The annual LCT Operator of the Year Awards recognize the latest and most current in business achievement.
When singer Simon Le Bon of the band Duran Duran was performing a standing gig in New York City a few years ago, he would encounter a group of fans every time he walked from the theater to his waiting luxury vehicle.
Chauffeur Chris O’Brocto, now a Los Angeles operator who specializes in A-list musicians and performer clients, recalls seeing the same autograph seeker wearing the same jacket waiting for Le Bon — for three days in a row.
On that third day, the man got into a car and started following the SUV O’Brocto was using to drive Le Bon. Shortly after leaving the theater, O’Brocto immediately pulled over to the side of the road, letting the car pass. Le Bon appeared startled at first, O’Brocto recalls, until he explained to the singer the suspicious behavior he had been noticing, and how he did not want the fan to know where Le Bon was staying.
O’Brocto, who owns All-Access Limousine Inc. based in Beverly Hills, sees his job as far beyond that of a chauffeur. His roles include part-driver, part-concierge, and part-security guard. Connecting these tasks is the overarching ability to know your clients and develop an attitude of service that motivates one to note and devote to the details.
Limo operators and chauffeurs who cultivate such keen awareness of clients on multiple levels always will have an advantage in landing and retaining clients of all types.
Attention To Details
The rock musicians O’Broco drives would never call up a listed, advertised company or make a reservation on a website. They want to know who is showing up to drive them and expect a trusted service where the chauffeur is a confidante.
O’Brocto started chauffeuring in New York and moved out to Los Angeles six years ago when his wife landed a job there. He restarted his chauffeured service with a Cadillac Escalade ESV, and plans to grow by adding a Cadillac XTS sedan and hire a part-time chauffeur who can follow his standards.
He cleans his vehicle all the time, and calls his clients on their personal cell phones to let them know when he is coming to pick them up and exactly where he will be.
O’Brocto also deviates from the stand-out conventions of typical chauffeured service, most noticeably in the way he dresses for clients: Jeans, white button down shirt, vest, casual dress shoes and a sport coat. “I don’t like black-and-white suit guys,” he says. “Suits are getting attention from other people in the airport who want to know who is being picked up.”
One tip O’Brocto has learned that applies to all clients, regardless of how famous or successful: “Always search the vehicle before driving away. So many people leave a cell phone, purse, wallet or scarf behind.”
Knowing your client is the core of customer service, whether it is a prom goer or the President or anyone in between, says Robin Wells, a veteran marketer who is the owner and founder of Etiquette Manor (www.etiquettemanor.com). Wells has 20 years of experience running and working in small, entrepreneurial organizations and global corporations. A member of the International Association of Protocol Consultants and Officers, she formed Etiquette Manor in 2008 and runs Robin Ford Marketing and Corporate Image Consulting in Miami.
“You are no longer just driving the vehicle,” she says. “There is so much more mandatory immediate gratification that requires excellent customer service. Presentation is No. 1. If you have some social skills, your job is to drive the car with all the social grace in the world, be flexible and know who the client is.”
O’Brocto can relate to his clients beyond being a concierge and a confidante: He’s worked as an actor, including theater and commercials, so he understands the entertainment world his clients circulate in. “Because of my background in entertainment, I think what makes an excellent chauffeur is someone who doesn’t ask for autographs, tickets, or favors,” he says. “You have to know when to talk and when not to. I have one client who writes songs and sings out loud. It’s important not to talk. . . But another client brought a CD of his own music, had me listen to it, and then asked me for advice.”
Having been both a performer on stage and chauffeur who literally walks with a famous performer from the stage, O’Brocto understands the mentality of his clients, which informs his protocols. “I know what the other side is like,” he says.
Listening and paying attention is vital. O’Brocto once overheard a client telling someone on the phone how much he wanted a Coke beverage. The next time, he had the vehicle stocked with Coke. O’Brocto keeps ready stashes of specific green tea brands, mints, gums, tissues, music magazines and newspapers handy, while building a database of client preferences, such as what satellite radio music channels they prefer.
Pay attention to those habits and details, such as if a client wants you to hold open a door or get it himself, Wells advises. Taking notes on clients on smartphones or tablets can create a database of customer service information that can help a chauffeur tailor an experience to a particular client. Noting such things like job titles, birthdays, service preferences family and pet information are the type of knowledge about customers than can make them feel special. Chauffeurs should be able to log into company Intranet networks to access such client information.
“All chauffeurs are gathering valuable information at every turn,” Wells says. “That is golden.” The more a chauffeur can note and retain, the more personalized service he can deliver.
Successful operators and/or chauffeurs will see themselves as more than the man (or woman) behind the wheel, says Amondo Sapiro, owner and CEO of M&L International Logistics, Transportation and Personal Security Services in Orlando, Fla. Like O' Brocto, Sapiro does not have a website, thereby underscoring the exclusivity and discretion of his high-end VIP services. “When it comes to chauffeuring, you will be asked questions like a concierge: ‘Do you know restaurants? Do you know the Maitre’ d? Can you get me VIP status?’ A concierge knows who can get them in.”
Always update chauffeurs on any changes in client preferences and/or patterns and things they should or should not do. “We do our own on-the-spot updates, training, and customer preferences,” he says.
Proper etiquette and decorum means knowing all the right skill sets, such us how to shake a hand, make eye contact, use proper English, and look clean. “Being humble — this is what we do,” Wells says. “Never get in an argument. Would you rather be right or would you rather get along?”
Following the Dale Carnegie rules, service is all about someone else, not about you, Wells says. It doesn’t matter whether the client is a teenage girl or an older gentleman — all need to be made to feel the same. “People crave that. . . everyone wants to feel important,” she says.
