NOV. LCT: These simple return-on-investment formulas will help you truly see if your buses of all sizes are making enough money.
Operators Mike Barreto (Eagle Chauffeured Services, Pa.), Kyara Kahakauwila (L.A. Limousines and Transportation, Victoria, Canada), and Chris Quinn (Corporate Transportation Solutions, Calif.) understood this, and ensured their program was upbeat and informative enough to keep everyone engaged. Here are all 45 tips:
Kahakauwila believes if you cannot do social media on your own, then you shouldn’t outsource it. “Social media is an extension of your voice. It’s who you are in that public ground. If you cannot speak to what you do, then you should not be doing it,” she said. If you decide to hire the task out to someone, you need to make sure the content you are giving them is in your voice.
It’s all about the value in the relationships you make at trade shows, Quinn said. “It’s about knowledge — the educational sessions you attend when you’re here. ‘I can’t afford to go’ is something you hear often. Well, you probably realized by being here you can’t afford not to go to the tradeshow.” Also, don’t just attend functions in your comfort zone. Go to events for hoteliers, meeting planners, and other industries that cross pollinate with chauffeured transportation.
Make sure you help clients, and fellow operators, get to know who you are, Barreto said. “Throw a picture on your business card. Go home, put it in your materials, emails, everything you give your clients. Don’t let them know you just as a name. Let them see your face; let them see you smile — it’s the best part of the sale.”
When you’re communicating with people, especially on social media, understand who you are speaking to. Do you know all of your friends/followers likes and dislikes? How many children they have, if they have children, or if they believe in marriage? What are their political views? Religious views?
“When you’re putting out posts to communicate with people, keep it generic and polite. Make sure you are not putting out something that could be offensive,” Kahakauwila said. “I’m very careful to make sure I don’t put anything out there I do not believe in or that’s offensive. If for some reason someone takes offense at something I’ve said, I follow that up almost immediately if I can. Because for me, who I am is very important to me and it is integral to the integrity of the business I run.”
“How many people in this room believe their company is better than any of the competition in their area?” Quinn asked the audience. “We all do, right? But I’ll tell you something: We don’t need to tell people about that — we need to show them.”
Being friendly with your rivals is crucial to your reputation. If you are bitter and negative towards them, it’s likely they will act the same way towards you. There’s an underlying opportunity for you to build a bridge and grow your businesses together. You never know: If you need a car, they might have one to help you out in your time of need. “You stand to gain more by working together,” he said.
Not too long ago, Doug Schwartz, CEO and founder of Executive Limousine in Bellmore, N.Y., contacted operators, mailed them company shirts, and said he would donate a certain amount of money to St. Jude Children’s Hospital for every person who posted a photo of them wearing the shirt on Facebook. “That is dynamic marketing on multiple levels,” Barreto explained. “It’s marketing to goodwill, his partners, affiliates, and clients. He was able to raise thousands of dollars internally, as well as thousands and thousands of extra dollars to St. Jude itself. That is outside-the-box thinking.”
When you send your information to people who will help you do your marketing, they are getting your brand out there, so help them help you. Ask them ahead of time what files they want you to send, what size, what format, and when they’ll need it by.
“If you don’t give them the tools they need to help you effectively, you’re going to end up with marketing material you don’t like,” Kahakauwila said.
You must be confident enough in your service to give it away, Quinn said. “Offer it up, to a client, maybe a meeting planner or some executive needing help. Offer up that service to the airport, expect feedback, and see what that does for you.”
“In today’s world, the corporate traveler and/or buyer want incentive. They don’t just want car service anymore. They want extra services,” Barreto said. “So we have to provide. We have to stay on point with the rest of the hospitality industry, because guess what? If you haven’t realized by now, you’re in the hospitality industry.” If clients see you have the ability to provide upgrades and you’re giving them some kind of purchasing program, it will impress them without a doubt. Barreto mentioned the “rule of five”: If a customer loves you, they’ll tell one person. If they hate you, they’ll tell five people. “It’s the same thing with this. The more you tell people about what you’ve got going on, it will travel.”
When people in the area you operate think of luxury car service, do they think of you, or do they think of your competitor? “You want them to think of you as their first stop. You don’t want them to think of it as, ‘Oh, this car service is a tissue.’ You want people to think, ‘Oh, this is [insert your brand], this is my Kleenex. This is my main brand that’s going get me where I want to be, when I want to be there, and they’re going to do an exceptional job,’” Kahakauwila said.
