U.S. passenger numbers are at record levels, but packed terminals aren’t stopping them from enjoying wait time for a flight.
Like its ornate, tiled, plush surroundings, the hotel cultivates immaculate service derived from customer details. The Peninsula has been the only AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five Star-rated hotel in Southern California every year since 1993. It offers 195 guest rooms, suites and private villas, and sits just one block from the famed intersection of Santa Monica and Wilshire boulevards.
Of course, no five-star hotel would survive without chauffeured service, and the go-to provider, Wilshire Limousine Services of Los Angeles, supplies vehicles and liaisons to match hotel standards. The WLS house fleet includes a 2015 Rolls-Royce Ghost, a 2015 Cadillac Escalade, and a 2015 Mercedes-Benz S550. They fit right in with their exotic valet-parked peer vehicles (Bentleys-Rolls-Ferraris-Range Rovers) in the semi-circular drive. The house cars provide complimentary drop-off and pick-up service in the immediate Beverly Hills and Century City area. On a typical day, chauffeurs make about 30 to 50 runs.
The bond of client service between the hotel and the limousine company sets an example for operators of any fleet size on how to class-up and refine customer service levels in a way that transportation network companies (TNCs) never could. That approach can loosely be referred to as the WOW Factor, defined as service that anticipates guest needs to the point of surprising them. And it very well could be the competitive strategy that keeps the limousine industry viable for many years to come.
On a weekday afternoon in January, just days before the annual Golden Globe Awards at the nearby Beverly Hilton, LCT visited with the three men who make hotel-chauffeured five-star service happen: James Little, chief concierge at The Peninsula Beverly Hills, Ryan Kerzner, director of business development for Wilshire Limousine Services (WLS), who serves as the full-time onsite transportation liaison, and Kurt Siejkowski, WLS director of sales and marketing, who trains and meets with chauffeurs. The three managers coordinate and communicate constantly, not just on daily service, but on making sure the five service stars are always aligned.
“The first impression’s the best impression, always,” Little says. “And once you make a really great first impression, people are always going to come back.”
The hotel’s service levels and quality control resemble those of WLS, Kerzner says. “You take the service level that the concierges expect, and what they perform, and infuse it into the chauffeurs and the company. The only real difference is we’re putting people in a leather seat in the back of a moving vehicle, and they’re putting them in a comfy room with amenities. When I was sitting in their training, they talked about everything, from arranging the magazines a specifc way, and opening the door a particular way. It’s on par and similar to us having mints laid out and wipes and Fiji waters. Everything has to be the way the hotel wants it, and the training that they put together is what we give to our chauffeurs.”
The basis for providing five-star service is to know how to listen to, observe and read your clients and guests.
“It takes a little bit of a practiced eye to understand, because often the clients don’t even really know what they want,” Little says. “They come in, they’re in an unfamiliar place, they’re traveling, they don’t know really what they want to do, but you can tell. After years and years of experience of dealing with the public and guests in this environment, it’s easy to tell what people need or want just by speaking with them.”
Along with facial expressions and voice inflections, age and demographics are good sources of visual information. “It is not necessarily about money, because we’re fortunate that in this environment anybody staying here pretty much is of means, because they can pretty much go wherever they want,” Little says. “That makes it a lot easier for us as well because we can offer more options.”
Little’s approach works well when helping guests choose restaurants. “I’m not going to send an older couple to The Nice Guy or Ysabel, which are two super trendy, gastro-pub, Kardashian-esque restaurants right now. I’m going to be sending them to something classic like Valentino that has the best wine in North America, and it’s very upscale, very dressy for Los Angeles, which is more skewed towards that demographic. For them, when they dine at restaurants, they wear a jacket and tie. If it’s two 22-year-olds who are on their honeymoon, I’m going to get them to Ysabel or The Nice Guy. They’re wearing jeans and a T-shirt with a blazer. So being able to read clients allow us to put them in the places where they want to be without them having to think about it.”
Once guests are read, their preferences should be documented. The Peninsula uses a program called Opera, the hotel’s operating system, to keep its archive of customer profiles. Employees can access it from any computer terminal. Guest Relations sends out emails daily on expected arrivals that includes their preferences.
Employees then read the emails on their handheld devices. Like the hotel, Wilshire Limousine maintains customer preference profiles on repeat or frequent guests. Examples: “Put the monograms on their pillow cases, make sure their favorite magazines are in the room when they check in, have their favorite drinks available. That’s a big part of what we do here. It’s all about customization,” Little says.
