10/14 update: Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calls for more scrutiny of stretches nationwide.
Chapter One: Generate And Grow
Mary Jo Mazzarella, director of sales for American Limousine Service in Cleveland, Ohio, says there are a few keys to winning clients over. Building personal relationships, listening to people’s needs, and trying to work out options to satisfy them are how you establish yourself as a trustworthy company. This is why face-to-face networking is an absolute must…and not just within your own industry.
She attends events with her local GBTA chapter and Convention and Visitors Bureau, and also scouts out corporately supported nonprofit events. Mazzarella sits on a nonprofit board for an organization like this, which has enabled her to build relationships with other board members who work with big corporations like law firms and banks.
“Once they get to know you on a personal level, they become salespeople on the road and vouch for you whenever they hear someone needs transportation,” she explains.
Bobby Puri, owner and operations manager for True Elegance Worldwide Transportation in Fremont, Calif., says the first step is to focus on the follow-up. “Ask yourself questions like, ‘Am I nurturing all leads that come my way, and am I staying on top of clients past, present, and future?’” he says.
Operators must work on how to captivate clients with the resources they already have. Do your reservationists have access to pictures of your fleet with accurate vehicle descriptions they can email clients? Make sure you and your team can find solutions to whatever a client needs. For example, ask if they need rides where they land if the request is for an airport run. “You always have to ask yourself if there are any inefficiencies you can correct that can lead to growth in sales,” he says.
Kristie Carter, co-owner of Aadvanced Limousines in Indianapolis, Ind., says growing and generating sales can be the simple part of the business if you have an amazing team and smooth operation to stand behind the promises you make. “Without teamwork to execute excellent customer service all the way around, the sales are pointless as you will constantly be losing clients,” she says.
Chapter Two: Creative Marketing
Satisfied customers are a company’s biggest sales tool — especially when they are famous. While it’s obvious you should never ask for a photo with a celebrity, if they happen to give permission, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take them up on the offer. Mazzarella’s father once chauffeured The Beatles; she now uses a photo they took together as a way to get prospective clients to keep her company in mind.
“Every time I meet someone new, I go back to the office and write a message on the back of a copy of the photo. Someone I met 12 years ago recently called me and said she had the photo on her desk and that’s what prompted her to give us a try. Sales calls don’t always have an immediate turn around, but look what can happen down the line!”
As a black car service, you have one major asset: Your vehicles. Since they are big, beautiful, and expensive, flaunt them. “If you buy a new bus, take it to prospective clients and potential buyers. Take the initiative to set up meetings with them, show them what differences your cars and buses have when compared with other companies, and they will sell themselves,” Puri says.
Chapter Three: Value Proposition
Before Puri proposes an answer to a client, he looks at the scope of what they need transportation for, then offers the best solution. “This comes with experience and that takes time. But if you research the industry you’re selling to and put yourself in their shoes, you’ll be able to provide them with what they need,” he says.
He gives this example: “There are so many different buildings within a corporate campus. You should ask for a map and provide it to your chauffeurs so you can work together to propose a route that won’t affect the rest of the company’s daily traffic. You have to think about things that are free for you and the customer that will make your client see the value of the service you provide.”
Being genuine and acting with integrity when “selling” or communicating your company is a must, Coleman says. “Conveying value proposition convincingly includes these factors. If you’re confident about your company and ability to deliver, communicating the value of your services comes with ease.”
Use your business’ history and association membership to your advantage, Mazzarella advises. Also, include that information and photos of your brick and mortar location on your website to show you’re serious about the work you do. She believes this gives people a sense of security. “I want them to see what sets us apart from others right away and not have to search for it,” she says.
Chapter Four: Assessing Clients’ Needs
Understanding the demographics of clients will help you tailor service to their every need, Mazzarella says. “Ask what you can add to the experience to help them achieve their end goal.”
Carter says learn about specific events and their timelines to truly comprehend expectations; then make sure your company can meet them before agreeing to help out.
You should thoroughly understand expectations, Coleman adds. “The questions you need to ask are specific to each individual prospect, so there’s no standard list you should go by. If you’re having the right conversation, the list builds itself.”
Chapter Five: Rebutting TNCs
Educating your clients on duty of care and the risks involved with riding with TNCs is important, but in the end, one must admit they are a deal for the consumer, Carter says.
“Often for a true price driven client, you have to accept the fact those particular passengers may not be the best fit for your operation. In school they teach you about target markets for a reason — you have to find your niche and pursue it with all your energy. Sometimes that target market may change over time, and your entity must adapt to stay afloat,” she explains.
Telling clients about your chauffeur rules (i.e., no cell phone use while operating the vehicle), and their continuous training should help high-level executive clients understand it’s safer to book with a professional operation.
“Uber and Lyft drivers only report to a handheld device,” Mazzarella says. “Our chauffeurs have to get in front of dispatchers for a pre-check to ensure they are ready to drive for the day.” Allowing high-end clients and decision makers to look at your employee handbook will also prove you are investing in their safety.
The people who use TNCs are not his target audience, Puri says. “They are mostly taxi users, and we deal with corporate clients and event planners who all have liability to worry about. We explain to them Uber and Lyft are illegally operating, and it’s not a guarantee the driver will take them to your destination because there’s no accountability. Our chauffeurs are bound to us because they are our employees, and are therefore obligated to get you where you need to be,” he says. These responses deter the correct buyer from leaving and filters out the customers you won’t want anyway.
If the industry hopes to thrive, operators must separate themselves by following through on promises of premium service, Coleman adds. “We must provide excellent customer service and maintain high standards; otherwise, why would a client continue to pay top dollar for a mediocre or poor experience?”
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