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To succeed in this industry, you need to be the master of repeats. Repeat business. Repeat clients. Repeat referrals. Now, repeat after me: Learn how to keep you clients and win them back if they leave.
Lenore D’Anzieri, director of travel industry partnerships for Dav El | BostonCoach Chauffeured Transportation Network, and Jeff Nyikos, CEO of Leros Point to Point of Valhalla, N.Y., detailed their strategies for client retention during a session at LCT-NLA Show East on Nov. 6. Here are some highlights below:
Retaining clients begins with establishing a corporate culture, which can be defined in as many ways as there are transportation services. While it may be hard to define, D’Anzieri notes it starts from the top management.
Whether you are landing a new client or have lost one, chances are management had a hand in it through actions or lack of action in the case of a lost client. Owners and managers establish the culture and your team follows the culture. It results in the behavioral traits of the entire team in how they socialize amongst themselves and clients, and even creates an emotional environment your clients feel. Without a corporate culture, an employee having a bad day could answer the phone in an unfriendly or uncaring way, D’Anzieri said.
However, with an established culture, even on a bad day, the employees know exactly how the phone should be answered each time. When a client calls, they should feel the corporate culture through the phone and end the call feeling valued. The most important ingredient to good corporate culture is mindful leadership, D’Anzieri said. This is defined as being aware of what’s happening in your company. Not only are you aware of the processes, procedures, analytics, and revenue, you also need to be in touch with the emotional and social intelligence of your teams. They all have to be on the same page as you.
Another key ingredient is setting an example and being aware of your behaviors. Just as you expect your employees to answer the phone in a friendly way even if they are having a bad day, you must be mindful that yelling and screaming when someone made a mistake or failing to empower your team to make decisions can ruin a positive corporate culture. This means you must have self-management, self-control, and resilience. You must share your goals and expectations and coach. This is a huge part of client retention. “Leading by example is the number one key to success,” Nyikos said. Even how you dress and expect your employees to dress is part of corporate culture, D’Anzieri added.
Social media is the newest tool in client retention. It allows you to forge bonds with clients like never before. No longer are the people in your office merely order takers on the other end of the phone. They are real people with faces who can be seen on social media. Your company persona can be shared online. Nyikos uses social media to promote what’s happening at the office or how Leros is involved with a charity event. This opens your company blinds for the world to see what your business is really all about. Your corporate culture portrayed online can help recruit employees when people see your company favorably. Social media allows you to showcase your company’s integrity, service standards, and staff treatment.
As an operator, I’ve always believed empowerment of employees is paramount to success. Borrowing from the Ritz-Carlton philosophy, upset customers don’t want to wait for management to intervene when they experience a service failure. They want immediate resolution and employees should be empowered to issue refunds, provide a credit, or do whatever is needed to remedy the situation. If you don’t have faith and trust in your employees’ judgement, then perhaps you are hiring the wrong caliber of people for serving in luxury transportation.
“We’re going to empower them to do what they need to do; at the same time, they have to do that with integrity and pride,” D’Anzieri said. Nyikos added, “You can’t micromanage your employees. You have to allow them to make their own decisions.”
Nyikos, D’Anzieri, and I all expect to make mistakes, which will become teaching moments. We are all capable of learning from them. Make sure employees have guidelines and give them some leeway with parameters. Successful people like Steve Jobs (Apple), Bill Gates (Microsoft), and Jeff Bezos (Amazon) all hired top leaders who made good decisions. They apply new concepts that endear them to clients and help grow their companies.
The best tool for client retention is communication. The goal: Everyone on the same page at the same time. All important matters in your company culture must be communicated to your entire team. Each member must be able to clearly communicate in a style that relates to the client. A retail client might focus on the price. The assistant of an attorney may focus more on passenger details. Both need to feel they had good communication during a call.
That applies to emails as well, D’Anzieri says. A simple grammatical error such as, “Hears your confirmation,” could imply your company doesn’t hire educated people, and maybe the client as a result will look for a higher caliber company to transport an attorney. Email etiquette and grammar are important. Nyikos recommends calling clients after a first-time ride or a large event to make sure everything went as planned. This can go a long way in keeping employees.
Building loyalty comes down to making all company experiences positive. From an online app used to book a reservation to an online system for booking dozens of corporate rides, it all must be warm and welcoming. Callers expect you to be the expert of how long it takes to get to the airport or where to meet at the airport. We are even expected to know what traffic conditions might be like on a Wednesday at 4 p.m. Being informative builds loyalty. Get to know your clients so you can exceed their needs and expectations. Learning their habits and preferences builds loyalty.
Nyikos recommends you always keep notes about service failures in a client profile. It reminds a reservationist of a previous failure and spurs the opportunity to apologize for the incident again and welcome the client back. This underscores you have not forgotten it happened and you personally know the client. The more information you can register in a client profile, the better your service appears, starting with the phone call.
Make sure your chauffeurs know they need to report to you any client dissatisfaction or incidents, even if caused by the chauffeur. He must understand he won’t necessarily get into trouble by telling you about the incident. Don’t wait for the client to call you. Pick up the phone to discuss it and be prepared to remedy the situation. If your company made a mistake, make it right and give a little more than might be expected based upon the circumstances.
If you cause a bride to be late to her wedding, you should consider not only refunding the entire amount charged, but offering a gift card for future service to leave the client with a better impression of your company. If you handle this within a day, you are much more likely to win the client back than if you wait three days to call. By then, your client has likely moved on.
People will share their service failures with others. Make sure the story always ends with, “And you know what they did to make it right?”
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