Operations

How To Deliver Top-Notch Service

Jim Luff
Posted on March 17, 2014

As limousine and bus operators, we all basically start the same way. We get a license, get a vehicle and start driving people to their destinations. In the early years, most of us had Cadillacs and then the vehicle of choice became the Lincoln Town Car. Then, a few companies started breaking out and adding Chrysler 300s, Toyota Avalons, Mercedes-Benz sedans and/or BMW sedans in an attempt to distinguish themselves from competitors.

But they are just four wheels and an engine. What makes the difference is who operates the vehicles and how the orders are handled.

Hotel Comparisons
One of the most frequent destinations and pickup locations are luxury hotels. What makes them luxury? Is it the uniforms? Is it the building? Andrea Moore, a longtime manager for Marriott International, owner of the Ritz-Carlton brand, has some insights on what it takes to create a top-notch experience for our mutual customers — upscale travelers. Marriott International uses the slogans throughout its hotels: “At your service,” “Everyone has a bed,” and “Everyone has a restaurant” (alluding to competitor hotels). “Customer service is all we have that sets us apart. It is our single most important job,” Moore says.

Andrea Moore, a longtime manager for Marriott International, owner of the Ritz-Carlton brand, says customer service is all that really sets a company apart. It should be the most important aspect of a travel or transportation-related business.
Andrea Moore, a longtime manager for Marriott International, owner of the Ritz-Carlton brand, says customer service is all that really sets a company apart. It should be the most important aspect of a travel or transportation-related business.

Reservations Step One
The reservation call or email is your first contact with a client. How you treat that client from the first contact sets the stage of the relationship. Callers looking to book a room or a limousine should never be placed on hold if you want to achieve impeccable service from the start. “Time is money,” says Marie Joiner, owner of Luxury Limousine in Modesto, Calif.

“If you must place a caller on hold, always ask, ‘May I place you on hold for a moment?’ If it is a repeat client, having all the client’s information from previous service, such as their email address, mailing address, credit card information and past pickup locations, makes the client feel like you remembered him as truly valued and special.” This information needs to be at your fingertips to avoid placing the caller on hold, Joiner advises. Moore adds that hotel employees are encouraged to address all guests by name whenever possible, emphasizing that the client is “known” or a regular client, although it may only be their second visit to the hotel. Everyone likes to be remembered.

Hotel employees are taught to listen to conversations without being intrusive, to learn names and anticipate needs. From a chauffeur’s standpoint, that might mean hearing passengers talk about running out of the beer they brought along. With four hours left in the trip, a chauffeur might consider picking up some of the same brand of beer as soon as possible and having it waiting on ice without having to be told. Or, the chauffeur might ask the client if they would like to stop anywhere before their final destination such as a convenience store. If out-of-town clients discuss eating after a business meeting, they may appreciate a chauffeur’s offer to place a restaurant reservation.

No Second Chance for a First Impression
Much of what sets luxury hotels apart from other name brand hotels is in the employee uniforms. While the limousine industry has long departed from the traditional tuxedo suits to business suits, the chauffeur’s appearance at the pickup location is the first impression for a client, before ever seeing the vehicle. Joiner’s company uses the tag line, “When it comes to luxury, our name says it all,” and that commitment to luxury includes impeccably dressed chauffeurs with a crisp white dress shirt, shoes shined and subtle neckties that match the suit coat.

Marie and Mark Joiner of Luxury Limousine in Modesto, Calif., make sure every client’s name and details are stored. A client who is remembered will feel valued and appreciated.
Marie and Mark Joiner of Luxury Limousine in Modesto, Calif., make sure every client’s name and details are stored. A client who is remembered will feel valued and appreciated.

When chauffeurs work together on a single job, all should wear the same color suit. If one is wearing black, all should do so. When a large group of passengers come out to multiple vehicles waiting in a line with the chauffeurs ready to open doors, matching uniforms imply uniformity in service delivery. As much as you would expect at a luxury hotel, Moore says that Marriott uniforms are the same from hotel to hotel with managers always wearing suits to easily identify them to guests. Frequent guests of the Marriott know no matter what Marriott property they walk into, they can spot the managers by their distinct clothing. Moore also said it is important that every employee has a name tag to be identified and also called by name as they do with the guests. Name tags promote the brand name and foster more personalized interaction by addressing each other by name.

Is There a Problem?
If a client has an issue with customer service or needs some special attention, how you address the problem goes a long way to building repeat business versus losing a client because the problem wasn’t adequately resolved. To that end, Moore, who hires and trains new employees, says, “You must feel the problem.” Listening is the best skill for solving a problem.

