Operations

Why You Must Find Clients Wherever They May Be

Martin Romjue
Posted on October 17, 2017
(Getty image)
(Getty image)

Got email access? An updated, grabby website? 24/7 call center service? Great, you really know how to connect with your customers. Pre-2010.

We’ve seen a revolution of sorts in the last decade, where email has become too slow and younger clients don’t want to talk to anyone on the phone. That’s still hard to believe for anyone who was ever a teenager in a household with only one landline.

Customer service and good client relations, especially in ground transportation, now centers on mobile access and instant connection right here, right now. Delays of a minute or even fewer than 60 seconds are like dead air time on radio. In an always-on world used to calling up rides at any time, limousine and chauffeured transportation services need the tools to stay current, as in post 2010, or even pre-2020.

Amir Zafar, founder and owner of GRiDD Technologies, estimates his GNet platform has increased back office efficiencies of 35% to 45% for companies farming rides out and in. Such time savings has left staff with the ability to focus on increased business and improved interactive customer service. GNet empowers each provider’s passenger app to function from anywhere in the world. Customer service has been augmented with seamless real time notifications and visibility from any of the affiliates across the various dispatch software systems. GNet has more than 520 affiliates connected across four continents. (LCT file photo from GRiDD Technologies)
Amir Zafar, founder and owner of GRiDD Technologies, estimates his GNet platform has increased back office efficiencies of 35% to 45% for companies farming rides out and in. Such time savings has left staff with the ability to focus on increased business and improved interactive customer service. GNet empowers each provider’s passenger app to function from anywhere in the world. Customer service has been augmented with seamless real time notifications and visibility from any of the affiliates across the various dispatch software systems. GNet has more than 520 affiliates connected across four continents. (LCT file photo from GRiDD Technologies)
“Even mobile apps are old and passe, from the 2000s,” says Amir Zafar, the founder and CEO of GRiDD Technologies, creator of the GNet platform enabling industry software systems to connect in real time for affiliate rides. “We’re about to hit 2020, and as tech companies we have to keep pushing forward so we can give customer service to end users who get younger and more savvy every day.”

The ways to connect with customers now boil down to texting, tracking, instant messaging, social media connecting, and very little, if any, talking. From booking to billing, operators are working with a range of options that simplify and speed up getting a ride.

For Millennial generation clients, many of whom don’t want to talk to anyone on the phone, fast responses are most important, says Randi Busse, founder and CEO of the Workforce Development Group which specializes in customer service programs and expertise.

Even with the speed of social media, reservationists and company reps should converse instead of interrogate, advises Randi Busse of the Workforce Development Group. “Be inquisitive as if you were speaking with someone you know. It can’t just be rapid fire questions.” (photo courtesy of Workforce Development Group)
Even with the speed of social media, reservationists and company reps should converse instead of interrogate, advises Randi Busse of the Workforce Development Group. “Be inquisitive as if you were speaking with someone you know. It can’t just be rapid fire questions.” (photo courtesy of Workforce Development Group)
“You want to use the channels they use and meet their preferences. While you may not be able to always personalize your message, responding quickly with information is providing good customer service to them. You need to give them what they want on their time. Technology has a place and we as companies need to communicate with customers in the manners and channels they are comfortable with.”

To illustrate the challenge, Limo University founder, industry educator, and entrepreneur Bill Faeth conducted an experiment recently that should disturb most limo operators.

Faeth, a former owner of a chauffeured transportation company in Nashville, Tenn., and several industry colleagues wanted to see how quickly they could get quoted limo rates for two very common routes: Beverly Hills Hotel to LAX and LGA to the Four Seasons Hotel at Battery Park in New York. All calls were placed around 9 a.m. ET or 9 a.m. PT and time stamped and recorded based on the same vehicle, passenger, and time of day.

Of the 25 companies called, the fastest time to get a quote was five minutes and 47 seconds, with an average of eight minutes. Only one company could provide a sedan rate in less than four minutes.  

Bill Faeth, founder of Limo U and Inbound Marketing Agents, says essentials for operators include SMS text messaging, live chat, and integrated platforms such as Manychat (https://manychat.com/) that can combine access to all these services. Zapier (https://zapier.com/) and Zipwhip (www.zipwhip.com) are other available platforms for taking reservations and handling customers. (photo courtesy of Bill Faeth/Limo U)
Bill Faeth, founder of Limo U and Inbound Marketing Agents, says essentials for operators include SMS text messaging, live chat, and integrated platforms such as Manychat (https://manychat.com/) that can combine access to all these services. Zapier (https://zapier.com/) and Zipwhip (www.zipwhip.com) are other available platforms for taking reservations and handling customers. (photo courtesy of Bill Faeth/Limo U)
“We’re not adapting the technology available to us to give customers more options,” Faeth says. “We should be giving customers the option for online reservations, whether through a software provider, a third party platform, or direct social media.”

