The Minority Limousine Operators of America association offers some real-time practical advice on handling the obstacles and frustrations operators are encountering.
More than eight months ago the Chauffeured Transportation Certification Program was introduced by the National Limousine Association (NLA) and Pinnacle Performance Systems at the Limousine & Chauffeured Transportation Show in Las Vegas, NV, at the MGM Grand.
The certification program, which was developed in conjunction with the National Safety Council, is multilevel and requires a company owner to utilize only Cadillac Master Coachbuilder (CMC) or Qualified Vehicle Modifier (QVM) limousines by the year 2000. The program also includes a defensive driving and approved safety course, a drug and alcohol testing program, and a variety of classes to improve the business skills and professionalism of a limousine service.
The Chauffeured Transportation Certification Program was launched to recognize and reward excellent service, to create uniform safety guidelines and standardization, and to help reduce the cost/risk factor of moving passengers from one destination to another, thus improving the industry’s image.
Domestically, the program was long overdue. It was originally scheduled for introduction in 1999. However, the increased focus on limousine safety, due in part to the limousine accident involving the Detroit Red Wing hockey players and masseur, spurred an earlier release date.
With this in mind, LCT decided to take a look at chauffeur training on a global scale. How do foreign operators train their chauffeurs? What does chauffeur training involve in other countries? What are the requirements for a chauffeur to become “certified” in certain countries or trained to foreign operator standards?
In the United States, creating uniform safety guidelines and standardization for chauffeurs had to be addressed. In other countries, for the most part, training is still determined by company owners.
Lief Mortensen, owner of Denmark Limousine Service (DLS) in Viuf, Denmark, employs more than 40 part-time professional chauffeurs All are licensed, insured, approved by the appropriate Danish state, and checked by the state every year.
“Before a chauffeur is even considered, he or she must have a Danish driver’s license which allows him or her to operate a ‘for-hire’ vehicle,” says Mortensen. “In Denmark you must take a 14-day course, pass a written test, and drive approximately 30 minutes with an officer to obtain a chauffeur’s license.”
DLS’ company training includes in- depth instruction on the following:
Training could take several days, depending on the chauffeur. “After the classroom instruction has been completed, training in the field begins,” says Mortensen. “I sit next to the chauffeur while he or she is driving and act like a client. He must perform appropriately before he is allowed to train with an experienced chauffeur. After a period of weeks, the chauffeur will begin to drive on his own. He begins with weddings, then anniversaries and proms, and finally, business trips and tourists.”
DLS’ written tests consist of the following:
DLS publishes a policy manual that specifies what drivers are required to do during a certain job. “For example, my company has a two-page detailed explanation and illustration of what we expect from our drivers during a wedding,” says Mortensen. “Our chauffeurs cannot have long hair, earrings, or large jewelry. They must speak Danish and English and have an excellent knowledge of our country.”
Mark Cordon, managing director and head chauffeur for Conlon Chauffeured Limousines in Sydney, Australia, says there is no official schooling in Australia. “Most training is on the job,” he says. “Chauffeur candidates are partnered with a senior chauffeur and taken to airports and hotels so they can become familiar with our roads and tourist destinations.”
Conlon is an advocate of implementing a system of formal training similar to what is being done in the United States. “There is currently no certification program in Australia,” he says. “However, there is a need for structure in training. Many chauffeurs are just drivers and not chauffeurs. There is a difference.”
Conlon requires his chauffeurs to read and understand the company chauffeur’s manual, which includes the following information:
According to Conlon, chauffeur etiquette in Sydney is very similar to the United States. “We still use a few British traditions,” he says. “We are courteous at all times; provide assistance with luggage; never eat, drink, or smoke while in the presence of a client and do not linger around the vehicle when waiting to pick up a client.”
Conlon says an Australian chauffeur does not speak unless spoken to. “It’s most important for the chauffeur to realize that the client may not want to talk, just rest, after a long flight,” he says. “However, if the customer wants to chat, our chauffeurs are friendly and knowledgeable about their city and country.”
Puerto Rican Training Rigorous
Puerto Rico is a world leader in demanding that only trained, knowledgeable personnel be allowed on the road. To become a certified chauffeur in Puerto Rico drivers are required to adhere to the following three processes:
- Customer service.
- Personal improvement.
- The history of Puerto Rico with an emphasis on tourist attractions of Old San Juan.
- Basic English and Spanish both written and verbal.
Chauffeur candidates must also attend a one-day conference sponsored by Puerto Rico’s regulatory agency that includes safe driving instruction, Puerto Rican laws, regulation, and testing.
Ricardo Santos, president of First Class Chauffeurs in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, endorses the practice of requiring drivers to adhere to a tough set of rules.