About 12 years ago, said Barreto, JetBlue figured out a way to start an automated messaging service 24 hours in advance to remind people they had a trip scheduled. “That was amazing back then, but now everybody does it. If you aren’t keeping up with this kind of technology, get on it!”
Today’s customers want constant communication and information with a touch of a finger on their phone. You’ve heard it said time and again the chauffeured car industry is years behind what the hotel and airline industry are doing to keep up with customer demands. “No one wants to wait anymore. Technology is here, and I guarantee you it’s affordable.”
Barreto stressed the need for uniformity in the way you represent your company. “Look at the LCT Show. Everywhere you go, in the halls, on the podium, everywhere, the brand is consistent. Make sure your customers know your brand. Keep it consistent, because it takes repetition.”
Include your logo in your emails, literature, and signatures, and ensure the brand is transparent across the board. If you do that, it won’t take long for people to recognize and remember your company.
Once you win clients, how often do you communicate with them? Do you pick up the phone and actually give them a call to see how they are doing and ask them how their last trip with you was? Following up with customers shows them they aren’t just a sale to you.
“If there’s a problem, are you the person that contacts the customer?,” Quinn asked. The answer should never be, “I don’t have time to do that.” “If you don’t have time to do that, one or two things will happen. Either you have to prioritize the needs of your customer, or you have many problems within your company that need to be addressed.”
Give and take to get what you need. Align with an accountant, restaurants, or services you use regularly. You can create relationships to barter for what you require. This will help you cut some costs.
Creating B2B relationships in your local market can be beneficial, but watch out for groups that charge fees. “Be particular and make sure what you’re giving is the same value as what you’re getting back,” Kahakauwila warned.
When you attend events like bridal shows and other tradeshows unrelated to the luxury ground transportation industry, there are tons of opportunities to win clients. “If you take a look at the list of vendors who are in attendance, there are hotels, caterers, all sorts of people you can connect with in order to get more business,” Kahakauwila said. She specifically goes to vendors she knows have the potential to make her company more money and presents them with a marketing packet.
Kahakauwila said she and her husband have a philosophy that if your business supports the community, your community will support your business. This is why it’s vital to give to local charities and other organizations that may need a little bit of help. It also provides marketing opportunities because you get your logo on event programs and sponsorship marks.
“It costs very little to donate your services. How much does an airport transfer actually cost you in hard dollars compared to what it would cost to purchase a program spot on an event that's coming up?”
If you can, try to take the time to purchase a ticket to the event you’re sponsoring. “This way you have an opportunity to talk to people about the services you provide and it also gets you physically in front of these people who usually have a ton of money. They're there to donate money, so they are looking for the finer things in life to spend their money on.”
When your vehicle has been damaged by a third party or at-fault accident, then it’s going to have to be repaired, and it’ll be a while before it can get back out on the street. Calculate the average revenue that car would be generating in the period it’s not making you money.
“You turn that over to your insurance adjustor, because you're going to need to recover on that lost use time,” Quinn explains. By letting them know this information, your claim is likely to be taken care of sooner rather than later. “Because, as it turns out, many times the loss-of-use payout will be larger than what the repair was in the beginning.”
To ensure minimal lag time (the time from when an accident happens to when it is actually reported), make use of apps like Accident Report if you have Android tablets and CrashPro if you have iPads. This technology will aid your chauffeurs in reporting the who, what, when, where, and how of an accident including GPS location and photos. As soon as it's done, it can immediately be emailed to your risk management team. The best part of it all? If the industry overall reduces lag time, insurance rates go down.
It doesn’t matter how great a company you run: You're going to miss a client, disappoint one of your best affiliates, you name it. The time to think about that isn't when it’s happening.
“Many times, we're thinking about what's right in front of us,” Quinn said. “You are business owners and entrepreneurs, right? You get paid to think in the next, and not only that, you have to think in the ‘what if.’” So don’t get caught without a plan A, B, C, or even D.
“From one VFW in Philadelphia, I was able to hire eight part-time employees. They're hard workers. They’re our vets, they need help, and they're qualified,” Barreto said. When you're thinking about what to do for outreach for employees, whether it's part-time or full-time, go to the VFW or the local veteran associations in different areas. “Anyone who's volunteered; they're someone I want to hire. They take care of their own and it’s good to have that type of mentality in your business.”
For your staff to succeed, you must set them up for success. The difficulty lies in ensuring ahead of time who you're hiring is what you want to hire. You need to put processes in place to allow them to grow and take on your company’s reputation as their own.
“In one of those shoulder seasons when you have a few extra hours, go through your policies and procedures, and make sure they're updated so you've got everything set and ready when it’s crunch time,” Kahakauwila said.
