Two corporate travel executives explain how providers can adjust to shifting demands and preferences.
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — While you may assume good service breeds repeat customers, personal connections will bring in the business long term, especially in the era of on-demand commerce.
Celebrity chef and hospitality service expert Eric Weiss of Service Arts Inc. led a small group roundtable on Nov. 3 at the 2019 LCT East on how to build client loyalty through superior - not just good - service and individual relationships.
“It's not about price; it's definitely about the service. Most of all, in any business, it's all about the relationship,” said Weiss to a small group of operators in a session titled, “Good Service Is No Longer Good Enough.”
Before developing enduring relationships with clients, an operator first must do so with the employees and chauffeurs who represent the company, Weiss said.
To illustrate the importance of relationships, Weiss stressed how individuals make up a corporate culture, which sounds too general. “Relationships are all about individuals. For me to come in here and to have you as anonymous people sitting in chairs, makes absolutely no sense.”
Staffing is vital to a business, and finding people has become more challenging, Weiss said. He advised it’s better to lose out on business than to hire a substandard employee who could hurt quality and business image. Disrespect of the brand or fellow team members is unacceptable.
“The people you choose have to represent you. It’s much better to [earn] less but have people who truly represent you than to hold on to warm bodies.”
Weiss said he avoids general words, such as communication, when describing and defining good service and the culture behind it. “For me, great service is all about specificity and being specific. To me, there couldn't be a more general word than communication. What does that mean, communication? There are so many aspects to it.”
Foremost to ensuring quality service is credibility, which can build trust, he said. “You cannot have trust without credibility. We all know trust among human beings is the most difficult thing to establish and the easiest to lose.”
The goal is to get trust to yield a maximum return on loyalty, Weiss said. “No business can be successful without the return. You've got to have people coming back. If you are thinking, or if you are looking, or if your mindset is profitability only, don't you think your guests, customers, and clients are going to feel that? If they feel from you and your team money is the only reason you are servicing them, how are they going to feel?” Weiss asked.
Like a “number,” “a commodity,” or “used,” answered various attendees.
Loyalty greatly increases the chances of a company becoming successful, Weiss said. “Establish credibility as quickly as possible, which will hopefully ensure trust and then ensure loyalty.”
How do you establish credibility? Weiss asked. The answers from the audience flowed: “Referrals, associations, testimonials, demeanor of your service, appearance, anticipating of client needs, being on time, good first impressions on the website, deliver on promises, being welcoming and flexible, listening, being responsive and timely, compassion, service guarantees, accountability...”
“I think this is a great question to consistently be asking yourselves,” Weiss said. “How do I establish credibility with myself, my clients, family, and loved ones? We all know what worked yesterday or last week may not necessarily work this week.”
A lack of specifics can frustrate people and make them feel incompetent, Weiss said. That can lead to loss of time, money, credibility, and expectations.
“A lot of things were lost because I was not being specific. We talked about that in terms of that huge word, communication, and it's a case in point. I want to be professional. What does that mean? That's such a general word. The more we can stay away from those general words, the more likely we are to get the result we want. How specific are you when you communicate with your teams, clients, family, friends, etc.? To learn to become more specific in the way we talk will be a better way of giving you opportunities to get the results you want.”
Weiss underscored the power of the first impression, especially in appearance and cleanliness of employees providing service. “How can they take care of me if they're not taking care of themselves? I think it's really crucial to understand why good service is no longer good enough.”
Why good service is no longer enough also results from game-changers in the market that create new forms of competition.
Operators mentioned the challenges of a more competitive market with shifting client demands and tastes, especially among younger clients who don’t pay for quality as readily as previous generations.
“There’s no question about it. We are dealing with a new world in many ways. We can't compare it to what existed five, 10, 20 years ago,” Weiss said.
One attendee pointed out how customers are no longer willing to wait. “They want it right now, they want it quick, they want it cheap,” said Paul Walsh, owner of Superior Executive Transportation in Virginia Beach, Va. “They're not going to wait in line for an hour and a half for a good meal or a good car. We have to understand it's not just technology. People have changed the way they live.”
Because of technology, expectations are higher than ever before. Customers can threaten to “blow up a business” on social media if they don’t get what they want or their expectations fall short, one attendee said.
“How do you respond, as a company or as an individual to the person who says, ‘I'm going to blow you up. I'm going to denounce you. I'm going to wreck your business?’ How do you respond to that?”
The answer is to be pre-emptive in dealing with an unhappy customer and diffuse their grievance before it escalates to the point where they want to strike.
Clients don’t remember good experiences but remember the bad, the great, and the excellent.
“Our memory remembers the extremes. So if you're looking to just give good service as opposed to something excellent, what was the objective of all that business? Loyalty, the return. What is everybody looking for now, whether it's in a limousine ride, a dinner, a hotel stay, a shopping experience...what are they looking for? Great service, and what kind of experience? The wow factor, otherwise known as the memorable experience. Not good, not bad, but incredible. Worthy of sharing. It's not what you give people, it's how you make them feel. The power of the emotions.”
Weiss emphasized 90% of communication is non-verbal and can affect clients in ways you may not notice at first but can deter a solid relationship. He outlined eight techniques to become a better questioner, listener, and responder:
No. 1: Ask lots of questions, which need to range from the general to specific.
No. 2: Listen intently: “The more information you get, the more specific the questions become.”
No. 3: Observe: “If you're not observing, you are missing a lot of information. We are blessed with eyesight, and like many things we're blessed with, until we lose that, we don't appreciate it.”
No. 4: Read between the lines: “Frequently, what people do not say is as important or more important than what they do say. We have to learn to read between the lines.”
No. 5: Be fluid and flexible: “Questions need to be flexible. Often, we have a checklist of questions we asked, but then there are times people may give us an answer that has absolutely no relationship to the question we've asked. So, the questions need to be relevant in terms of the information that somebody has just given. You've got to be quick-thinking and flexible.”
No. 6: Don’t assume: “We all do it. How many times has anybody besides me approached a lady with a stomach and asked when the baby is coming? And she’ll say, ‘I'm not pregnant.’”
No. 7: Information confirmation: “I am confirming. I'm not repeating. What is the difference? What is the difference if I say to you, ‘May I repeat that?’ or ‘May I confirm that?’” Weiss asked.
If you say repeat, the client may think you are not paying attention. “It’s about the power of words. How many mistakes would be eliminated if people confirmed information? A lot. This needs to become a habit, for you and for your teams. Confirming shows the client you care and that you are listening, credible, paying attention, and want to get it right.”
No. 8: Collaboration: “If you have a piece of information, make sure it gets communicated or shared with someone else. Share information.”
In sum, Weiss said, “We all have situations where we're perceived as one thing, but to stay with that and work through that is important. We need to treat people as individuals, not as a group of people sitting at a table with ties or name tags. Each of you is obviously very special and unique with your desires to improve.”
Two corporate travel executives explain how providers can adjust to shifting demands and preferences.
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