My story and why I developed LimoLive24.com .
Written by Kurt von Strasser III
Okay… much thought here… so prepare for a long one.
I hear it all the time. “No one is going to answer the phones the way I do.” “No one will deliver the service the way the owner does.” “No contractor cares as much as we do here at the office.” “In-house employees are the only motivated employees you can use.” “You shouldn’t use a call center.”
Really? So that means because I want to be successful I have to have only in-house staff, spending ON AVERAGE a real cost of $2500 per month or more, PER EMPLOYEE to staff my phones for 40 hours per week coverage? You mean I have to spend $10,000 per month for 24 hours coverage because there is no alternative (unless I want to give up my life, my family and my most precious asset on this planet – TIME and do it myself) because no one will answer a phone and treat customers exactly like I do? Do you think that a call center, getting paid by your company and which can be canceled at any moment (with no wrongful termination suit I may add), doesn’t care EVEN MORE about providing quality service?
Excuse me but what a load of B.S. Everything is relative. Decision making is a complex process based on the objectives behind the decisions. Because I am not answering my phones myself, I am not professional? Because I would rather pay a business process outsourcing company like LimoLive24 $1200 per month and take the other $8,800 per month (that’s $105,600 per YEAR savings folks) and spend it on my kids education, my family and my future, I am not putting my clients first? Hogwash.
Having been at the “C” level in companies for the past 20 years, from start-ups with 10 employees to multi-branch operations with well over 500. I can tell you that in-house is NOT always the right solution. Why?
Well, let’s start with the fact that doing it all in-house it is just downright expensive. You are paying by the hour and no small business can make hourly staff completely efficient. Most cannot even afford to staff it no matter how much they want or need to.
THE REAL COST OF EMPLOYMENT.
Not only are you paying for eight hours and getting only eight hours for that $2500 per month per head, you have to deal with workers compensation, unemployment insurance, state tax, federal tax, social security tax, health care, health care tax, wrongful termination, on the job injuries, and more. Then there is the interviewing and interviewing and interviewing (yes I meant to say that three times) and pre-hire testing and pre-hire drug screening and pre-hire background, and then you hire and try to train. Queue the next round of costs while you pay one employee doing nothing productive while another gets only half their work done training. Then they quit. Or don’t work out. They make mistakes, costing you a few clients. You fire. They quit. You start it all over again. Welcome to the world of employing people. Worse, you invest all that time and money and it is usually the employee that determines how long they work there. Of course you do your best to create the right environment (queue more money being spent) but in the end, can you control a bad attitude? A spouse getting relocated? A death in the family? There are a lot of moving parts and you only control a few of them.
That’s not to say that you can’t get great people. But who has the time, the money, the patience and can afford the interruption in their work flow to do this for the five positions you will have to fill to cover your phones with only ONE PERSON 24/7? What happens to your business and your wallet while all this is going on? I will tell you, it gets wiped out. I know, I ran several limousine companies and I watched the money go…
Today I cannot imagine being chained to the phone as I was with my limo businesses, not able to take the wife to dinner without bringing a laptop and having my cell go off five times, etc. After buying out a partner and moving into the office full time, I went my first two years without a vacation and being woken up at all hours of the night with everything from a driver in an accident to a drunk asking for a taxi ride home. We had two reservation agent / dispatchers but that only covered 80 hours per week. That is until the economy fell off a cliff and then it got even worse. Nothing screened the calls. I can still remember taking my nephew to the zoo one Sunday, my wife carrying my laptop in her backpack… and stopping constantly so I could answer the phone and take bookings with all the noise and chatter in the background. It ruined the day and was unprofessional to my callers. He was stricken with cancer the following year and I felt awful, like I had completely misplaced my priorities. When I assigned this to the operations manager to start helping on off hours, we quickly burned him out and caused great resentment, even with the extra pay we provided. I took a great employee and ruined him, all because I just did not have cash flow to “staff up” the way I would have wanted.
SOMETHING WAS WRONG – THEN I READ “THE FOUR HOUR WORKWEEK”
For me the equation did not fit. I wound up working for the company instead of the business working for me. I had lost the reason why I started the business being drawn into it 24/7 at the expense of all else. I was so focused on the business, there was no focus on me, my family and why I was really doing all this. There was no balance in my life. I decided was not in business to have the business run me. Something was wrong. Read the book “The Four Hour Work Week.” It will open your eyes to a different business world.
I woke up that day. I realized that I am an entrepreneur. A businessman. Not just a limo operator. It was okay to like what I did, but I was not in “blind love” anymore. It was a means to the life I wanted to achieve and of course, to do that I needed to be rational, thoughtful and treat it as a business. Of course I wanted to always be professional and provide the best service I could. But I also owed it to my family and to my business (and to me), to make sure my business decisions focused on running a healthy business, and focused on keeping me healthy as well.
The Single Most Common Complaint I have Heard at Limo Trade Shows
The single most common complaint I hear? Well it is more of a theme, actually: “This business is killing me. I have no time. No life.” More recently “No money.”
That’s when I decided that I was going to try to change all that for others. If I could build a team, a set of processes and solid technology solutions that would make their lives better, solve this problem, then I would become successful myself in the process! It was so pervasive, so common to so many limousine operators that I knew a solution to this complaint meant success. Further, if I could give them a true competitive advantage, even beyond the cost savings, such as giving them access to things they could not do on their own, then I could become more successful as they succeeded. LimoLive24 was born.
Limo Answering Services
As a former limo operator I too would say “stay away from an answering service.” An answering service being one that only takes messages. As a specialized Business Process Outsourcing company, I have to step in and say that what we do is far different from an answering service… it actually duplicates a lot of what you can do at your office.