Employee conflicts occur for a variety of reasons: Chauffeurs get into an accident, have an argument with a passenger or fellow staff member, or there are issues in the billing department. The question is, how do you deal with these matters properly? If it's not you, do you have somebody in your organization who can be the levelheaded, clear-minded person in charge of dealing with an emergent problem?
Kahakauwila said, “We’ve all been there; when something goes wrong, our blood pressure goes up. Our thought processes may become a little bit jaded, and we may not necessarily handle the situation correctly. Either step back and allow yourself some time to cool off, or have somebody who can handle these types of situations for you.”
Terminating an employee can be a tricky thing. The most important thing to remember? Documentation, documentation, documentation, Kahakauwila said. When you are looking at letting somebody go, you need to keep track of what you've done to help lead them to become successful. If they refuse to meet those expectations, you’ll have a legitimate reason to let them go. “You need to have everything in place to protect yourself. You are not in the wrong to terminate an employee, but you are in the wrong if you terminate them without cause, so protect yourself.”
Praising your staff publicly is a great way to get people motivated, but you have to be a lot more careful when disciplining them the same way. “If you go at them saying ‘you're late, you're not showing up, etc.’ and then put them in a $50,000 automobile and hope things turn out ok…it just doesn't work that way,” Quinn explained. “Don't hammer them before they go out the door to pick a client up. Trust me, it will not go well.” Don’t underestimate the power of positive reinforcement. Take a little time away from your desk to say, “Hey, I talked to our affiliate, and they really appreciate the service you provided that new customer. You really made the team look strong, so thank you.”
Barreto just recently took over a company, and the first day he was there, he sat in the room where they kept employee files. The company had been around since 1995; when he was looking over the files, he discovered there was an employee whose driver’s license expired in 2007. “There were no social security cards, no W-4s, no employee applications…it was a mess,” he said. The first 30 days of him working with this company and rebuilding it had all been about company policy. He had to get everything lined up to where it was supposed to be. If you don't have procedures and policies in place, it’ll lead to big issues down the line.
To help him start keeping track of his driver’s credentials, Barreto set up his Outlook account to alert him when an employee's license is set to expire — whether it's a medical DOT, their driver's license, their PPA license, or whatever other licenses they have. “I go back 60 days before a license expires, and I put a reminder to tell me ‘John Jones' driver's license expires in 60 days,’ so that way I’m able to tell them they need to prepare.”
Barreto creates policies and programs to ensure his employees are happy because if they're happy, they make money. “They're not a number on an asset sheet or a P&L statement. They are people. They have families,” he said. “You need to recognize there are other things besides the payroll you need to take care of.” Reward your staff for not having any accidents and provide other bonuses that will encourage them to work hard and stay on the team.
You are not a charity. You have a business to run, bills to pay, employees to support, and customers to impress. “There is nothing wrong with giving something away to friends and family because, let's face it, we are all good people and we want people to enjoy our services. We are in the business of making memories. But we have to make money,” Kahakauwila said. She suggests putting together a clear policy as to what you're comfortable with and won’t break the bank.
Make sure what you're being charged on is accurate. This may sound obvious, but look at the bills you are receiving and check them against the routes your chauffeurs are taking during trips.
As with tip no. 29, make sure what you're being charged is the right amount. Different airports charge different fees for various vehicle types. “You don't really want your sedan that's doing most of the work to be getting hit as a limousine. So make sure you audit those transponders,” Quinn said.
Barreto mentioned Dan Goff, co-owner of A. Goff Limousine and Bus Company in Charlottesville, Va., as an example of an operator who created a portal on his website to open his data vault to the industry. It includes all of his credentials, insurance, and licensing information for anyone to access with his permission. “You've heard of Dropbox, Google Docs, and Microsoft 365 right?” Barreto asked. “Make communication easy amongst your peers and clients. Have your information ready and available to them — don't make people wait for it.”
Booking platforms allow operators to run their businesses much more efficiently — if they use them correctly. “Take the time to set up your programs properly so they can provide you with the data you need. It's not like you're getting the software for free, so you might as well learn how to use it to the best of your ability,” Kahakauwila said.
Quinn elaborated on the importance of having a mystery rider program. You should ask a valued client, somebody you already have a relationship with, and offer them some incentives to take a ride with you and offer you feedback. This way, you can take corrective action before a real customer has a chance to experience a problem.