“Our company motto is called “Unique Selling Proposition (USP),” says Santos. “Our chauffeurs study and practice the art of fine chauffeuring and adhere to a 10-point system. The system emphasizes excellence in all areas of chauffeuring, including possessing all the required licenses, three years of experience in the tourism industry, and the ability to speak both English and Spanish, as well as other requirements.
Brain Beaulieu, president of Bennington Limousines in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, is currently involved with the new Chauffeured Transportation Certification Program that recently debuted in the United States. “We believe this is a breakthrough program for the industry,” says Beaulieu. “Our chauffeur training currently consists of two days of training with one of our top chauffeurs. There is also a written test that asks candidates what they would do in certain situations. The exam also thoroughly tests new chauffeurs on their knowledge of the area.”
Beaulieu requires his chauffeurs to wear a dark suit, white shirt, conservative tie, and black leather shoes. “We do not require our chauffeurs to wear hats or gloves,” he says.
According to Beaulieu, there is no structure to chauffeur training in Canada. “Each company decides how they are going to train their drivers,” says Beaulieu. “That’s why the chauffeured Transportation Certification Program is so important, I’m a big proponent of safety and proper chauffeur etiquette.”
Henry Foo, owner of lion Tourist in Singapore, submits his chauffeurs to a rigorous training regimen. “Unless the chauffeur has a reputation for providing excellent service, we will require every chauffeur to have a vocational license from the Land Transport Authority before the company employs them,” says Foo. “In order to obtain a vocational license, the chauffeur will be tested on basic rules and regulations. He or she must also have a clean driving record.”
Foo utilizes his senior drivers in the training process. “Drivers are trained in the field by experienced chauffeurs,” he says. “New drivers are also required to go on coach tours so they can learn this aspect of the business, as well as learn about the country’s history and landmarks. Our chauffeurs are also required to attend seminars, conventions, and trade shows.”
Neven Rendic, owner of Royale Limousine Service in Santiago, Chile, also requires his chauffeurs to attend industry events, such as the Foria International Santiago trade show, hotel shows, and travel agent conferences. Additionally, he prefers hiring drivers with a military background. “They are disciplined and trained drivers,” he says.
Rendic’s service was viewed so highly in Chile that President Clinton selected it as his limousine service during a recent visit. “He rented four limousines 24 hours a day for seven days,” says Rendic.
Foo says a chauffeur’s image is very important. “It’s important to set standards for the industry to follow,” he says. Our chauffeurs must be well dressed, clean, and have a presentable haircut.”
Foo trains his chauffeurs to live by the following 10 Commandments:
Operator Requires 16 One-Hour Training Sessions
Rod Edwards, owner of Fleetwood Limousine and Chauffeur Service in West Sussex, England requires his chauffeurs to take 16 one-hour lessons before they are allowed to drive a vehicle.
“Finding a good chauffeur is like finding gold,” says Edwards. “They cannot smoke or drink and must be between 21 and 50 years of age. We thoroughly train chauffeur candidates on how to drive from the left side. We also train them on the mechanics of the vehicle. After the lessons, the chauffeur is finally sent out on a run and tested. However, the driver does not know he or she is being tested.”
John Williams, president of American Limousine Service in Rome, Italy, personally trains his chauffeurs. “My chauffeurs are required to attend ‘Garage Instruction’ with me for two days,” says Williams. “I review, in great detail, every aspect of each vehicle.”
Williams also trains new hires on customer service, but will solicit feedback from his new drivers. “We have a two-way discussion concerning my particular ideas of customer service, including dress, grooming, and vehicle preparation,” he says.
Williams worked with a local tailor shop to design his company’s wedding chauffeur attire. “For weddings our chauffeurs wear a short jacket, tuxedo pants, pleated shirt, gold buttons, bow tie, black socks, and shoes,” says Williams. “For other runs chauffeurs are required to wear a dark gray suit with black socks and shoes.”
According to Williams, a chauffeur must be very discrete. “This means the customer is always right, we are never late for a pickup, and we will provide timely hints to our brides and grooms when appropriate.”
Williams teaches the following to all his company employees:
Vishal Kedia, executive director of Ramniranjan Kedia Limousine in Mumbai, India, must train his chauffeurs in-house because there are no schools or courses offered in India. “We initially take our chauffeurs into the field on a test ride,” says Kedia. “We test their driving skills in various situations, such as in heavy traffic and on express highways to gauge their self-control and ability to perform under pressure.”
Kedia distributes a list of “rights” and “wrongs” to his chauffeurs. “The chauffeurs are required to learn and abide by these rules,” he says. “Drivers are also shown videos on safe driving tips. Additionally, we conduct meditation classes. This enables our chauffeurs to maintain their calm in the most challenging situations.”
