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“We all use buzz words like ‘cultivating the relationship’ but the truth is, operators really need to stay connected and listen to their corporate buyers to continue to earn their business,” says Dana Devine, a veteran corporate event planner and special operations expert.
Devine emphasizes today more than ever operators need to keep the communication channel wide open because of the changing face of the travel and event industries.
“The stakeholders are changing due to more diversity in the workforce and Millennials taking over from the old guard,” Devine says. “You need to get in there to tell them what you’re all about, what new services and amenities you offer, what technologies you are using, and tell them what your business model will look like in the years ahead.”
Although telling your story and staying in touch with your travel managers is just good business practice, delivering impeccable service is crucial to maintaining your business relationships.
Although Rosenzweig’s company serves high-end corporate clients, her insight into private transportation service can benefit operators of all sizes who may need a reality check to reinforce what they expect and what they actually sometimes experience.
“Proper insurance, background checks, and random drug testing — not just on the first day of work — are all requirements, including their affiliates,” Rosenzweig says. “We also require drivers to sign non-disclosure agreements because our clients are bankers, finance executives, and lawyers who are working in the back of the car on their cellphones. We won’t let them get into an Uber and we don’t work with operators who allow their drivers to work for Uber. We want professional chauffeurs because we want our clients to be safe.”
In addition, Rosenzweig expects her transportation providers to have the technologies for seamless billing (“I don’t want to see a spreadsheet that has errors”) and also have the ability to collect and pass on data during the ride on vehicle locations and arrival times. “In New York, it can take 20 minutes to go around the block, so if the driver alerts the client he is up the street, or stuck in traffic, he can walk a block to the car. Time is money for our clients.”
For Devine, the basics should be a “no brainer” for operators. “From a liability standpoint and duty of care, we need to work with reputable transportation companies that have the proper insurance, registered vehicles, knowledgeable drivers, and are safety conscious. It’s the duty of care that we are responsible to provide to our clients.”
“If something goes wrong with the transportation service for my clients, they look at me as the one at fault,” says Carri Tovsky, president of Global Tour Connection, a Philadelphia, Pa.-based destination management company.
Tovsky points out small things can add up to jeopardize a transportation contract. “We notice if a bus is dirty or a driver is friendly or not and has a sloppy appearance. Remember, the driver is the first point of contact our clients have with our transportation service, so it reflects on us,” she notes. “I’ve seen drivers wearing old black suits with dandruff on their shoulders who just finished smoking or eating, or scribbling a name on a piece of paper at an airport pickup. That shows they don’t care. I even had one driver who said he didn’t know where he was supposed to go out loud in front of clients. They should never speak in front of clients like that.”
Rosenzweig adds, “One of the hardest things is communicating with dispatch. We know things can go wrong because there are so many variables with car service — an accident, snowstorm, flat tire, or even a passenger telling the driver to take another route and the driver gets blamed if late, etc. But we need dispatch to keep us informed of problems.”
One particular and important pet peeve Rosenzweig points out is when chauffeurs don’t review client profiles before the pickup. “If the client likes seltzer water instead of bottled water, it should be provided, or if the client prefers to open his own door, or if the client has a problem with a trainee sitting in the passenger seat, or if a client wants to be picked up at an airport departure gate because it’s faster to exit, the chauffeur has to know these things because our clients are paying for, and expect, customized service.”
Rosenzweig stresses it’s important for chauffeurs to know how to “read” people, so if they want to chat, fine, if not, they should understand that and be quiet.
When managing ground transportation for a large event, Devine is all about pre-planning to make sure all goes smoothly. For example, she notes an example where she was contracted to manage a week-long event in Florida for CEOs from all over the world.
“I negotiated a transportation contract with a New York-based limousine company sales guy. The problem is the guy in New York who sounds great is done with it once the contract is signed. The person I needed to be handed off to is one who will be on site servicing the event in Florida. That’s the person I need to talk to, to make sure it’s their top guy and we establish a relationship because I can’t afford to have a bad experience with a high-level event.”
Tech & Personal Service
Devine reinforced the growing importance of limousine companies using technology to work with corporate travel managers. Understanding the competition from on-demand TNCs, she advises operators having a mobile app is important, not so much to compete with TNCs, “but for last-minute travel arrangements and for contingency planning.”
“We need to know that so we can go to our clients and let them know we have backup if something goes wrong. Sure, on-demand isn’t your business model, but it’s a good selling point if you provide it. This way, you’re on our radar if needed,” she says.
Rosenzweig adds, “I have noticed more limousine companies using more technology in 2016 — mobile apps, text messaging alerts, onboard data collection, billing — and they need to educate corporate travel managers about new services they offer because it makes a difference. It shows they are keeping up with the travel industry and our clients.”
Devine cautions, “Technology is great, but I see a shift back to personal service. Sure, I can go on to a website, fill out a form, and book a ride, but I think people want that personal contact, that personal service. For example, when I call with a problem, I don’t want to suffer through nine prompts. I need one phone number and one contact to deal with and take care of the problem.”
Editor’s Note: Dane Devine and Carri Tovsky participated in a panel session (Corporate Travel Manager: Panel: Meet the Buyers) held Nov. 14, 2016 at LCT-NLA Show East in Atlantic City.
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