January 2008

Innovative Operator Profile: Keeping Customer Communication Open

by Metro staff

When Cline Tours owner and operator John McCommon bought the company in 1996, it consisted of one bus, one lease operator and focused on charter service. McCommon soon saw the need to create package tours when he noticed that school groups were all booking trips to the same cities.

Responding to this need, Cline Tours began procuring deals with hotels, offering event tickets for day trips and overnight packages, and creating a one-stop shop for customers. The company now offers charter service for company trips, ski trips, family reunions and church functions, in addition to school trips, and has added custom packages for preformed groups. They also specialize in travel to cities such as Memphis, Tenn., and Chicago.

Cline Tours handles all this steadily growing business with a uniquely new fleet. The oldest coach is an MCI J4500 2005 model, and they have already obtained one 2008 MCI J4508 model. “Owning one of the newer fleets in the business generates lots of activity and excitement. Everybody wants to ride on the new motorcoaches,” says McCommon.

To ensure quality customer service, employees from the charter sales department call about trips that are still pending by about two weeks to check in with customers. “Lots of our trips are booked several months in advance, so there’s a silent period. We call to see where they are with the trip, go over the details of location, payment, etc.,” says McCommon. The staff also sends thank you cards and notes to customers.

As an added measure to keep communication constant, Mc Common puts the drivers in touch with customers well in advance of the trip. “The driver and customer need to be in-sync to create a rapport before they meet,” says McCommon. Cline Tours has provided this extra touch for the last eight years. The driver calls two to four days prior to the trip, so the plans will be fresh in everybody’s mind. Everyone involved likes it, McCommon adds, because it eliminates potential miscommunications.

For the past eight years, Cline Tours has reached out to areas well beyond Mississippi, mailing brochures to schools and churches in Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and Louisiana. A professional designer creates brochures that reach about 15,000 customers and potential customers. ”This has been a program that has grown pretty steadily. It reaches the greatest portion of our customers,” McCommon says. “Schools and churches don’t change (as much as other customer bases).”

Currently, the U.S. Department of Transportation is inspecting the entire Cline Tours fleet and using its motorcoaches to train new DOT inspectors, for which McCommon expresses his support. “We want people to know that we work to have the safest, best maintained fleet, and to minimize accidents,” he says.

For safety, Cline Tours uses satellite GPS, and will soon install on-board cameras and accident recorders on all of their buses. They are currently in the selection phase of choosing optimal equipment. The company also has a driver trainer assigned in each location to monitor the drivers’ performance on a daily basis. The state of Mississippi has a third-party tester, certified to monitor and train drivers. The company pays them to come to the work site yearly to certify the drivers with a written and road test.

To stress the importance of customer service, every two and a half months McCommon holds driver training sessions. The instructors, generally from the area, range from consultants to motivational speakers to football coaches and teachers. Speakers are chosen based on the topic to be covered (safety, hospitality, customer care, etc.), with training held in all three locations. “Instructors discuss with the employees what it means to work for and be part of Cline Tours,” says McCommon. 

At a Glance

Motorcoaches: 34

Fleet mix: MCI

Employees: 88

Drivers: 50

Service area: Primarily the Southeastern region (but will travel anywhere in the U.S.)

Services: Charter and some package tours for school trips

Annual mileage: 1.5 million

Year started: 1983

President: John McCommon, owner and operator, President of Trailways Memphis, Tenn., location


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