Kedia requires his chauffeurs to be smart, alert, well dressed and courteous. “Our chauffeurs are required to appropriately greet clients upon their arrival, which means helping with luggage, and ensuring that they are comfortable in the car. If the client is a tourist, our chauffeurs must be prepared to act like a guide.”
According to Kedia, parking is a major problem in India. “Our chauffeurs are required to inform clients about the parking situation,” he says. “Many of our clients have appointments in the Central Business I District where parking is difficult. When a client is picked up, chauffeurs must park the car in front of the building and stand at the entrance so the client does not have to search for the car. The chauffeur is equipped with a mobile phone and pager. Once the client is finished with his or her appointment, he or she simply has to contact the driver.”
Dolf A.A. Meijers, director/owner of Meijers Limousine Services International in Utrecht, in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, also trains his chauffeuring staff in-house. “We employ both male and female chauffeurs,” he says. “Our chauffeurs are required to wear a dark blue uniform, white shirt, and light gray tie. Additionally, every driver must wear a dark blue cap with “Meijers” printed on the front.”
Meijers initially trains his chauffeurs in a sedan. “A chauffeur starts his job in a regular car,” he says. “After a period of three to four months we send him out with a senior chauffeur in a limousine.”
In Holland, there are chauffeuring schools for professional drivers that are controlled by the Dutch Government. “Each of our chauffeurs have completed this curriculum,” says Meijers. “Further, all of our chauffeurs speak a minimum of five languages: Dutch, English, German, French, and Spanish.”
Jaap de Man, manager of limousine operations for Amsterdam Limousine Service in Zaandam, Holland, a family business that started more than 100 years ago, selects his crop of chauffeurs from his owner’s taxi company. However, these drivers are closely scrutinized. “We ask only the top drivers to become chauffeurs in our limousine division,” says de Man.
Amsterdam Limousine Service’s chauffeurs must possess a high school education, a good driving record, speak English, and have consistently demonstrated professional behavior.
“We use the LCT chauffeur training video,” says de Man. “We believe it’s very educational to show the American methods of correct chauffeuring. More than 25 percent of our corporate clients are from the United States. We are an affiliate for limousine networks in the U.S., Australia, and Europe.”
Additionally, Amsterdam Limousine Service also has separate wedding training for its chauffeurs. “The chauffeur at a wedding is more than just a chauffeur,” says de Man. “Wedding couples depend on the expertise of the chauffeur, as do the guests who must follow the driver to other locations. The chauffeur must also act as a personal assistant, if needed, to the wedding couple. He should communicate with the photographer and videographer to make sure everything runs smoothly.”
Marketing Abroad Similar to the U.S.
Foreign operators market their businesses very similar to operators in the United States.
Rendic promotes his business in stores, such as Macys and Sears. “In Chile, large stores offer wedding packages if they are booked through the store,” says Rendic. “We also promote our limousine service in schools during prom season. Further, we extensively utilize the Yellow Pages and direct mail.”
Meijers also advertises in the Yellow Pages. According to Meijers, more than 7.8 million people read the Yellow Pages annually in Holland. “We also advertise in many of the major bridal magazines in Holland,” he says. “We sponsor a booth in many of the bridal shows and fairs.”
However, Meijers’ most effective form of marketing comes from referrals. “Approximately 46 percent of all our business comes from referrals,” he says.
Eric Fattell, operations manager for Ace Limousines in Paris, France, has a multifaceted marketing program. “We market our highly trained chauffeurs, as well as network, utilize our Web site, make many phone calls, and maintain constant communication with current and former clients,” he says.
Mortenson has negotiated an agreement to advertise on library bags and all 1.5 liter Pepsi bottles in his area. “We also utilize our Web site and e-mail extensively,” says Mortenson. “We get a lot of inquiries and reservation requests from our Web site.”
Amsterdam Limousine Service utilizes a showroom to market its fleet of vehicles, which features several classic cars.
“In most cases, the first contact we have with a customer is by telephone,” says de Man. “This is a crucial time. You must make a good first impression.”
After the initial phone call, de Man mails complete documentation of his company’s services to the prospective client. “We have spent a great deal of time and effort in the design and layout of our brochure,” he says. “Our brochure has been a runner-up twice in the LCT Graphics Contest.”
The office staff at Amsterdam Limousine Service distributes a survey to solicit feedback from clients. “This enables us to offer services our clients prefer,” says de Man.
Kedia believes if you provide world-class service, you do not have to have an extensive marketing campaign. “Word-of-mouth brings us a substantial portion of our business,” he says. “We do not have to put much effort into marketing. The company’s entire service, which includes our highly trained chauffeurs, shape our marketing strategy. We believe that the more time and effort we devote to our product, the more our product will market itself on its own. However, we do have sales material that our sales team can present at prospective client presentations.”
The Minority Limousine Operators of America association offers some real-time practical advice on handling the obstacles and frustrations operators are encountering.
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