With the national unemployment rate having reached its highest point in four years – 6.1% in May 2003 compared to a low 3.8% in May 2000 – lots of people are looking for work. But that doesn’t mean that all these job seekers are right for you. You need to be picky because chauffeurs are a company’s storefront and your most direct connection to clients. The quality of the chauffeurs will often make or break a company. “The experience and demeanor of your chauffeurs are absolutely critical to your success,” Tom Mazza
, of the National Limousine Association, told delegates at this year’s LCT Show. “If you have a core of good, quality chauffeurs, you have the opportunity to make some money.” Here are some tips to help you find, recruit and keep the best chauffeurs, based on interviews with some savvy operators.
Pick the Brains of Your Current Chauffeurs
Many limousine operators’ first thought when they need to hire a chauffeur might be to take out an employment ad. But owners and managers, through the years, have consistently told LCT that advertising is their least favorite option when hiring. Their No. 1 option? Ask their existing chauffeurs. “Referrals are by far the best way since you get better quality,” says Jeff Greene, president of Atlanta-based Greene Classic Limousine.
Few know what it takes to be a chauffeur at your company better than those that are already in the job. Therefore, ask your best chauffeurs to suggest prospects. “If they think that a person is not going to be able to take care of your customers, they are not going to refer them because it’s a reflection upon them,” Greene says. One good way to help fuel referrals is to set up an incentive program. Reward current employees either with money or perhaps by offering them a gift or some paid time off. However, your incentive program should require that the employee that makes the referral has to wait a certain amount of time before receiving the reward, as you would want to know for sure that the new hire will work out. “We’ll give $100 to the chauffeur for each person [he/she referred] that remains six months from the time they start,” Greene says. Another way to effectively reward chauffeurs for referrals is to lump the “finder’s fee” in with other items in what Greene calls a point system. Referrals would be assigned points, just like citations, accidents, complaints and violations of company procedures would. “All this is added up [or subtracted from] at the end of the year and determine whether a chauffeur gets a bonus or can go to the next pay level,” he said.
Don’t Underestimate Word of Mouth
If you keep your current chauffeurs happy, they are likely to maintain a positive attitude about you and say positive things about your company to other drivers they meet. “At the airport, all drivers talk,” says Barbara Chirico (formerly Pastelak), president of GEM Limousine Service of Woodbridge, N.J. “Having our chauffeurs at the airport talking good about the company, I think we get a lot of people that way.” If you and your company have a positive word of mouth, good chauffeurs will seek you out, wanting to work for your company if unhappy with their current situation. You could also call up companies that are downsizing or going out of business and let them know that you are hiring chauffeurs, Greene suggests.
Be Specific When You Place an Ad
Should you choose to prospect for chauffeurs via advertising, be sure to pre-qualify. To prevent receiving numerous applications from people who do not meet the standards you require of your chauffeurs – and to save yourself hours of sifting through unwanted applications – Greene suggests listing your requirements in the ad. “We usually express great communication and analyzing skills, good customer service skills, flawless driving record, flexible hours and good decision making process,” he says. Additionally, remember that the average person might have an obscured vision of what the profession “chauffeur” is about. Often times job-seekers see chauffeuring as something glamorous that surely should offer six-figure incomes, or they think “I drive a car every day; driving a limousine can’t be that much different.” Therefore, “We try to make the job not sound as glamorous, so that the applicants that come in are expecting it to be a tough, long, hard job,” Greene explains. “Then they become pleasantly surprised that it’s actually a nice profession.”
Furthermore, since few limousine companies are able to offer chauffeurs a nine-to-five schedule, you should mention in your ad that flexible working hours are a must. Some operators who advertise request that prospects apply in person. This not only allows you to quickly assess their appearance – you want a person to look professional – but you can also observe their people skills. For example, if an applicant comes across as honest and pleasant, that very well might mean that he or she would treat your client favorably as well. Another benefit of asking prospects to apply in person is that you can inspect their driving records and licenses up front. “You have to have a persistent, good screening process,” Greene says, “since the quality [of applicants] coming in [from advertisements] is not as good as from referrals.”