Faeth addressed the issue during an early September Limo U boot camp session with about 30 operators. “The communication is too slow and most operators don’t have options in place to appease the consumer base,” Faeth says. “Ideally you should be able to instant message a company and get a quote right away.”

It is such a flexible, viral, interconnected, always-on approach that operators need to embrace in a market disrupted by transportation network companies (TNCs). It applies to near-demand as well as on-demand service.

“Once technology became a vital part of ground transportation, it was embedded within customer expectations,” says Nadav Ullman, CEO and founder of Dashride, a provider of mobile first dispatching software. The company’s clients include about 450 chauffeured transportation companies of all fleet sizes.  

Electronic reservations will dominate in coming years as fewer clients want to talk to humans, says Nadav Ullman, founder and CEO of Dashride. “Your system is either ready to take e-reservations or get skipped. That’s where the evolution is going. Every company’s system better be able to give a rate or price. If you can’t, you might as well close shop.” (photo from Dashride)
Electronic reservations will dominate in coming years as fewer clients want to talk to humans, says Nadav Ullman, founder and CEO of Dashride. “Your system is either ready to take e-reservations or get skipped. That’s where the evolution is going. Every company’s system better be able to give a rate or price. If you can’t, you might as well close shop.” (photo from Dashride)
“It expanded from being human focused to being tech focused,” Ullman says. “It’s not just a matter of, ‘is this person going to be nice to me? What other benefits am I getting?’ What does it look like from a tech angle?”

Being able to see a chauffeur heading toward a client location in real time is a vital part of that, he says. “If people have to call in, that is bad customer service,” Ullman says.

Easy-touch, well-designed mobile self-service now defines good customer service. “Fewer people want to call in, and they prefer access on their phones to ride history, billing info, receipts, rates, and reviewing drivers. That’s 100% necessary to meet expectations.”

Tech — Time = More Revenue
So what are some practical tips and solutions operators can deploy that save time and money, and attract more revenue?

Facebook Messenger: Faeth sees Facebook Messenger as a useful tool for customers since Facebook outpaces other Internet platforms by 4-5:1 in terms of average user time per day. Users can reserve and pay for rides through Messenger as long as payments are done via registered debit accounts. The transfer remains secure, and unlike credit cards, does not involve processing fees.

“If you have a debit card inside, you can email money,” Faeth says. “If I don’t accept, it doesn’t get pulled out of my account. Most of our industry is retail, so this helps with Millennials or prom kids booking and paying for a reservation.”

Easier Interactions: Busse emphasizes the need for easy, one-time interactions across all channels, whether online chat, apps, texting, or email. One big irritant for customers is if they have to re-enter or restate basic information that should be on file.

Communication should be personal, with confirmation emails or texts that state specifics and reassure clients of accuracy, Busse says. Too often, service providers send “do not reply” confirmations which can annoy customers who need to correct details or contact a business. “Now I have to find a better email address or call you up on the phone,” Busse says. “We as companies need to literally walk in the customers’ shoes and go through the steps they do.”

With all the technology and customer service, it’s about “anticipating what their needs will be,” Busse says. “If they ask you one question via email or text, anticipate the follow up question. Use social media or whichever mode of communication.”

SMS/Texts
Based on his close observations of operator, affiliate, and client interactions, Zafar has noticed the challenge of getting clients to download apps when it’s only for one company as opposed to a wider platform.

“An app is ultimately for customer service,” Zafar says. “Operators have tried to bring their customers onto apps, but it didn’t turn out as well as everyone thought. Not as many passengers as expected are using the mobile app.”

One approach Zafar sees succeeding is generic text message URLs or SMS links that allow clients to track vehicles and chauffeurs. Notifications provide another level of assurance and customer service, especially for clients traveling abroad.

“Anything we can do to give tools to enhance the experience of consumers is what we are focused on,” Zafar says. “Getting feedback from clients helps us build exactly what they want to improve customer service.”