Barreto suggested pulling a list together of all your clients and telling them you want to keep up with their on-time proximity for pickups. “Ask them, ‘would you mind if we send another vehicle, another option, to you to be able to keep us on time? Does that matter to you?’” If you are proactive with your customers, you will have better peak time performance and use of your vehicles.
When an event comes up and you need access to additional cars, it’s important to establish a relationship with a rental car company to fit all your vehicle needs well ahead of time. Events also provide another opportunity to work with affiliate partners and even your competitors. Most importantly, if you are receiving inbound work and get overbooked, never farm out the farm. “If for some reason you can't take care of the work an affiliate has for you, be honest and open with them as to why. Give them the opportunity to make that decision with you,” Quinn said.
No one in the industry has a 100% perfect service record. Obviously, everyone who’s serious about their business tries their best to provide impeccable service. “But when something goes wrong, where you shine is how you deal with it,” Kahakauwila said. “The fact you’ve acknowledged that person's experience, validated it, and are going do something about it is what will set you apart.” If someone sends you an email about a ride they didn't like, respond quickly. “You don't actually have to come up with the answer as to what you're going to do about it. But you need to acknowledge that person has communicated to you they are unhappy.”
Do your due diligence by checking with the chauffeur, billing department, dispatch, and GPS. If you were at fault, make it right. “Anyone you are dealing with has, at some point, made a mistake. They'll get it. But treat them with respect and make sure they know you value their opinion and are going to make it right.”
Barreto mentioned Goff’s financial dashboard tool that helps operators calculate true operating costs and analyze actual profitability. “You’ve got to go home, get your hands dirty, and geek out,” he said. To read more, the LCT article can be found here.
Bookkeeping, accounting, GPS, gas cards — there’s nothing wrong with going out every year or every couple of years and getting a new quote for those services. Just because you have a relationship with someone who's providing these services, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the right thing for your business. “If they can provide you with a better rate, then ask them for it. If they can't, shop it and give them an opportunity to see if they can match it. If not, it may be time to part ways,” Kahakauwila said.
“You've got a business to run and a bottom line to take care of. It's incumbent upon you to make sure you’re getting the best value. But don't undervalue what they're doing. Be reasonable in your expectations because after all, that's not how we want to be treated.”
Limos are a 7/24/365 business. Someone has to answer the phone at all times. Customers need to be able to get hold of you, so you need to have technology that can help. Do some research or talk to other operators to see what they are using. If you're a small company, consider hiring somebody who's looking for part-time work; but it should be someone with a smile who understands the business.
For chargebacks, the first rule is to respond. “Even if you're not going to fight it, respond because that goes against your overall reporting with your credit card processing company,” Kahakauwila explained. If you do have to dispute a chargeback, ensure you have documentation in place and what you're sending them is something they can work with. “If they're asking for a signed imprint and you don't have that, you better have a good reason why you don't or you're probably going to lose that credit.”
“When a car comes back from a run, it should be clean, fueled, and ready to rock,” Quinn said. Also make sure to check your tire pressure religiously, not only for safety, but for wear and tear. You can't afford to not keep your equipment impeccable at all times.
GPS is vital, especially if you're a small operator. “It's your window to the world. If you ever worry about somebody taking the car unauthorized to do a little work on the side, you can lock that down so it doesn't happen,” Quinn said. The same goes for speeding alerts. There are many affordable solutions available, and most of them will be worth what they provide for you.
Most companies provide their chauffeurs with tablets and cellphones. “Everyone should have a rule in their employee policy that says, ‘You cannot use [handheld devices] while driving’,” Barreto said. If they end up getting into an accident because of it, you assume the liability.
Interpersonal relationships, handshakes, lunches, smiles, and pats on the back — it’s important to break away from emailing, texting, and calling. “You have to let your employees and clients see, feel, and talk to you,” Barreto said. Personal interaction is what forms the bond for long-lasting relationships. “Don't look at them as a dollar value; look at them as a friend.”
Find a good mentor and be a good mentor. They’ll help you over some of the hurdles you’re bound to face and get you through some of those days that feel like they’ll never end. As you move forward and gain some experience, it’s your turn to pay it forward. “Many of us come to the Show for that reason — to be able to give back,” Quinn said. No one can do it alone, so find an operator willing to lend you a hand.
Related Topics: accident reporting, accidents, airport fees, airport rules, Branding, Chris Quinn, customer service, doug Schwartz, employee management, industry education, industry vendors, Kyara Kahakauwila, Las Vegas, LCT Show, limo tradeshows, Mike Barreto, Safety & Insurance, Sales & Marketing, social media, tips for success, tradeshow preparation, working with hotels
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