The DOT says it was only doing its job.
On whether or not to accept client invitations to events, David Tash, co-owner and CFO of Luxury Ride USA in Wayne, N.J., says he determines it case-by-case. “Most of the time it presents an opportunity to grow your business and deepen your relationship with that client.”
Forging these deeper bonds will allow you to protect yourself against any future incidents. “If things happen, and they always do in this industry, it’s a lot harder to leave a friend than a vendor,” he says.
However, whether or not you can handle such opportunities has a lot to do with how you carry yourself. It’s likely the client expects you to be just as professional even when you are “off the court.” If they respect you and what you do, that should be enough to take care of preventing most difficult situations, Tash says. He also never drinks, because even if it’s a casual outing, you’re still representing your company.
Christina Zanone, affiliate manager for Beau Wine Tours in Sonoma, Calif., agrees decisions like this must be made depending on the situation. “Our policy is to not mix personal lives with business, especially on the job,” she says. Chauffeurs are not allowed to accept invitations to client’s activities because the only way to keep the line drawn is to not allow it as an option.
“We just wouldn’t allow a chauffeur driving for the event to join in if asked,” Zanone says. “They absolutely can’t leave a vehicle unattended. Not following protocol is where we’d draw the line.”
Johnny Donohoe, president of Sterling Limousine & Transportation Services in Wrightstown, Pa., says his approach to the situation has changed along with the times. Company policy states if a client asks a chauffeur to join an event, the chauffeur must decline the first offer. But if the client insists, the bottom line is you have to make the customer happy.
“If you would have asked this question seven years ago, I would have said ‘absolutely not; it’s forbidden.’ But the culture has changed, so you have to be a little more lax if you hope to appease and keep your clients.”
“Our largest account is a music promoter, so attending one of their festivals or shows is part of our client engagement. While I’m at a show, I’ll often see one of the talents or managers we provided transportation to, so it allows for networking opportunities,” she says.
This has enabled her to build great relationships out of the office, but if she does accept an invitation, she only does so for herself. “I don’t try to bring anyone else whether family or friend. If it does involve more than one person, I’ll invite someone from the company.”
How Close Is Too Close?
Monitoring your chauffeur relationships with clients is vital to making sure they maintain the level of professionalism you desire. The standard procedure at Tash’s company is to provide clients with their chauffeur’s cell phone number so they can be informed if a quick change needs to happen.
“It’s a tricky situation you have to be sensitive about,” he says. “You have to feel things out and play both sides. You want to make sure clients are comfortable and receiving the best possible service your company has to offer, so if they have one or two favorite chauffeurs, you want to try and accommodate that request. Keep an eye on it, but give them that privilege. You don’t want them to become so buddy-buddy where it could backfire and hurt your business.”
Nevertheless, Tash believes if you treat your chauffeurs well, you don’t need to worry. “A lot of business owners have an unnecessary fear holding them back; they don’t capitalize on opportunities because they can’t face that fear. You’ll never grow to your full potential if you remain scared of what could happen instead of capitalizing on what’s in front of you,” he says.
At Sterling, chauffeurs use their personal cellphones because it’s easier for a client to call them directly if they can’t find them than to get dispatch involved, Donohoe says.
“We do run into issues with clients wanting to book directly through the chauffeur, but it’s our policy a chauffeur instruct the client they have to reserve through the office to minimize the chance of any mistakes,” he says. He encourages clients to request their preferred chauffeur, because it leads to a win-win situation: The chauffeur will likely make more of a gratuity, and the client will remain satisfied with your service.
Zanone says her company’s chauffeurs know all communication with a client must be professional. “Our business requires them to use their personal cell phones or emails to contact the client because they aren’t always in the office to be able to do that,” she explains. Their policy is chauffeurs cannot engage in personal conversation outside of conveying important trip details.
“We obviously don’t want to keep our chauffeurs from creating a bond and developing a lasting professional relationship with our clients, because many of them come back because they enjoy working with specific people. We don’t want them to be robotic, but we always want it to come from a place of professionalism,” she says. “It’s important to honor requests as long as it doesn’t cross the line of company policy. If it does, you just have to decline as politely as possible.”
Providing company issued cell phones has helped Hatter gain control over the situation. This way, contact remains structured and controlled, and chauffers’ personal information is never given to clients. “We do expect them to build a great rapport with our clients and want them to be requested.”
Use Your Expertise
The DOT says it was only doing its job.
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