew Armitage waited and waited and waited for the client who told him the wrong night. Not charging the client turned out to be a good investment.
Operator Andrew Armitage waited and waited and waited for the client who told him the wrong night. Not charging the client turned out to be a good investment.
Who Doesn’t Pay

Sometimes good customer service comes by tolerating customer mistakes. Andrew Armitage, owner of Vintage Chauffeuring in Plainfield, Ill., made a 100-mile round trip to the airport to meet a client. The client was arriving at 12:20 a.m. — you know the tricky ones where you have to say, “That’s Tuesday night becoming Wednesday morning.” His client got the dates confused and Armitage spent five hours from start to finish only to hear from the client in the morning to say he was confused about the date and would arrive that night. He got the frantic messages left by Armitage on his voicemail and apologized. Armitage elected not to charge the client any additional fee. That’s good customer service.

More Than A Shirt Off Your Back

In this case, it wasn’t a shirt, but the chauffeur’s pants. Adam John De Lap, a chauffeur with Badger State Limousine Service in Milwaukee, Wisc., actually handed over his pants to a passenger. While working a multi-day musical festival picking up acts arriving at the local airport, De Lap had a strange request as he sat in his limo backstage. A bandmember asked him what size pants he wore. At first, shocked by the question, De Lap asked why he wanted to know. He explained that he had forgotten his black pants that he wears on stage and they were about to go on stage. After looking around for hidden cameras that might be part of a prank show, De Lap gave up his pants and cooled his heels in the green room with a little towel over his lap while the band performed their set.

Milwaukee chauffeur Adam John De Lap could not wear the pants while handling one client emergency.
Milwaukee chauffeur Adam John De Lap could not wear the pants while handling one client emergency.

That’s service above and beyond!

Last-Minute Hoops

I recently took to the wheel myself to provide service for a megastar who previously brought two of my chauffeurs to tears over the years (including my wife!). As soon as he got in my car, he began asking me who had the best hamburgers in town, the best pizza and the best Chinese food. I thought we were social chit-chatting. All of a sudden he begins belting out his request for a cheeseburger with a meat patty that has never been frozen.

He also wants a pizza with a super-thin crust cooked almost to burnt, but not burned. He wants fresh basil, never out of a jar. He wants sweet and sour chicken, fried wontons and a host of other stuff. This is where it’s time to get creative and call on my resources. Since my favorite pizza place didn’t have fresh basil, I had to run to the grocery store and get it for them while calling upon a friend that owns a grill to make the burger AND deliver it to the theater. I also called in the Chinese order. I dropped the basil off, picked up the Chinese, headed back to the pizzeria, got the pizza and timed the arrival with the burger delivery. Dinner was served to Dr. Huxtable and his entourage.

Making Things Happen

While all of the food purchases were easy for me since I knew all the restaurant owners and had their cell numbers, it might not be so for an average chauffeur. He might not have sufficient funds for all the requests. The most important thing you can convey to your chauffeurs in training for over-the-top service is to “try.” Try to meet every demand, and if they have to call the office or you for help and guidance, they should do so immediately upon request. In this world, it’s all about who you know to make things happen. Calling for help is the first step to achieving success.

In some cases, a food request might now be nearly as complicated as the above order. We regularly provide service for surgical teams who fly in to harvest a human organ and fly out. It is almost routine to have food in the car when they depart the hospital, and oddly enough, their food of choice is Denny’s, America’s “always open” diner. The team gives their order to the chauffeur on arrival. About an hour before they complete their surgery, they text the chauffeur to go fetch the food.  

Is It Too Much To Ask?

Only you and the chauffeur can answer the question of how far you are willing to go to achieve over-the-top customer service. It might be a financial matter on the part of the chauffeur or maybe you just don’t want the hassle. But if you can make something happen for a client, once again, you should TRY. I once had a client who chartered a limo bus to go to an outdoor music festival held in a park secured by temporary fencing. My client wanted her limo bus inside the park so they could use it as a mobile lounge. Since the promoter of the festival was also a client and we were transporting acts between the venue and the hotel, it was a simple phone call. Everyone on the bus would need to be ID checked and have a wristband. No outside alcohol was allowed and they had to redeem their tickets from the comfort of their seats on the bus. 

The Fun Stuff

Frequently we are called upon to participate in little white lies as an element of surprise or just plain gags on people. These moments can sure make up for the hours upon hours of sitting in parking lots. Take for instance, Brandon Kroll’s story of being “pulled over” by the “cops” during a bachelorette party. The “cop” was actually a stripper hired by the maid of honor. Kroll, being a good sport, informed the bride-to-be that he didn’t have a license or insurance. The operator of Detroit Party Bus stepped out of the bus only to return back with the stripper-cop.

Stacy L., an operator from Minnesota, relayed a story in which a prom date canceled on a female passenger and the young lady asked her young, handsome chauffeur to be her “date” so she wouldn’t be embarrassed showing up in her prom dress with a limo and no date. The chauffeur obliged with the blessing of his employer. My son, Jeffrey Luff, a chauffeur for Limousine Scene in Bakersfield, Calif., served as a referee for two females who thought it would be fun to duke it out (outside the limo) together.  


Empowering Staff

Taking a cue from super customer service oriented Ritz-Carlton Hotels, employees must be empowered to make decisions about requests. From the person who answers the phone and takes the order to the chauffeur delivering the service, determine just how far you will go and what dollar limits must be set on comps provided. Bennett pointed out that if someone such as Cher has chartered her vehicle for four days in a row and the vehicle is positioned at a hotel on a paid standby, and “Cher requests a six pack of Corona, I’m going to just give it to her. But if Cher is on a four-hour charter and wants four Coronas, I’m going to charge her for the bottles plus a mark-up.”

This is common sense but the information on how these decisions are to be made must be filtered down to all staff so they know how to appropriately respond to requests. If there isn’t an immediate clear decision, then the customer should be told that every effort will be made to honor the request and a return call can be expected while arrangements are being made.

Boise, Idaho operator Christine Bennett had to improvise and find some comfortable pillows for visiting singer Neal Diamond. Wal-Mart to the rescue.
Boise, Idaho operator Christine Bennett had to improvise and find some comfortable pillows for visiting singer Neal Diamond. Wal-Mart to the rescue.


Having Hookups

In order to get things done, being able to contact connections quickly is the key to handling over-the-top requests. If you need to make special parking arrangements for a venue, having a relationship with the valet manager, the police department and venue manager can just about guarantee you can park anywhere you need with a few phone calls and advance arrangements. Having the cell phone number of the doorman at the hottest club in town can be handy when you are doing a barhop, bachelor party or night out on the town. Greasing him with a $10 or $20  bill should get your people right in with an advance phone call. Of course, that fee can be passed on to the client as “VIP Entry Service” if discussed with the group in advance.  

Must-Have Cell Phone Numbers

Chauffeurs who want to roll like a first-class concierge should have the cell phone numbers of the following people and places handy, available at a moment’s notice.

• Restaurant managers
• Doormen at popular night spots
• Commander of the traffic division of your police department
• Nightclub managers
• Stripper services
• Tailors
• Hairstylists
• Doctors who do house/hotel calls
• Hotel managers/concierges
• Travel agents
• Concert/Show promoters
• Operations managers at local entertainment venues
• Private security
• Airport manager/airport Police Chief
• Valet parking companies used in your area

Related Topics: building your clientele, business management, celebrities, chauffeur training, concierge, customer service, difficult clients, Midwest operators, VIP service

Jim Luff Contributing Editor
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