By Bob Crescenzo, vice president, Lancer Insurance Company
No matter the type of excursion—convention, wedding, day outing, or sporting event—customers rely on you to provide safe and professional service throughout the duration of the trip. The time to start planning how you will manage the transportation and well-being of the passengers actually begins when the trip is booked.
Your plan should encompass proper communication and training to address a range of challenges, from effectively meeting customers’ expectations to dealing with unruly passengers who may put others’ safety at risk.
Communication is Key
Your reservation staff plays a vital role in the communication process. These employees gather and relay critical information necessary for customer satisfaction and profitability.
To help create a roadmap to success, you must have a procedure in place that ensures that the individuals who book your reservations collect the RIGHT information up front to determine whether a trip matches your services and availability. The information collected should answer the following questions:
- What does the customer expect from your company, vehicle(s), and driver(s)?
- What exactly does the customer think they are booking?
- Are you able to meet customer expectations with the services you offer?
While your company may not specialize in party vehicles, for example, that does not mean potential clients will not think they can turn your buses into a party on wheels! Never assume customers know what you will and won’t provide. Even the shortest trips can become high risk if there are unrealistic expectations on the part of your customers, or if communication is poor within your organization.
Therefore, your reservation staff must convey clearly at the time of booking your company’s ability to meet customer’s expectations. Employees should be specific about the services you offer, what is and is not permitted, and how you handle disruptive or aggressive passengers.
This message should also be reinforced at each client contact prior to the trip since frequent and documented communication is the best way to satisfy customer expectations, and manage a difficult situation before it happens. Your goal is to turn customers into repeat customers, and that often comes down to simple, professional communication about your services and how they will be delivered.
Train Staff in Customer Service
Your company is in the customer service/hospitality business, and how the staff you’ve employed deals with customers determines whether they’ll be returning, or whether they’ll be taking future trips with another motorcoach company. While some aspects of good customer service might come naturally to some employees, it’s important that every staff member is trained in handling customers, in particular, dealing with difficult ones.
Make sure every person on your staff recognizes what good customer service is, understands your standards and philosophy, and knows how to manage customer expectations. Employees should be trained to be calm, patient, and courteous, and, importantly, how to prevent conflicts. This mindset is particularly useful when dealing with disgruntled customers or unruly passengers, and can help employees de-escalate the occasional difficult situation. It’s not just about the prospect of a dissatisfied customer, but also the possibility of a claim and an impact on your professional reputation and company’s financial health.
Explain Company Guidelines
Whether you’re providing transportation for a wine tour, wedding reception, music and arts festival, or a big family reunion, there are many events that involve the consumption of alcohol. Even when the event itself doesn’t include the use of alcohol, there are passengers from time to time who feel that any trip is reason for a celebration.
Consequently, it’s essential to establish a policy about carrying alcohol and/or illegal drugs on board, the use of alcohol and/or illegal drugs, and transporting intoxicated passengers, if you haven’t already done so. The policy should specifically spell out what is allowed and what is prohibited, and identify what can and cannot be brought aboard your vehicles and in what form. Your policy should also include a phone number to call if there are questions about the situation. That number needs to be accessible at night and on weekends because that is when issues are more likely to occur. You may also want to mention that misconduct will not be tolerated and will lead to the immediate end of the trip.
Your reservation staff should provide a copy of the policy to each customer at the time of booking, and the policy should be presented again prior to the commencement of the trip. If there is a group leader or coordinator, consider having that person acknowledge the policy in writing in advance of the trip.
Also, make certain that all members of your operation, dispatch, and driving staff are aware of the policy, and they receive instruction and training on what to do if a problem arises during a trip. Alcohol, illegal drugs, and sometimes even just the type of event may lead to unruly behavior…and a potential risk to the safe operation of the vehicle. So, your drivers should be empowered to contact law enforcement if they observe any illegal activity, or there is a sense that a situation might get out of control.
Of course, laws vary from state to state regarding the duty of your company and drivers toward intoxicated passengers, so it’s important to be up-to-date on any specific regulations in the areas in which you are providing transportation. In addition, make sure your drivers can contact someone in management at any time during the trip in case they need advice on how to proceed in certain circumstances.
Call for Assistance
Professional drivers interact with a variety of people during the course of their duties. Unfortunately, that includes individuals who cannot control their behavior. If a driver witnesses any conduct or hears some language that is threatening toward them or their passengers, he or she should stop the bus at the first safe location and immediately call 911.
The driver should then advise the offender(s) in a polite, but firm, tone that they are endangering the safety of everyone on board. This could help defuse the situation and give the authorities time to arrive. It is Lancer Insurance Company’s recommendation that the driver avoid requesting the unruly passenger(s) to alight from the vehicle unless there is an immediate threat to the safety and well-being of the other passengers.
If a group coordinator or chaperone is available and capable of helping, that person should be enlisted to assist. But again, the driver should call local law enforcement before any engagement with disruptive passengers, and remain calm and courteous to avoid aggravating the offenders until police arrive to take over. A situation of this type is never easy to deal with and, if your driver loses his or her composure, the scene could escalate into a dangerous and possibly violent incident.
When a disruptive situation occurs, there are quick assessments and actions that drivers must take to manage the risks posed by the unruly individuals and maintain the safe operation of the vehicle. Drivers who are trained to deal with difficult passengers will be better prepared to prevent such incidents from escalating into something more serious, and more likely to make every trip a safe, smooth, and pleasurable one.
If you missed our latest Security Webinar on Oct. 19, you can check out the recording here. You are also invited to join the BISC at it's next in-person meeting, which will feature another TSA presentation and many more. Sign up at https://marketplace.buses.org/.