eNews Exclusive: Zak Zakar has focused on maintaining quality rather than fretting over competitors.
LAS VEGAS — The ranks of award winners this year spanned first-timers, newcomers, veterans, and even some second-time winners of the annual Operator of the Year Awards.
Such diversity proves how any company of any age can embrace changes and new ideas — the theme of this year’s Show — and succeed in tough, competitive circumstances.
Winners of the industry’s annual business achievement awards were recognized March 14 at the LCT Awards Celebration in a ballroom, which was decked out in an array of bright colors and dynamic lighting that matched the futuristic theme of “Embrace The New.”
A panel of six independent judges scored two to four finalists in each category on a scale of 1-10 each in the following areas: Customer service, technology, safety/insurance, chauffeur training, media/marketing, and community/industry involvement. The highest scorers out of a maximum of 60 points became the winners.
Following a cocktail hour and plated dinner, Bobit Business Media CEO Ty Bobit and LCT Publisher and Show Chair Sara Eastwood-Richardson, who appear in these photos, took to the stage to announce winners. And while LCT’s annual awards recognize industry achievers, the bigger benefit comes from learning how and why they succeed. Here are the winners and a sampling of best practices from their operations:
2017 LCT Operator of the Year 51+ Vehicles Category: Premier Transportation, Dallas, TX, www.premierofdallas.com
• If clients need to speak with the office, they can use an 800 number or a local number. Likewise, Premier’s website and email addresses allow clients to reach them 24/7/365. The company recently added live chat to its website in case a client prefers immediate access without calling. They also provide cell phone numbers to clients who need to reach office staff outside of regular business hours.
• Premier uses Zello, a push-to-talk voice app that offers hands-free, real-time, radio-style communication among dispatch teams and chauffeurs. With one click of a button, dispatch can communicate with one or multiple chauffeurs at the same time. Dispatch can advise of road closures or major accidents, creating an easy and safe way to communicate. Different types of devices can co-exist on one network within Zello. PCs can be used for the administrator console and for dispatching, while drivers can use any combination of tablets or smartphones. This app makes driving safer and adheres to no-talking or texting-while-driving laws.
• Company clients have often raved how their chauffeurs go above and beyond the call of duty, making exceptional customer service a daily routine. Besides helping them enter and exit the vehicle and handling luggage, their chauffeurs will also correct the temperature of the vehicle, adjust seat settings, or make sure clients take their preferred routes.
• Last year, Pontarelli moved its headquarters into the city of Chicago. Located just a few miles from O’Hare International Airport and on the Interstate 90 Expressway (The Kennedy Expressway), Chicago’s busiest highway. The office back wall literally sits along the highway exactly 120 feet away. They are painting their logo on a giant wall, which will serve as the key centerpiece to its future branding. The company estimates more than 600,000 impressions between the car traffic and the Metro trains, which zip by 50 feet from the back wall.
• A Pontarelli chauffeur arriving to work must immediately: Show all necessary licenses and credentials to the dispatcher, undergo an appearance/uniform check by the dispatcher and an eye and breath smell check, and perform an internal/external logged vehicle inspection.
• Dispatchers are trained and certified in supervisory drug and alcohol identification training through the federal government: What to expect, what to look for, how to react, and how to identify fatigue versus drugs.
• Dispatching is broken into two parts: Scheduler and quality control. They recognize the multiple duties and “hats” they wear. To help facilitate efficiency, two dispatchers are on duty 24/7. The lead dispatcher is the scheduler. The second dispatcher oversees quality control. A dispatching training manual is the guide to the details, but it takes hundreds of hours of live practice to learn the position the way it requires. They believe in live training methods, test scheduling off a test screen in its software, phone support, and flight support. Dispatchers are treated like the quarterbacks of the entire operation.
• Launched E--Book feature on website that allows clients to view information and images regarding each fleet vehicle (www.eckolimo.com/ebook/)
• Recently upgraded to Santa Cruz back-end system. Allows them to send real-time notifications, create client portals, and mobile applications. Customers can review trips, and modify and receive any details he/she requires regarding transportation.
• Ecko holds monthly team building activities that include the chauffeurs and office staff. They understand constant communication is key in any workplace. Together, they strive to achieve success by encouraging the staff’s ability to work with one another. The team feels as if they are a family and look out for each other. They don’t believe in errors, only lessons.
• When the company started, it briefly did Uber Black work. The owners did this to learn the model and see how they could improve upon it. It gave them insights into the expectations of executive clients in their market. In December 2016, their average trip was $200. By providing outstanding service, Eight Black outperformed Uber Black despite higher prices. Their clients want consistency and reliability above all else. Their average monthly trips have grown 60% and their monthly revenue from January to December 2016 jumped 300%.
• Eight Black stocks refrigerated coolers in all its vehicles and knows what drinks clients like. In Colorado, they are able to provide alcohol to clients. For example, they have a client who likes a particular type of bourbon, so they stock his vehicles with it. Another client likes a specific white wine. While some operators have questioned their intelligence, the expense is minimal and the added value is immense. They want competitors to think they are crazy.
• When Eight Black does a Sprinter trip to the mountains, they have blankets on each seat, a fully stocked cooler, and a snack basket. Their Sprinter has dual network Wi-Fi, high-speed charging cables for phones, multiple 110v power outlets, a 32-in. TV, and streaming movies via Netflix or Amazon. The company creates a business class travel experience for clients, who have responded with enthusiasm.
• The Wi-Fi system in the Sprinter alone costs more than $1,200 to install. It’s a dual network system (runs Verizon and Tmobile) SIM cards and has a large external roof mounted antenna. “Business travelers view an internet connection the same way they view oxygen. It’s essential,” owner Simon Chen says.
• All new incoming chauffeurs begin with a theoretical professional behavior for executives course which teaches them basic safety measures and the importance of always providing impeccable service. They then work with an experienced operator to be evaluated and know if they have what it takes to represent the company.
• The company conducts roundtables with each area of the business, which has helped them resolve situations that arise, so the whole team can learn from them.
• Communicate continuously via WhatsApp group (for example, reporting on traffic and accidents to help inform chauffeurs of better routes to take)
• Built a simple accept program, which allows customers to accept their contracts by signing the form on their phones. This allows the customer fewer hassles and uses less paper. It’s also introduced Arrow Connect, which is a Wi-Fi, outlet, and server program in their motorcoaches that allows many different media options for passengers to enjoy.
• Implemented an LMS (learning management system) for employees requiring them to take a course every month. Mechanics have benefited from them, and drivers are learning new things that ultimately make them safer every month.
• All drivers go through a two-week training class after being hired. During that two week class, they go through multiple hours of desk work and classes, along with hours of driving motorcoaches and learning 100% how they operate. The company provides additional training/classes to them if they want to continue to learn throughout their career.
Related Topics: California operators, Chicago operators, Colorado operators, Dallas operators, Eric Devlin, honors and awards, How To, ILCT 2017, Illinois operators, Mexican operators, motorcoach operators, Nebraska operators, operator achievements, Operator of the Year Awards, San Francisco operators, Texas operators, tips for success
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