NOV./DEC. LCT: These industry members don’t just stay ahead of the curve — they set it.
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — You may see your clients as more than clusters of data, but such information can render your luxury transportation service thoroughly human.
That means not only providing all the trappings of superior chauffeured service; you have to gather the details about each client to create the experiences that draw them back.
“To grow your business and deepen your clients' list and have lasting clients using you, you have to make an experience for them,” said Alex Darbahani, owner and CEO of KLS Worldwide Chauffeured Services, based in Van Nuys, Calif., during an educational seminar. “Everybody has a black car here. Everybody puts water in a vehicle. Everybody gives the best service. But what can you do so they don't forget your service? It has to come from the time they call your office to the time they get billed.”
Darbahani joined Robert Rodriguez, owner and CEO of First Class Destination Solutions in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on March 27 for a seminar during the International LCT Show in Las Vegas, Nev., titled, “Are You Truly Delivering Five Star Service?”
Even good chauffeured service does not guarantee clients will return, Darbahani said. “You will have to train all your staff from the time they're answering your phones to when they get into vehicles to when they get the bills. It has to be convenient for them.”
Darbahani and Rodriguez both started their fleet businesses small and cultivated their premium service in high-VIP-corporate-tourist regions. Darbahani, who started his company with one vehicle in 1997 in Beverly Hills, gained experiencing chauffeuring with the former CLS in Los Angeles. He has seen his business grow in the triple digits as it hit the Inc. 5000 List this year and last.
Rodriguez started in the chauffeured business in 1998 at age 19, where he immediately landed a $350,000 agreement with a pharmaceutical company in Puerto Rico.
“The days of taking a client from point A to point B are over,” Rodriguez said. “All of our clients are looking for an experience. The only way our chauffeurs will be able to deliver that experience is if you teach them and show them how to do it. With the car washers, reservations, dispatchers, and accounting, you really need teamwork.”
Approach front-to-end service like the Ritz Carlton or American Express, the panelists advised. “We don’t treat our clients like a number,” Darbahani said. “We will never ask if you have an account. For my company, we put a system in place where we know Mr. Schmidt’s account number. When the reservationist answers a phone, he or she greets Mr. Schmidt with his name. We will not ask the client, ‘Do you have an account with us, sir? What's your account number?’"
Rodriguez uses technology to anticipate customer needs. As examples, when his company sends a confirmation to a client, it asks if they need anything else. First Class then sends clients links to restaurants they have agreements with, which provides the clients favorable options.
“Instead of a transportation company, you can come to a concierge company,” Rodriguez said. “That's what they're looking for right now. All those clients willing to pay what we charge, they're looking for a chauffeur as a personal concierge and sometimes even security.”
One of the reasons Ritz-Carlton is one of the best hotels in the world is they maintain profiles on their customers, Darbahani said. “They know what type of water I like, what type of strawberry I like. Whether I go to Hong Kong or Moscow, they say, ‘Mr. Darbahani, welcome to the hotel.’ When I go to my hotel room, strawberries and chocolates are there.”
Inspired by this example, Darbahani added a VIP desk to his service for clients who mean a lot to the company and warrant a profile.
“So looking at our Mr. Schmidt, we know he had an incident in San Francisco. The driver knows about the incident because it will be in his app, and the agent notes to be more careful when he arrives. It also notes Mr. Schmidt is just divorced. He's not with Lynda anymore. So our chauffeur won't ask about Lynda or the kids. It comes down to details and knowing your customers. Our chauffeurs know in the morning at 4 a.m., Mr. Schmidt likes Starbucks coffee. He likes XM Radio’s CNN. He prefers taking the 101 Freeway, not Topanga Canyon Road. We can see on agent and chauffeur notes he doesn’t like music in the car. So keep the profile for your clients or your top clients. The VIP desk has been amazing and great for us. It has been raising a lot of profit for the company.”
Darbahani advised gathering information on clients can take years because they won’t share personal information at first. Encourage chauffeurs to relay any client preferences, concerns, or details that can help the company customize its service to them.
Hotel and resort properties where an operator provides in-house service can help educate and train chauffeurs on the amenities and service techniques that carry over into chauffeured service, Rodriguez said.
“In our case, the properties take our chauffeurs and show them the menu. So if we have a guest who is asking our chauffeurs about the best restaurants and food, our chauffeurs know what to tell the clients. So the properties will help you a lot. They're going to be committed to you. That's key to the success of the experience of the guest and for your company.”
Darbahani also underscored the need to be honest with clients about any mishaps or unforeseen circumstances, especially with traffic congestion, breakdowns, or any delays.
“If you're going to be late and you see in tracking your chauffeur he’s 45 minutes away because of traffic, don't lie to your clients and say, ‘Sir, Fred, got a flat tire. He's changing. He'll be there in 10 minutes.’ The 10 to 15 minutes turns into 30 minutes and then the client gets angry. ‘Where is my driver?’ You just added stress to their travel. Tell the truth. ‘My driver is stuck in traffic. He's not going to make it. I have another option. I can send an affiliate close by.’ Tell them what's going to happen. We're not perfect. We make mistakes. Tell a client, ‘Take the taxi, take the Uber, we will pay for it. No problem, we're sorry about it. We'll give you free service until you come back.’”
To create a culture of custom service, both panelists recommend setting up standard operating procedures (SOP) for all chauffeurs and employees. Darbahani backs his up with regular videos, meetings, and training sessions overseen by managers dedicated to those areas. When presenting your services to potential clients, explain how your chauffeurs are trained weekly or regularly, Rodriguez said.
To ensure a consistent professional look, Darbahani gives his chauffeurs a monthly $100 allowance for dry cleaning and laundry. “We have Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton accounts. What is the most important thing when your driver arrives at the hotel or any private event? How he looks. If I see any chauffeur of mine, anywhere, who has a dirty shirt or jacket, they're fired. There’s no excuse. Spend a little bit of money if you want to go after high-end accounts. It will pay you back.”
Darbahani also emphasized while many customers are looking for a better price, and many of the big providers are cutting prices, operators should avoid lowering rates and instead match the rates with better service. “Expenses like insurance, labor, and gas are going up every day. That means you give better service. You're going to create more jobs or get more income.”
Darbahani and Rodriguez offered the following additional tips to build five-star service.
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