“Over the years, we’ve developed a huge client base, and one of the ways we’ve achieved that is by customizing the experience for every guest who checks into the hotel. And that philosophy flows not only to guests who don’t live locally, but also local guests and ones we see regularly who come into the bar, into the living room for tea, or to the spa each day. So we know most of those people on a first-name basis.”
Kerzner applies the same concept to client preferences for house cars and Wilshire-reserved runs. “If someone stays here and gets a ride with us and then comes back again, and something’s a little different, say maybe this time he added a baby seat, and he comes back a year later, I can look back on his profile and see that his kid was three last year and now he’s four; he’s probably going to need a bigger child seat,” Kerzner says. “If we keep track of these profiles and what they like, such as animal crackers for the kids, and we have that ready in the car without being asked, it makes a huge difference.”
As well, the logistics of hotel and limousine service in getting a guest from LAX to the hotel creates its own choreograph. The Peninsula deploys airport concierges to greet arriving guests and get them headed to the hotel.
“They have the same knowledge base that we do, and that knowledge base also extends to the Wilshire services,” Little explains. “We have guests who we know have to have a chauffeur who doesn’t wear cologne. Or they always like to sit in the front right passenger seat, because they have a little bit of vertigo or motion sickness, and that’s a safer ride for them. The amazing thing about it is all these little pieces of information are opportunities for us to capitalize on. So when a guest likes Grey Goose vodka, and he just had a really long terrible flight with a lost bag, the airport concierge can say, ‘I know this is really stressful now. We got a nice little bottle of Grey Goose waiting for you when you get into your room.’ And he is impressed the airport greeter knows this and is making it happen.”
No Is A Big No-No
Siejkowski advises operators to avoid one simple word when handling service requests: No. And never wait on a request; just get it done. “We really stress in our culture, with our reservations, our dispatchers and our chauffeurs, that we don’t say the word no. You listen and think, ‘Let’s see if it’s something we can make happen.’”
Kerzner adds, “You can’t provide five-star service if someone comes to you and says, ‘Hey, I need to keep that car for an extra hour,’ or ‘I want to make sure I get the same chauffeur every day for five days,’ and you say, ‘Oh, no. I can’t do that because he’s off on Saturdays.’ You just can’t do that.”
Little advises that instead of saying no, “we like to give alternative options, because there’s always going to be something that’s just not possible to make happen based on circumstances. No is a bad word. People don’t like to hear it. They like to hear yes.
“If someone wants to go to Spago on a Friday night at 8 for nine people and they’re asking me at 7, it’s unlikely that’s going to happen,” Little says. “But we don’t say, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ We say, ‘Let me check with the restaurant. It’s a very busy place. It might not have the availability. Maybe we can set you up at one of these other restaurants that are very similar as an option.’”
When Mistakes Happen
Although Wilshire Limousine Services tracks monthly success rates of 99% or more, perfection for any service-oriented business, even a five-star hotel, is impossible. So it’s all about how you recover, and the relationships gained. Admit a mistake, don’t blame anyone, and just own up to it while correcting it, Kerzner says.
“Things will go wrong because there are a lot of moving parts,” Siejkowski adds. “We capture those opportunities by immediately addressing it with the guest, whatever it may be. Ryan’s here to quickly react and respond and satisfy, which opens the opportunities for him to build a relationship with guests. If they now trust and end up spending more, whether it’s today or tomorrow or whenever, it benefits us overall.”
For Little, some of his best client relationships sprung from complaints. “I view complaints or issues as an opportunity to create a stronger relationship. What’s important is how you handle it, how you recover, and what you create out of that. And people respect and appreciate you more when you’re able to come in and take a bad situation and turn it around with a great alternative, with another option, with superior service.”
In a constantly connected world, finding ways to give time back, or save time for a guest, becomes the ultimate luxury, Little says. “The best possible service you can provide to people is to lessen their stress and give as much time back to them as possible. Once you use up time, you can’t get that back.”
Related Topics: building your clientele, California operators, client markets, concierge, customer service, difficult clients, hotels, How To, Los Angeles operators, luxury hotels, Ryan Kerzner, VIP service, wealthy clients, Wilshire Limousine Services, working with hotels
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