Unfortunately, whether you hire an employee to take care of your off hours work or you hire a BPO like LimoLive24, it does take time to learn the ropes. We usually estimate that it takes agents 30 days or so to really get to know a member’s operations, especially if we are only covering it part time. We are not clairvoyant. We have to learn what you want and how you want things done.
I will also say that much also depends on what we are contracted to do and how complicated the operations are and how well or not well “systemized” the limo company is. We are not always the perfect fit. Most of the time we are and a long term relationship results.
Answering services have their function. If you use them right primarily to take messages and screen calls, they can cover when you really need it. Does it replace you on the phone? No way. Does that mean that you should be handcuffed to the phone 24/7? If that is really what you want for your life. You should balance life and base your decisions on what is important to you.
Is LimoLive24.com a perfect replacement for every limo company’s in-house staff or the owner themselves? Not always. Does it deliver a sincere bang for the buck? Absolutely. And because we can duplicate your office, doing almost everything you can, most importantly your customers don’t know you have outsourced at all. That’s why we prefer to work right in your livery software, such as LimoAnywhere, Unified Livery Systems or Corporate Car Online, so we can call up account info, existing reservations and duplicate your office’s capabilities.
I might add that it is not uncommon for us to encounter limo operators that are doing it all “in their head.” No rate charts, no clear policies, no documentation, no rates in their livery software, etc. We have set up many companies that lacked this info and you can imagine trying to train an in-house employee with no operations manual, price sheets, etc. It would be a nightmare. Sometimes there is little understanding of what it takes to have others duplicate what is done by an owner who has done things themselves forever. We work hard to help them to get things documented and structured just so we can do a good job for them and they can expand their companies on a firm foundation.
The surest way I know to grow your company is to make money… today & every day.
If you want to be successful, then put money in the bank that is yours… EVERY DAY. If you do that, you have reserves. You can survive trouble. You will have money. If your revenues fall, you need to cut costs first, keep the doors open and then find other solutions to replace the lost revenues and resume an upward climb. If your business model is no longer making a profit, find a new one that does. If you do not have a unique advantage over your competitors, you better find one. If you can’t do this, then sell the company.
There is something to be said about being able to cover off hours, add Web Chat, Text/SMS support, 24 hour email support, phone coverage and access to your software to perform most of the services you can from your office. It may not always be perfect when you are sharing agents across multiple companies, but it IS cost effective. Will it be exactly the same as an employee in house that you watch over every minute. No, probably not. Will most things be handled correctly? Will your callers be greeted with a smile and energy? Will your customers feel well taken care of? Absolutely.
REALIZE WHAT IT MEANS TO SPEND $8,800 PER MONTH
So to make an honest evaluation, you have to ask “ What do I have to earn in booked business, every month, to cover $8800 more than I pay a BPO like LimoLive24 for full 24/7 coverage? Well, if you manage to get to the unusually lucrative 25% NET profit margin, you have to book four times that amount of business, or $35,200 EVERY MONTH to pay for those full time employees to cover your phones. I don’t know about you, but in today’s limo business I think that is a lot to ask a limo company owner to magically sell every month just so they are not handcuffed to the phone!
Bringing you technologies & services smaller companies can’t normally afford.
Like all businesses we are learning as we go and get new members in, new requests, encounter problems, etc. We completely revamped our training and certification, technologies, database (our new SQL system is now tied to our SugarCRM system which gives tabbed data on each member’s company, such as rates, fleet, policies, location, services, POI’s, Airports, etc.) and so on. We invested a lot in our automation and the new WebChat, Text/SMS systems are really exciting stuff… things that a smaller company just would not be able to do on their own. Soon we will have a custom icon on your Smartphone with your limo company name on it. One click and you are live with an agent. Try that in-house. It isn’t easy or inexpensive. It just is not withing reach of smaller companies or they would be doing it now.
In The End, Your Limo Company Should Enable Freedom, Financially and with your Time
Any consideration of contracting (outsourcing your call center) to others obviously has risks and limitations. Sure, there are advantages to covering the phones yourself. But what is your life, every day of life you spend on this wonderful little blue ball in space, actually worth to you? How do you want to spend it? Sure in-house employees give you greater control. But at what cost? When does it make sense to use them and when doesn’t it? These are questions smart operators are asking themselves.
What is the true value of outsourcing for 25 cents on the dollar, and getting the technology,multi-channel customer care, 24/7 hours of coverage, training, professionalism, etc.? What is that really worth to you? I bet its worth more than LimoLive24 costs.
I think the key is having realistic expectations of what you are going to get and the value that it provides you for what you spend. If outsourcing doesn’t make sense for your business, then simply don’t do it. But make sure you are making a rational decision, one not clouded in a love so strong for what you do, that you fail to see the ultimate reasons why you are doing it like I did.
Outsourcing is one of the largest, most successful industries in the USA Today. Why? Because it makes good business sense. Ask Michael Dell why he outsources his technical support or customer care. Or Verizon, or Ford Motor corporation. With today’s economy, you have to run smart or you die a painful death.
If you love your business, but recognize that it is a tool for you to achieve, then you have to consider the role outsourcing can play and how effective it can be at accomplishing your real objectives. How else can you pay a few hundred dollars a month and get all the technology and flexible service coverage that is provided in the BPO model? You can’t. It’s impossible. There’s nothing even close.
In closing, let me say that I have a fond respect for all limo company operators. LimoLive24 is committed to this industry. We participate in and support its trade shows, forums, and associations. We know what you guys go through and how hard it is to be successful in such a low margin, high liability industry where so many variables affect your ability to thrive and survive and there is so much demand on your time. You are a great group with a strong sense of commitment and ability to deal with very trying conditions. You should all be commended. We are proud to be of benefit to those we serve.