Chauffeurs need to have thick skins and try to find the best in everyone. They should raise the bar in a culture where too many younger people unfortunately have the Kardashian mentality of wanting things now and lacking the needed manners and civility, Wells says. “You have to continue to maintain the highest level of manners and consideration for any guest no matter how much the society has lowered the bar in manners and grace. You have to consistently perform no matter how you are treated, even though they don’t deserve it.
“Some people you can’t please, and you just let it go,” Wells adds. “Be confident and act like a better person. Challenge yourself to be better than anyone else. It’s easy to respond and lower yourself. You need to have impulse control, civility, savvy and grace to respond to any situation.”
Communication with clients is crucial, as well as the ability to put yourself into the mindset of individual clients and their situations regardless of who it is, says Sapiro, who trained professionally as a private chauffeur and drew upon his experience in law enforcement and security to work with top executives, VIPs and celebrities in the 1980s and 1990s in New York City. His clients included a CEO of Shearson Loeb Rhodes, now part of American Express, and famed New York social figures such as Nan Kempner. He also chauffeured top executives after relocating to Florida in the early 1990s and launching M&L in 1996.
“I treat you the way I treat them,” Sapiro says. “I treat you just like I treat Nan Kempner. You learn to give even that general client or customer that same respect as a super VIP and celebrity.”
Chauffeurs with customer service backgrounds tend to be good at conflict resolution, making judgment calls, and being ready to make decisions, Wells says. “Communication skills are a huge factor. You can’t be a computer geek. You have to be in the service industry in some way, shape or form.”
Gauging whether a client wants to talk will determine how far you can go in conversation, Sapiro says. Chauffeurs should be able to give status on the ride, traffic situations, or the weather — if the client is interested.
Providing good service is like a stage performance, where you have to know how to act to get people to like you and be able to maintain good body language, Wells says.
If a client is difficult, argumentative, or in a bad mood, don’t take the bait, and just leave it alone, she advises. “Say something like, “I hope I can do something to make the day better,” or “If there is something I can do for you sir, let me know. Don’t always expect them to be nice,” Wells adds. “People can call you names and throw stuff at you, but you still say, “‘Yes, Sir.’”
Discretion and trustworthiness are vital character traits in a high-end chauffeur, O’Brocto says. He repeatedly has turned down cash bribes from tabloid paparazzo wanting information and access to his assumed clients. In fact, with the exception of the anecdote on Simon Le Bon at the beginning of this article, O’Brocto asked LCT not to publish the instantly recognizable names of other musicians, bands and singers he drives. Besides, his gratuities more than make up for the cash bribes.
Earning such trust eventually leads to a rapport, and the request to drive the wives, children and family members of the musician clients, O’Brocto says.
With celebrities, make sure they are confident no one will get near the car for an autograph and treat the vehicle like a safe house guarded by the chauffeur’s honor, he says. Absolutely no gossiping should be allowed. You are the personal concierge for the client.
You treat them as a client, not a celebrity, Sapiro says. “Nobody who uses me or works for me can have a star-struck attitude. You have to treat them the same way you treat anyone else. Every driver that goes on a job like that with a super VIP has to provide a top level of service and cannot ask for autographs, pictures or anything. It’s the public that makes them famous. They are counting on your confidence and trust.”
O’Brocto stays in touch with his clients and/or their representatives via email, text and phone. About 60% of his runs are set up by reps. He deliberately avoids having a website. “Posting on Facebook is a death wish,” he says of chauffeurs tempted to brag about who they are driving. “From the moment I’m on the clock at your house, it’s work and strictly business.”
Updating any client’s security personnel or coordinators is also important, so they know where there the client is at all times and what stops are being made in a geographic, chronological order, Sapiro says. Advance notices of pick-ups, ETAs, and any anticipated traffic delays or disruptions on the route, as well as possible alternative routes, are all part of the communication needed to maintain a professional chauffeured service, he says.
Qualifications & Training
Sapiro prefers chauffeur job candidates with military or para-military backgrounds, and secondarily, corporate backgrounds. “Anywhere you have to use, ‘No, Sir; Yes, Sir,” he adds. “We’re not providing a taxi service. A taxi driver is not qualified. We have a chain of command.”
A chauffeur also has to maintain an even temperament in all circumstances, even in situations that induce road rage. A chauffeur’s personality and demeanor should be consistent with all clients in all situations amid any challenge. Wells advises chauffeured transportation companies to use personality tests with chauffeur applicants, as do hospitals. “It takes a certain type of individual to be kind, caring and considerate to a sick person in a 10-hour period,” says Wells, who also works with hospital and medical employer clients. “When people are sick, miserable, you have to maintain a level of compassion, empathy and consistency for a patient.”
While a chauffeured client may not be ill, clients arriving at airports could likely be having bad days, given the hassles of flight delays, cramped airline cabins and the gastronomic tumult that can accompany frequent travel.
For typical chauffeured transportation businesses with multiple vehicles and chauffeurs, O’Brocto advises making sure operators match chauffeurs and repeat clients based personalities. “If someone doesn’t like to talk, choose a chauffeur who is quieter. Know your personnel and match them with the right clients.”
SIDEBAR: Stellar Service Tip Sheet
Knowing how to perform as a chauffeur and concierge requires training, experience, research, common sense, and constant attention to details.
Chauffeur Etiquette Training
Robin Wells, an etiquette trainer and experienced marketing expert, recommends the following two-tiered template for a comprehensive chauffeur training program:
Related Topics: building your clientele, California operators, celebrities, client markets, concierge, customer service, etiquette, Florida operators, Los Angeles operators, Robin Wells, VIP service, wealthy clients
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