Wednesday, February 21, 2024

TOPIC: What is an international custom or ritual that you learned about the hard way? How did you or your staff handle it, and what did you learn from it? If you’ve not experienced an accidental misunderstanding over cultural differences, what is an international custom that surprised you to learn about?

Randy Allen James Limousine has had experience with two international groups who called for unique cultural requirements. 

We provide service to executives of a large Japanese company: With them, we are not allowed to use female chauffeurs due to cultural considerations.

We’ve also provided transportation to a group of Muslim students. The males were not allowed to travel in the same vehicle as the female members of the group. The group also presented some challenges when transporting them during observance of Ramadan, when they’re fasting from dawn to dusk.

Randy Allen, Owner/VP of Sales and Marketing
James Limousine Service in Richmond, Va.

Michael Barreto A few years back, one of my clients was traveling to India to do site visits for a large corporation looking to open a data tech center. The trip involved many transfers to different regions of the country from north to south over an eight-day period.

Our vendor partner at the time had made it known to us that during one of the legs of the tour, they would have to swap out vehicles and drivers. I assumed it was for something equivalent to the DOT rules and regulations here in the states. Our partner then told me that was not the case at all: It was because of the unique caste system in his country that the drivers and vehicles would not be allowed access to the areas where our client was traveling, which is why they would have to switch vendors literally on the side of the road at a specific point.

Needless to say, it was a unique experience that we pre-emptively went over with our clients beforehand to make sure they were given full knowledge as to why they would have to move all their belongings—and themselves—from one group of vehicles to another. I found it very disheartening that there are still dramatically defined ethnic classes that do not mix with one another in today’s modern world. We have an ongoing racial equality issue here in the U.S., but not to the point that there are defined geographical boundaries that certain people are allowed to enter while others cannot.

Michael Barreto, Philadelphia Branch Manager
Flyte Tyme Worldwide in Essington, Pa.

Briana Candeub One of the services we provide are roadshows, which have our customers traveling to many different locations to present to analysts, fund managers, and potential investors. Our roadshow clients travel through the Northeast Corridor, arriving from all parts of the United States, as well as from countries all around the globe. Our chauffeurs have gone through many hours of dedicated roadshow training to understand how important these clients are—and how important of a role the chauffeur plays. Unfortunately, dealing with different cultures and religions can get a little bit tricky, which we learned the hard way.

For example, our chauffeur is on the tarmac, his car is immaculate, he is dressed to impress and ready for the day ahead. From the second the clients stepped out of their private jet and walked over to the chauffeur, he had already disrespected their customs by not approaching them first. The chauffeur went through the day, doing everything he was trained to do perfectly—but his best still fell short. It wasn’t up to the clients’ standards because something that seems so simple and accepted in America is very offensive in the Asian culture. The clients felt disrespected and were not happy with the chauffeur we had provided them.

Our remedy: Immediately following this roadshow, we did our research with our affiliate and educated ourselves on how we can improve our service. We adapted to and learned about Asian customs and culture, and the relationship that the chauffeur must build with the client in his care. Moving forward, all of our roadshow chauffeurs now go through Asian sensitivity training. This has led to greater cultural success between our chauffeurs, affiliates, and clients.

Briana Candeub, Client Development Manager
Park Avenue Limousine in Trevose, Pa.

Wes Hart I had traveled a lot before I purchased my company but it was mainly domestically, which meant I had limited firsthand experience dealing with our international client base. 

One large customer was a Japanese firm: My chauffeurs kept complaining that they weren’t getting any tips and didn’t want to drive those customers. I spoke with the travel manager and found out that we should have been adding the gratuity to the invoice, as it’s not in their custom to tip. We also learned how punctual they were: If we were scheduled to pick up someone from that company at 4:30 a.m., we could arrive at 4 a.m. and they would already be waiting on the car to arrive.

Wes Hart, Director of Operations
American Corporate Transportation in Houston, Texas

Ed Kahakauwila There are many cultural differences that you may face, and you have to be aware of them when you’re mixing protocol and a hint of religion. It is always important to understand the nature of your guests and ensure that your reservationists have asked if the clients have any special preferences or require additional accommodations. If someone else is handling the booking for these clients, they generally are very good about providing this information but don’t always provide a complete picture—like how some cultures and countries don’t include tips.