“Listen carefully to what the client is saying and have a total understanding of it,” Moore says. At Marriott properties, any employee who overhears a problem or speaks directly with a client about a problem must immediately own the problem, Moore says. For instance, if a food server pouring coffee should overhear a guest complain about an uncomfortable pillow, the server must follow the problem through until a new pillow is delivered to the room and approved by the guest, she adds. Employees are trained to ask, “How can I fix this situation for you?” The next goal is to overcompensate for the request or situation, Moore says.

No Two Clients Are Alike
In providing top service, each client should be read based on cues presented, Moore says. Joiner also emphasizes that while her company provides service for several Fortune 500 companies including Gallo Wine, no two traveling executives are alike. Chauffeurs must seek out the clues and modify the service delivery to the style and personality of the individual passenger. While some passengers may be jovial, talkative and outgoing, others may not wish to interact with the chauffeur as they use their tablet or laptop while in the vehicle. Understanding the client is a major factor in delivering the service that matches their style.

If It Can Be Done, Do It!
Clients seeking luxury services are used to being pampered. They enjoy it. It is a custom in their lives. A client could stay at a Ramada Inn, for example, which is a decent hotel chain on its own. However, the service will never be the same as a luxury hotel. These types of clients may frequently ask for extra services. This might include an upgrade of either a vehicle or a hotel room. Moore says if the hotel has it, they will upgrade just for asking.

“The key is, we want them to come back and have loyalty and if it costs us nothing or next to nothing to meet a request, we are going to do it,” Moore says. The key is, meet every possible demand of the client to create loyalty and make each client feel appreciated and valued for their business. Make them feel like they are all “regulars.”

SIDEBAR: First Class Details On The Road
When stocking your chauffeured vehicles or acquiring products requested by clients, choosing the right brand(s) can round out the image of a true luxury, high-level service.

Bottled Water: Always buy name brands such as Arrowhead and Desani but avoid generic store brands with cheap labels that fall off in the ice.
First Class Choices: Evian or Fuji

Napkins: Have a supply of every color to match event/wedding color themes. Don’t use cheap single ply napkins that saturate when wrapped around a bottle of water. Use two-ply or better.
First Class Choice: Napkins with your logo available from 4imprint.com and others.

Booze: If you supply alcohol in your vehicles (as many California operators do), don’t buy cheap generic brands or low-end liquors like Popov. The most common alcohol requests are for gin, vodka and whiskey.  
First Class Choices: Bombay Gin, Grey Goose Vodka and Crown Royal Whiskey.

Coffee: If a client requests coffee, don’t obtain it at a convenience store. Go to a coffee house such as Starbucks or Seattle’s Best. Starbuck’s offers the “coffee traveler,” a convenient dispenser with cups, lids, stir sticks, assorted creamers and sugar.
First Class Choice: Starbucks

Restroom Stops: If nature calls on your client, a gas station restroom is not an acceptable place to stop for relief. Fast food restrooms are not usually much better. Consider luxury high-end hotels or commercial office buildings that you are familiar with.
First Class Choices: Hotels, offices.

Candies/Mints: If you have a candy dish, always use individual wrapped candies. Avoid candies such as Andre’s chocolate mints that have great flavor but can melt on a hot day and smear the client’s hands. Use individually wrapped mints. They are convenient and practical.
First Class Choices: Mints with your logo from 4imprint.com.

Related Topics: building your clientele, chauffeur training, client markets, customer service, difficult clients, How To, New Operator, Ritz-Carlton, staff training, Western U.S. operators

Jim Luff Contributing Editor
Comments ( 2 )
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  • anthony

     | about 4 years ago

    60% of your limousine clients can grow per year from your chauffeur's customer service. hourly rate plus 20% gratuity = quality chauffeur and quality service for your customer/client. flat rate = no service, no quality for your customer/client. no returning customer/client most owners don't understand this concept...... the reality is your business will grow as long as you take care of your chauffeur and the quality of your vehicles. as a chauffeur I loved getting farm in's from small boutique limousine companies.... their clients would call weeks later and request me .... all the owners would ask my boss "what the hell does he do?" "all our farm out clients always request him !!!! last year we began to speak about the party bus drivers in los angeles..... most of them get a flat rate and actually become what I call "extortion drivers" to the clients.... the second a customer has an issue with your "driver" you just ruined their night and guess what.... they will yelp you and they will not call you back... spend a couple of hours at any terminal at lax/los angeles.... you can actually see the quality chauffeurs v. the drivers.... its really shocking to see some of these "drivers"...

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