A few months ago, I visited a restaurant with some family members. This restaurant is a large, popular local place that I’ve visited before, though we chose it this time for convenience. The restaurant was fairly empty that night, and, having just come from a wake, we were hungry and looking forward to spending time together. Disappointingly, our meal was marred by a litany of common service problems: cold food, missing entrees, a server who disappeared just when we needed her. It got to the point that I used my cell phone to call the restaurant’s main number, asking for our server. Nothing really improved, and we found ourselves walking out the door, perplexed by the bad service and hoping that we’d left a box of protein bars in the car.
Bad customer service. We all experience it. Some companies are known for it: airlines, the DMV, and above all, a certain cable TV provider. Bad service makes us feel angry, frustrated, and powerless: we pay for the privilege of being treated poorly. We share our war stories with other customer service victims, online or in person. Good customer service is so rare that we are shocked when it happens, pathetically grateful to the employee who has treated us like human beings.
Expectations influence our perception of service. If I buy food from a convenience store, I don’t expect the employees to offer me personal recommendations when I’m selecting my hummus and crackers, and I get the food myself instead of being served. If I eat breakfast at a diner, I don’t have to get my own food, but I’m not surprised to see paper napkins rather than cloth. But if I’m at a high-end steakhouse, I’d be disappointed if the server couldn’t recommend a good wine to go with my meal.
In the overall transportation industry, customer expectations differ too. If Jim orders an Uber, his experience will be different every time, so he doesn’t know quite what he’s getting. He’s heard the stories of the dangers of app-based-hitchhiking, but he is betting that his driver won’t be the one to rob or assault him, and at some point, he will be delivered to his destination…most likely. In a taxi, Jim can usually expect to get from point A to point B, though the ride might be harrowing, and the vehicle may be in disrepair and pungent. But if Jim books chauffeured car service, he will expect a courteous, experienced chauffeur and a clean, high-class vehicle.
Spectacular customer service will ensure the future of our industry. Providing our clients with the customer service they expect and deserve is the livery industry’s ace in the hole. Many companies that have failed—US Airways, Circuit City, Borders Books—have done so at least in part because they didn’t anticipate their clients’ needs or invest in customer service.
We in the chauffeured car industry are at a crossroads. We have more competition than ever before, and we can choose to coast on our reputation and do things the way we always have, or we can capitalize on that reputation and become relentlessly committed to giving our customers the best transportation experience possible.