Personality Can’t Be Trained; Bad Habits Can
“Hire nice people; everything else can be trained,” according to the NLA’s Mazza. If you cannot find an applicant that has all the qualifications and the demeanor you had hoped for, you might be better off hiring an applicant that has the right attitude. Providing limousine service is about being in the service business more so than in the transportation business, so “in order to be successful, you really should go by the Ritz Carlton philosophy; that you hire by personality more so than the driving,” Greene says. With that in mind, someone new to the industry might be preferable to someone with lots of experience.
“We don’t exclude anyone,” says Barbara Chirico. “We look for experienced or inexperienced [chauffeurs], because you can train [inexperienced chauffeurs] your way. We try to let anyone apply. Once they are here, we can interview them and see who would fit in and who wouldn’t.” “I think you have to take everything into consideration, though,” she continues. “You have to look at the person, their personality, their appearance, and their driving skills.” Also, if an applicant hands you a resume that lists all or some of your competitors, one begs to know why that applicant is no longer with those companies. That’s not to say that you should stay away from all experienced applicants, but be sure to check their references to find out why – and how – they left their previous chauffeur positions. If a chauffeur was fired by one of your competitors for less-than-preferable driving skills, for example, chances are you would not want that person working as a chauffeur at your company. “Once people are set in their ways, whether it’s with their personality or demeanor, how they speak, or [their] driving, it’s hard to change them,” Chirico notes. “It’s like trying to teach an old dog new tricks.” Still, terminations are often due to personality conflicts, Chirico cautions, and not necessarily due to the chauffeur being “a bad chauffeur.” “Some people have a personality conflict with dispatchers – you hear that a lot,” she explains. “The dispatcher just didn’t get along with the driver so [the driver] moves on to a different company. In that case, where he’s been a good driver for somebody else, he can work out and be a good driver for you.”
Don’t Ignore the Part-Timers
Someone looking for part-time work is not “half as capable” to serve your company’s needs. Many times good, quality people who have full-time jobs in other industries are looking to add to their income and could do well as a part-time chauffeur. “I am finding more and more that part-time chauffeurs are becoming very valuable,” says Jeff Greene. “In our business, there are peaks and valleys. And in these valleys, [full-time] drivers are just sitting around with nothing to do. With part-timers, you are able to staff for the peaks. And the quality of a part-time chauffeur is excellent.” Also, it can be easier to fill weekend and late-night shifts with part-time chauffeurs, since part-timers go into the job knowing, wanting and expecting to work odd hours, being that most work or go to school elsewhere during the weekdays.
Look to Other Service Industries
It can be worth your while to look into hiring and training people that come out of other service industries, such as restaurants and hotels. “The people in those professions are usually in the same time frame as we are; most already work 24/7,” says Barbara Chirico. “We also look into the retired and firemen and policemen. Because of their schedules, they have some added time off that works out good for us.” Adds Jeff Greene: “A lot of people say the truck driving industry [is a good place to look], but I haven’t found that to be the case. I find truck drivers to be not as refined as a chauffeur should be.” “I do find that individuals that have been in customer service fields, such as with the Home Depot and K-Mart, seem to be better with the customers,” he continues. “Our industry is not just about driving the vehicle.”
Offer Benefits to Get & Keep Good Help
The best way to attract and obtain quality chauffeurs is to offer them a quality place to work. Offering benefits is a good way to get – and keep – great chauffeurs, Chirico notes. “Treat your chauffeurs right, be fair, and they’ll treat your customers right,” she says. “They’ll treat my customers the way I treat them.” “Especially in this day and time,” Greene adds, “if you want your chauffeurs to be loyal to you, you have to be loyal to them. They have to know that if they are right, you are going to stand behind them, and if they are wrong, you are going to slap them on the wrist.”