The limousine company owner is angry with his driver. A complaint has come in about the driver’s attitude. He yells, the driver yells back, then it’s over.
The “boss” goes back to dispatching trips, and the driver heads to the airport to make his next pickup. It is a “lose-lose” situation. The angry driver is off to meet a client, while the owner has added more misery to his already stressed-filled workday.
Managing the relationship between the company owner and the driving staff is one of the most important challenges an operator will face. Maintaining a good working relationship with a crew of reasonably happy, productive chauffeurs does not happen by accident. It takes hard work and discipline, but the rewards are a better working environment, better service delivered to your clients and less turnover in your driving staff.
BE HONEST AND FORTHCOMING IN THE HIRING PROCESS
Paul Ford, co-owner of Regal Limousine in North Hampton, NH, manages a driving staff of more than 25 full-time chauffeurs. Ford, a veteran of 17 years in the business, says the first key is hiring a driver for whom the job can work.
“Ask a simple question to yourself: Does this person applying for the chauffeur’s position have a genuine interest in getting behind the wheel and servicing our customers, or is he or she just looking for a job? My experience tells me that when they are just looking for a job, they do not last very long,” Ford says. “It costs so much time and effort to properly train someone that I would rather lose work than put a driver on the road whom I know will not likely succeed.”
Ford says it is important to give prospective chauffeurs an accurate job description. “Listen to them and paint an accurate picture of the work involved. Sometimes when you are interviewing job applicants, they are so focused on getting the job that they do not listen carefully. They say what they think you want to hear. Make sure they listen to you about the job and their responsibilities. I also give them accurate information on what our drivers are typically earning. You cannot make promises to them that you cannot keep.”
TRAIN YOUR CHAUFFEURS CAREFULLY
Studies show that the number-one reason employees leave their job is not for a better salary. Rather, employees leave because they feel they have received inadequate training for their current job.
Resist the urge to put any drivers on the road before they are fully trained. Even if you are a single-car operator, resist the urge to throw somebody on the road to cover a trip. Ford says, “Train your chauffeurs at a calm, even pace. Take a few days and go over all of the things that are important to you, including the locations of your key clients and your local airport procedures. Make sure the new chauffeur has the paperwork and procedures down cold. Make sure he understands the radio. We use a fairly detailed manual that covers our policies and procedures. Give your new chauffeur the tools to be successful. Send a calm, confident person out on her first trip.”
STAY AWARE OF THE CHAUFFEUR’S RESPONSIBILITIES
Eric Weiner, owner of All Occasion Limousine in Providence, RI, recently celebrated his 10th year in business. The company started with Weiner as the primary chauffeur and one limousine. All Occasion has grown far from its single-vehicle roots to current sales of more than $1 million per year.
“The further you get away from the daily grind of being a full-time chauffeur, the easier the job looks,” Weiner says. “If you can’t see things as a driver does, then you need to drive a few trips yourself or talk to your drivers more. Think about the driver and how he will be affected by every decision you make. Be honest and patient with them and listen. Some of the best decisions I made in the last 10 years came from suggestions my drivers made.”
Weiner says it is not practical to sit down with the entire driving staff as a group, but his door is open for frequent one-on-one contact. “We offer our chauffeurs a week’s paid vacation after a year of employment, and we offer a co-pay for medical insurance,” says Weiner. “In our first few years in business, we could not afford to do this but explained this carefully to our drivers. We let them know exactly what we were doing and where we were headed as a company. This helped us retain drivers.”
Weiner also believes all employees of the company should have an appreciation of the difficult job the driver has. “That driver makes everything happen for us, and we should never lose sight of that or take it for granted.”
In many ways, the driver has become the “customer” in the year 2000. Weiner agrees. “More than half of our full-time drivers have been with us for over two years,” he says. “We know that a good driver can always find another job. So it is important that everything about the chauffeur’s position be as good as it possibly can be—from the condition of the cars to the attitude of the office staff toward chauffeurs.”
MAKE DRIVERS FEEL LIKE THEY ARE PART OF SOMETHING
On the whole, limousine operators have a much higher retention rate for office personnel than for outside driving staff. “The internal staff members have a fairly conventional job,” Ford says. “They work regular hours. They have friends they interact with every day. They celebrate birthdays at work. There is camaraderie that people draw strength from every day. The chauffeurs generally do not have this.”
BostonCoach uses a team approach to its large driving staffs. The company assigns each chauffeur to an internal team and gives prizes and incentives to teams that reach service goals. There is a team leader who meets regularly with team members. Cash prizes and other rewards are provided.
The team approach may be effective in larger companies, but what about the average limousine company with a half-dozen vehicles and drivers. Ford recommends: “Communicate with your drivers every day. We remember each driver’s birthday. Make sure the office staff is friendly and positive with them. Take the time as an owner to maintain an open-door policy. Let them know what is going on at your company. Anything you can do to limit their isolation helps. Also, make sure every driver has a regular day off.”
Weiner has an office and a garage that are miles apart. His drivers are even more “isolated” as a practical matter. “It makes it even more important to communicate with our drivers,” he says. “You don’t see them when they return from a trip. You may not hear little comments or complaints. I make a daily effort to listen to my drivers.”
DON’T DWELL ON MISTAKES
A veteran chauffeur working for a large national limousine company recently said, “I do 100 trips in a month without incident or complaint. Then I make a mistake and I am late for a pickup. My boss goes nuts. It is as if the 100 perfect runs never happened. I wish they would let go of the mistakes and not dwell on them.”
Arthur Pell, Ph.D., a well-known management consultant, believes in a simple system of “affirmative discipline” in dealing with employees. In his book, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Managing People,” Pell says: “The correct way to handle mistakes by your employees is to give the offending employee an opportunity to change his or her behavior and become a productive, cooperative team member. Don’t dwell on the fact of how costly it was for the company when the employee was late. Focus on how to prevent this problem from recurring.”
Pell believes the biggest mistake employers make is treating their employees like children. “Many companies have done away with punishment, based on the logic that employees are adults, adults take responsibility for their own actions, and punishment is therefore childish.”
Pell says these companies set clear rules and responsibilities for each employee they hire. The employee signs an agreement to follow these rules at the time of hire. Mistakes by the employee are treated as a violation of the agreement signed by the two parties. Pell says that companies using affirmative discipline report significantly less turnover in staff.