Panelists Christina Nguyen, Renee Ferraro, Robert Gaskill, Wendy Kleefisch, and Nancy Vargas

Panelists Christina Nguyen, Renee Ferraro, Robert Gaskill, Wendy Kleefisch, and Nancy Vargas

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — What would you do when handling customer service problems in real time?

It’s much easier to answer that in theory than when the pressure is on. To help operators prepare, a panel suggested some strategies during a session titled with the above question during 2019 LCT Show East.

Robert Gaskill of MOTEV led a discussion that included Nancy Vargas of DH2 Chauffeured Transportation; Wendy Kleefisch of Brevard Executive Limousine, Inc.; Christina Nguyen of Concierge Limousine; and Renee Ferraro of ZBest Worldwide.

The group took questions from the audience and provided advice based on their own personal experiences in business.

Vetting Affiliates

Q: On limo Facebook groups, you get operators asking, “I need someone in Albuquerque, N.M. I need someone in Australia." People name anyone, and then it almost seems like the operator who asked the question says, "Oh, great, thank you." What are some processes you use to vet these names that are given? I assume there's some sort of followup process that occurs. Can you give an example?

Vargas: I just think coming to the shows, being prepared, and networking. We're all here to not only receive the educational part of the show, but it’s a huge opportunity to network, shake hands, and meet each other. When I started doing affiliate work, I took about a year to truly visit some companies. When you talk about vetting, I jumped on a plane and would go visit those markets I found I was going to be doing business in. Calling another operator you really trust and saying, "I have a ride going to..." wherever it maybe. "Who do you use?" I think using multiple resources is very important as you vet your affiliates around the world or across the country.

Ferraro: Just because you only are a one- or two-car business, it doesn’t mean you won’t get the business. You don't have to be a large company to qualify if you can still do what we need and represent us in the same manner. If you can maintain high levels of service, it doesn't matter if you have a warehouse or work out of your basement. But be careful about selecting people who post on Facebook and what they say. I would always do a background check on your own. Call the office and talk to them before you just give out the work to them.

Maintenance And Keeping Track Of Vehicles

Q: One of our biggest problems we've faced is finding good mechanics. A mom and pop we used took one of our vehicles for a joyride. Do you have any advice for vehicle maintenance options?

Kleefisch: Do you perhaps have a fleet account set up through a specific dealership you can work with? We have a fleet account set up where even the chauffeurs can go in if the check engine light comes on. I also think it’s mandatory to snap a picture of the mileage anywhere you drop a vehicle off. That way, when you go to pick up the vehicle, you could see if they did a test run on something like a transmission. Of course, we want them to get in the vehicle and make sure it's not going to buck again or whatever. You might want to also consider getting GPS tracking.

Nguyen: We have an in-house mechanic who takes care of everything. We work off a maintenance program. Every morning I have a staff member who enters the mileage, the gas, and how much was spent. It helps us keep track of when we need an oil change for a specific vehicle, or other routine maintenance that needs to be done. Regarding finding a mechanic, we kissed a ton of frogs before we finally found a prince. Fortunately, we now have a great one who shows up when he needs to and on time.

Gaskill: We're still waiting for the prince or princess to show up from the frogs we've been kissing. We use an app called Whip Around. Our chauffeurs must take a picture of the odometer, the wheels, body damage, or issues of any kind in the car. If the car does not get 100% checked out, then we are notified instantly and can take it to any of the vendors we need to to get it fixed.

Q: What is the process to handle breakdowns with the vehicle on the road when the client is in the vehicle? How do each of your companies handle that?

The panel answered many audience questions and shared their experiences in providing better customer service.

The panel answered many audience questions and shared their experiences in providing better customer service.

Nguyen: Because we have a fleet maintenance program, we rarely ever have a breakdown. Fortunately, we're not a huge company. I have about 35 vehicles, but we have enough of them where we can transition to have another on its way. My staff is trained to call affiliates and then we'll have someone in-house checking our own dispatch grids to see if we can get there. At that point, all that matters is who can get there the quickest. From that point, we'll check and see how the client is. Are they upset? How long did it take? I will call them myself. Depending on the situation, you must figure out if you must comp them a single trip, a round trip…what is that situation? But you must speak to the client first because they appreciate that phone call, being upfront and honest with them.

Vargas: I think transparency is one of the key things. Being upfront and forward will take you a long way. If it's an affiliate, they understand your pain. They've been through it themselves. If it's a client, I think they appreciate you just putting in that phone call and you're making sure you will take care of the problem right away.

Kleefisch: It's not always about the free ride. It's about reaching out and communicating. Because a lot of times on the corporate spectrum, that CEO, you're not going to be comping a free ride. They don't want free rides. They have procedures they have to follow. A lot of corporate accounts don't accept gifts. So how do you overcome that? Because you want to retain that customer as your corporate client, of course, but you also want that corporate client to use you when they do their personal vacation. So that's where you can get a little more personal. This is where I feel like I have done well in a damage control situation because I have had more than just a tire blow, unfortunately, because things happen. They just do. It’s about how you recover that makes you a better person. Giving them transportation for their next family vacation is a wonderful tool to add into your box.

Ferraro: We do more than 80 on-demand rides a day and we always need backups. I’m continuously making friends with our local affiliates and making sure if we need anything that they're there to help if we break down and have backup. You really must work well together. Things happen. It doesn't matter what company and who you are, you will break down and you need a backup plan.

Quoting Rates

Q: My biggest issue is when I call my affiliate to get a rate and I specifically ask for an all-inclusive rate, and then get the bill and it is nothing what was quoted to me. I'm talking about straight airport transfer, no wait time or anything like that. Why was I not given that all-inclusive rate when that's what I asked for?

Ferraro: A lot of operators are doing that, and my backup is I make it in writing. I'm going to call you on the phone and our lines are always recorded, but I want it from your email so after the ride, this is what you quoted, this is what we're doing. I personally put all-inclusive, everything. You must type it out because some people just still don't do it. All-inclusive includes gratuity.

Nguyen: When you're doing something like that, you should ask them to send the confirmation with the rates inside. Just to protect yourself, take the extra step and reply, "I'm confirming this all-inclusive rate at this rate." Then tell them, "Please reply for confirmation." If they don't, then I would just keep getting on them until they do it. If we give you this all-inclusive rate, we're going to honor that rate. We have recorded calls and confirmations. But given a situation like the client was 30 minutes late, my staff is trained to give you a phone call to let you know, "This client was late, they were on board at this time." Again, you'll get that confirmation letting you know they were on board at this time before we charge you.

Vargas: I believe when you've built a relationship with an affiliate, as operators we need to ensure we've done our jobs. Because if you build that relationship with that affiliate, there's a trust factor. If there was a mistake, if it was maybe a new person in your office who messed up for whatever reason, be sure to put in a phone call and say, “I spoke to Mike and he said it was 140 all-in,” so we can correct the issue. These things can happen.

Originally posted on LCT Magazine