Top-of-the-line, elite chauffeured service is not a uniquely American concept. The protocols in each foreign country may vary, but formality and finesse do not need to stay within borders.
Around the world, certain countries practice a more regimented chauffeured trade than those with a laissez-faire approach to ground transportation.
Operators from abroad see their efforts to enhance training as a competitive advantage for both consumers and corporate clients where professionalism, service, safety and quality vehicle transportation are expected. Many handle international clients from the U.S., thereby inspiring them to reach high standards. As it turns out, the lessons on professionalism can cross the oceans in either direction, as European operators who recently spoke with LCT prove.
In the U.K., for example, operator licensing is costly and regulations vary among regions, but London is the strictest and most expensive, says Nadeem Ajaib, founder and CEO of ICONA GLOBAL. London requires a five-year criminal background check plus a medical examination, and prospective chauffeurs must possess a valid driver’s license for more than three years and be over the age of 23, Ajaib says. In addition, drivers must take a basic map reading and orientation test. However, there is no mandatory extended training.
“We go beyond the basic government regulations,” Ajaib said. “We select our drivers based on very strict criteria, including a tough interview and formal assessments as part of the initial screening process. . . and our mental, physical and medical tests are tougher than those required by licensing authorities.”
In addition, new recruits are subject to various rounds of interviews and tests, he said. “Our chauffeurs usually have advanced driving skills qualifications and/or a government certificate in professional and safe driving. In fact, many of our drivers have backgrounds as either special forces, military or police.”
Ajaib stressed his chauffeurs only take on work after they have gone through rigorous training that includes customer care workshops, practical road safety training, and specific accident and client-focused training. “All of our training is especially important because our clients include very high-end corporate executives from some of the biggest companies in the world, members of the Royal families, and very high-end, net-worth individuals — geographical knowledge and training on the fastest and best routes is a must for us.”
In Ireland, a chauffeur and vehicle must have a separate Public Service Vehicle License (P.S.V.). To earn a license, a driver must pass a local geography test and the vehicle must undergo an annual “suitability” test for a license to be granted.
“For new chauffeurs we have a two-week training program, which we treat like a continuous interview,” said Colin Devine, owner of Dublin-based Devine’s Worldwide Chauffeur Services. Devine noted that his company will hire on “attitude over experience in most cases, and when we recruit we are looking for the person, not the role.” He noted his company provides progressive training and continuous employee development that “keeps us from getting complacent.”
The company’s induction training focuses mostly on knowledge and service etiquette. “We require new chauffeurs to complete an advanced driving assessment with our instructors for safety, and we do a lot of work on our company core values and customer experience,” Devine said. He noted the company also works with tour guide partners to improve and develop local chauffeur knowledge as part of its annual development plan.
“We have a quarterly review process for all chauffeurs that incentivizes and rewards behavior based on our core values. We do a lot of things that are not conventional, but I think it’s good that we are always looking at ways we can move forward and it works for us,” he added.
Devine stressed the company’s emphasis on service. “It’s everything to us. First we track, report and communicate service performance throughout our teams. We work hard to think like our customers and their experience at every interaction and to understand their challenges. Our priority is always to make it easy for our clients to do business with us, and to make sure they know we care.”
European chauffeured transportation operators Colin Devine, Michael Oldenburg, and Nadeem Ajaib know that good service and training only start with the suit. Limo operations must be fully up to speed on all standards and rules, so they can seamlessly accommodate visitors from abroad.
The company conducts ongoing training and workshops internally along with outside trainers who promote service excellence. “We explore new ways to distance the gap between us and competitors in our local market. Most importantly, we have many ways of asking customers how we are doing, and how we can improve. We are fortunate we have very loyal customers and our teams work hard to keep them calling and that’s what drives us. We do a lot of things that are not conventional, but I think it’s good that we are always looking at ways we can move forward — and that works for us.”
In order to legally operate “chauffeured car services” in France, a company must obtain a license from ATOUT France, a government agency, created in 2009, dedicated to the promotion of tourism in France — it’s number one industry, says Valérie Cowan, owner of Gut & Berg Limousines in Paris.
Along with possessing a regular driver’s license for three years, prospective chauffeurs must obtain a special license from the police that mandate a doctor’s visit and drug test, and applicants cannot have criminal histories. Further, applicants must obtain a First Aid certificate, and a certificate of professional training of at least three months.
Training is a full-time commitment that consists of three months of daily eight-hour days, Cowan said. It covers an overview of the job of a chauffeur along with legal rights and obligations.
Training also focuses on how to behave with clients, how to meet their needs, and manage their requests. “This includes everything from the way a chauffeur should address clients — courtesy — and the words they should, and should not, say when meeting clients. Chauffeurs also are instructed on dress codes, hygiene, and their overall appearance, as well as being aware of body language and eye contact,” Cowan adds.
Chauffeurs must understand and provide hints on cultural differences when addressing a client. They should always be able to converse in basic English. On the vehicle side, the training involves maintenance, insurance and liability, and an overview of key traffic regulations.
Michael Oldenburg, CEO and president of United Limousines, with locations throughout Germany, said chauffeurs need a license for “professional passenger transportation,” in addition to a regular driver’s license. Further, a public health officer conducts a physical and mental examination that includes a vision test.
“If a driver wants to work for a chauffeur company located in a city with more than 50,000 inhabitants, the chauffeur has to pass a local area knowledge test provided by the local authority,” Oldenburg said.
He added that if a driver is age 60-plus, a license will be granted or extended only after the chauffeur passes additional tests that include a skills check of a person’s concentration, attention, orientation and response time.
A license can be revoked at any time if the chauffeur violates the law and only allows the chauffeur to transport up to nine passengers, he added.
Oldenburg noted that other than the license requirement, any additional training is up to the company. “Reliable limousine service companies provide additional skills training, focusing on language skills, appearance, manners and empathy. Drivers also are trained on specialized knowledge of certain facilities, such as airports, hotels, road show addresses, and sightseeing spots.”
“Many people today believe that a gentleman in a suit equates to a good chauffeur. We differ strongly,” Ajaib says. “We believe that being a good chauffeur and providing great service to your clients requires far more than that — there is a difference between a driver and a chauffeur, and our diligent checks and complete training ensures that our clients are driven by chauffeurs — not drivers.”