A.I.: Zafar foresees artificial intelligence overtaking mobile apps as the preferred way for clients to book, reserve, and/or demand rides. A.I. could include chat, voice, or text bots handling requests in real time based on stored data.

“A bot will know your habits,” Zafar says. “The technology is becoming more intelligent. It’s the next thing as users are getting lazier.”

Good customer service is more about learning where they are going and catching up with them, Zafar says. “Where they are going is faster, quicker booking. You can know who your customers are. Uber doesn’t know who I am. My preferred method of travel is working with a company that knows me. A lot of people would rather be in a familiar surrounding if it was convenient.”

Chat Bots/Live Chat: Despite all the drawbacks and bad actions of Uber, clients overall see it as having good customer service because it provides real time self-service technology, Ullman says. Most customers overlook Uber’s lack of phone service and delays in replying to e-mails.

Limo companies can do one better by providing that extra layer of customer assurance and interaction beyond the self-service technology through chat bots and live instant-messaging.

Chat bots can work well if you can predict the top 50-60 questions a customer may ask, Ullman says. Likewise, if your company is completely digitized with chat bots able to access essential data, such as receipts and reservations, then they work well.

If not, then chat bots need to be backed up with live instant-messaging help. “The important part is to have back up ability to respond. People should make sure they have the manpower to handle that so expectations are met properly. You convert more customers if you have live I.M. help.”

Another advantage is if a company can add live chat services along with chat bots, then it can gather data and optimize around it, Ullman says. “You’ll know the context as to why people are coming or leaving.” That helps assess engagement and boost conversions.

The defining factor is to enable clients to book everything in the hand, says Ireland operator Colin Devine. Chauffeured service needs to be an all-in-one app regardless of where the client is going. “The way you treat teammates is the way customers are treated. You have to create an environment for employees to really invest themselves in your culture.” (photo from Colin Devine)
The defining factor is to enable clients to book everything in the hand, says Ireland operator Colin Devine. Chauffeured service needs to be an all-in-one app regardless of where the client is going. “The way you treat teammates is the way customers are treated. You have to create an environment for employees to really invest themselves in your culture.” (photo from Colin Devine)
Operators Try Tech
As transportation becomes more near- or on-demand, or same-day reservation-based, operators are finding ways to customize technology to create more responsive customer service.

At Devine’s Chauffeur Service in Dublin, owner Colin Devine ensures an ownership mindset prevails among reservationists, dispatchers, and chauffeurs when dealing with clients. “Our goal is to try to make everything as consistent as possible,” Devine says. “The challenge for us is to see what can be automated so we don’t lose focus on important details.”

The company uses individual customer automation where bookings land directly into its software so employees can spend more time with quality checks instead of data entry, says Devine, who runs an operation that has grown from 20 to 35 vehicles during the last two years.

From booking to billing, a good guideline is to automate routine specifics and communications to free up time for employees to have the flexibility to please guests.

“We’re investing in the culture of the company by having better data on employee engagement,” Devine says. “We spend time on collecting data, analyzing what the business is telling us. We can turn that into meaningful planning and forecasting. It’s a challenge in small markets to determine how many trips we can do in house, and how many to book with partners.”

New York operator Doug Schwartz says there’s no room for lacking cutting edge technologies. “There’ll be many more platforms and technologies moving forward for sure.” (LCT photo)
New York operator Doug Schwartz says there’s no room for lacking cutting edge technologies. “There’ll be many more platforms and technologies moving forward for sure.” (LCT photo)
Every touch point with clients, such as emails, calls, texts, are opportunities to build relationships. “We really want to make sure we stay with them to understand their needs. Once we’ve analyzed what the data tells us and spoken to customers about what they need, then we can spend time on providing the best delivery of service.”
Doug Schwartz, owner and CEO of Executive Limousine in Bellmore, N.Y., uses the Limo Anywhere platform for customer receipts, on-location notifications, and chauffeur and vehicle information texted to clients.

The automated communications have helped Executive Limousine clear up any miscues and mistakes. “I don’t think we operators have a choice today,” says Schwartz, who also serves as a board director of the National Limousine Association.  “Customers and affiliates expect to know when the passenger is on board and the vehicle is on location. They don’t want to wait for you. If you don’t jump on the efficiency train today, you’ll be left at the station.”

Related Topics: apps, building your clientele, Colin Devine, communications, customer service, Dashride, doug Schwartz, GRiDD, Nadav Ullman, Randi Busse, reservations, text messaging

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