I just had situation a few weeks ago where we were handling members of the Saudi Arabian royal family here in Victoria. In that case, it was key to ensure that any staff (namely chauffeurs) who would personally handle them had a full understanding of their customs; for example, never extend your hand unless initiated by the male client and never accept the hand of the female client, and all conversation must be with the male party and not entail any references to any female members of the party. When dispatching this kind of run, it can be especially important to know that, if a company employs female chauffeurs, sending a woman to pick up the client would create a cultural incident.

While it is understood that your passenger is visiting a foreign location with customs different from theirs, it is equally important to know that the reason they booked a car service is to ensure they have a high degree of understanding toward their own needs and cultural expectations.

My company culture is simple: Know what you need to know and ask when you don’t know. Training will never be complete and learning is a result of living it.

Ed Kahakauwila, President
L.A. Limousines & Transportation Services in Victoria, British Columbia

Wendy Kleefisch We’ve found that, oftentimes, international clients don’t speak English very well—and sometimes, not at all—which brings the potential for miscommunication.

That has been solved by emailing, and converting prices for them so they understand the dollar amount being billed to them. From my experience, I would advise others to run credit cards for international services in advance, as some of them just don’t work in the United States (the clients’ bank is trying to protect them outside their country). Try explaining a declined card to someone with a limited understanding of English who insists that they’re using “a good card.”

When working with affiliates I have met through the trade shows, I don’t worry as much and enjoy working with them. International affiliates are challenging, as there is a huge time difference and you must be staffed 24/7 for them. We recently received a reservation from Korea, which has a 13-hour time difference, so you never know when the phone might ring!

Wendy Kleefisch, Owner
Brevard Executive Limousine in Indialantic, Fla.

Jeff Shanker Over the 52 years we’ve been in business, trial and error has taught us to be sensitive to our clients’ nationalities and cultures. We’ve had clients whose culture dictates that they only deal with male chauffeurs, and the language barrier can always be an issue. We’re located about 50 miles from New York and have a very diverse workforce that speaks many different languages, so we always make the effort to pair them unless the client requests otherwise. We’ve trained our chauffeurs in certain instances to meet clients with a nod of the head instead of a handshake, but in all cases, to follow the lead of the passenger. A few years ago, a local client arranged for the pickup of a firebrand public figure who was not only outspoken in his criticism of a certain religion, but also offensive to many regardless of religion. When we found out who the passenger was, we made sure that the chauffeur assigned to the run would neither be offended by nor offend the client.

Jeff Shanker, Executive Vice President
A-1 Limousine in Princeton, N.J.

Brandan Stein As we’ve been operating worldwide over the past 20 years, we’ve learned the importance of watching the exchange rate when giving a client a price quote. Also, certain vendors’ operating hours are much different than ours. Some of the vendors still operate with old technology, which makes it difficult with dispatch boards, and we’re always checking the types of vehicles. We also need to confirm their invoice cycles, as our customers like to be invoiced ASAP.

Brandan Stein, President/COO
Exclusive Sedan Service in North Hollywood, Calif.

Scott Woodruff While working with the Chinese Delegation, we had a couple of things that were lost in translation. We figured it all out in the end, but it was super important to slow down all the communication with them to make sure everything was being explained thoroughly and that they understood what we meant. When we rented the moving trucks, I think they were expecting something much different than what we got. Even small scuffs inside the vehicles were an issue for them.

The other difficulty we had when they all arrived was that everyone wanted to be in charge. It was very interesting because I had been working with a woman to set up the whole thing, but when all the men arrived, they expected her to step aside even though they had no idea what was going on. It really complicated the communication process because they did not speak English very well, and they didn’t understand why I had to run all the information of changes past my contact—as she was the one paying the bill.

Scott Woodruff, President
Majestic Limousine & Coach in Des Moines, Iowa

We’ve loved hearing your answers to our benchmarking questions since debuting this interactive section—but we always welcome suggestions for future topics, too!

Have you wondered how others in the industry have tackled a concern you’re currently facing, handled a delicate issue, implemented a certain policy, or do you simply want to propose a topic for our consideration?

Send an email to rob@chauffeurdriven.com and you just might see your query answered in a future issue. We look forward to your input!