By Bruno Teixeira
It’s 5 p.m. and an email lights up your phone. One of your chauffeurs was late picking up a client, they then hit traffic, and the client missed their flight. The actions you take from that point have a direct impact on how much damage is done to your business.
Disruptions of any kind in the transportation industry are likely to have severe consequences: CEOs could be late for a critical meeting; brides could be late to weddings; groups could lose expensive reservations.
An unhappy client is much more than a single lost customer. Imagine a high-level executive calling out your company to a room full of your potential clients. It could go one of two ways: He could detail how your transportation service went above and beyond when traffic nearly derailed getting his executives to the meeting on time. Fortunately the chauffeur knew a way around the scene and got them there early—best case scenario! But, more likely, he could vent about the time that you caused several of his executives to miss the company event because the chauffeur was late and suddenly, a dozen or more future (or current) prospects are in jeopardy. Doors close, and your credibility falls. With the constant in-your-face marketing of the digital age and the continued popularity of TNCs, these prospects have plenty of choices for transportation, and yours won’t be one of them.
So how can you minimize damage to your company’s credibility and bottom line?
1. Stop the Bleeding
The chauffeur must report the issue to the appropriate person immediately so that a manager (preferably you or an executive officer of your company) can contact the client before they arrive at their destination. You can begin to salvage the relationship with your client by first apologizing, then explaining the steps that you will take to prevent the issue from happening again. This will vary for each disruption of service. If your chauffeur arrived late, for example, let the client know that their next chauffeur will stage on location 30 minutes in advance instead of 15. Everyone involved should show genuine remorse and empathy to remind the client that they are dealing with humans.
This immediate contact makes the client feel valued and respected, and gives them a far less damaging story to tell when they arrive at their destination. Moreover, it is the first and most important step in handling a service incident.
2. Investigate and Adapt
You or the person you appointed to make the call should gather details about the incident from the chauffeur and the client, either during the initial contact, or shortly after. Do not wait for a client to complain to gather information, because they most likely won’t call; your business must take the initiative. You should assure the client that you will investigate the incident to fully understand the source of the problem. This allows you to effectively implement a solution to avoid similar issues in the future, and also reinforces your responsibility to the client.
Most disruptions in our industry are caused by a handful of problems that can be fixed with proper diligence. It’s important to keep track of every incident so that you can cross-reference them and adjust your process each time something goes wrong. This is a gradual evolution that takes time and may be a different experience for each business. No service will ever be foolproof, but being perfect is not the goal: Being proactive and adaptable is.
3. Follow Up
Finish the resolution by connecting with your client one last time. You or the manager who made the initial contact should explain the exact changes that were made in detail but with plain language. Explain both companywide changes to your process as well as client-specific adjustments that you have made to better the individual client’s experience. This is a good time to offer some sort of complimentary service or discount, if needed.
A Master Class in Resolution: Mr. B, Owner of Class Act Transportation
I was in my office when I was told that the chauffeur had arrived late for an airport transfer and as a result of our action, the client had missed his flight and had to be taken back home. The client worked for a pharmaceutical company and was scheduled to speak at an event in London the following day.
I called the client, but he refused to take my call, so I jumped in my car and went to his company to speak with the person who was responsible for my account. In route I asked our reservation manager if we had a copy of his airline itinerary to see how much his ticket cost (it was a common practice for travelers to include their airline itinerary with their reservation).
The business class ticket to London was $7,107 round trip. I wrote a check and walked into the purchasing manager’s office, apologized profusely, and handed her the check. She looked at me with dismay, but smiled and told me not to worry—that she would call me the following day.
Fortunately, our company had been sending key performance indicators to this company for several years, which documented our on-time performance and proved that we were reliable—thus meriting us another chance.
Several months later, I was invited to their Vendor Appreciation Golf Tournament. After a round of golf, the event participants all got together for dinner. While I was enjoying dessert, they announced the name of the Supplier of the Year. To my complete surprise, it was my company.
They cited the example of how we handled the incident. I can’t recall the exact words but the speaker remarked that we are all going to have issues and lapses in services but the way we resolve them is what sets us apart from the competition.
The check was never cashed.
This true account of a service incident and resolution exemplifies the importance of immediate action. Though initial contact was unsuccessful, the company owner stopped the bleeding as soon as possible. The relationship was not only salvaged, it was possibly improved.
Clients connect with businesses that feel like they are run by humans. We are made human not by perfection, but by empathy and growth. Taking responsibility for mistakes and showing clients that you care about their experience with your company is the key to handling incidents with finesse.
Bruno Teixeira is a marketing and business consultant, as well as the founder of The Limousine Expert. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.