Operators Discuss Methods Of Training And Retaining Quality Chauffeurs

LCT Staff
Posted on July 1, 1994

Ride-alongs, training videos, testing are all part of successful training programs

Knowledgeable, courteous, professional chauffeurs are an essential ingredient for any successful livery operation. Is there a secret to training new-hires so they evolve into the ideal chauffeur? And once you do so, how do you ensure that they stay with you? L&C conducted a poll of operators at the recent Las Vegas L&C Show with the goal of answering these questions by asking op­erators about their chauffeur training and retention programs.

Operators shared a penchant for utilizing chauffeur training videos, along with manuals and ride-alongs that pair novices with experienced drivers. Training may encompass everything from teaching map-reading skills to etiquette.

And the number one response to the question about how operators retain their best chauffeurs was with monetary incentives. Unanimously, operators agreed that good pay was key to chauffeur loyalty. Other factors include treating chauffeurs with respect and providing small bonuses such as a pleasant working environment, parties, and picnics.

Larry Dunn Johnson-Williams/Carey Limousine Minneapolis, Minn

In our training program we use a video from Carey International and a manual. We do an instructional driving session with new chauffeurs and then, depending on the division they’re going to drive, they do a few “ride-alongs.” For example, on a funeral run, if it’s permissible with the funeral home, they would observe and act as an assistant.

Their first behind-the-wheel job would be in a second vehicle. In other words, they would have a limousine job following a funeral coach on the same funeral, giving them more of a feel for the program.

On the corporate side we don’t feel comfortable with a new chauffeur apprentice being with a customer in the car. When we feel they are ready, we put them on multi-car runs so that they are on the same project, and we usually stage them somewhere in the middle of a three- or four-car run so they get the feel and experience, following somebody else and modelling them.

We keep good chauffeurs by paying them a very good wage. The chauffeurs keep all of their gratuities. We do not have a lot of turnover in our limousine drivers or our funeral drivers.

Arthur Grier Paramount Limousine Valtimore, MD.

The first rule of thumb is, “Do they know how to read a map?” That’s more important to me than anything else. If they don’t know left from right, east, west, north or south, it’s not even worth my time to invest in training them. The first thing I do is give them a map. If they’re credible at manoeuvring themselves around, I know there is some potential.

The next step is etiquette. From etiquette we proceed to basic driving techniques and from the driving techniques we talk about what to say and how to say it to clients. At that point, we give them more driving skills and we cover the maintenance of the vehicle extensively. Once all those things are in place, we’re ready to put that person out on the road.

To maintain that excellence, every quarter we break out the same training materials again. We use a lot of stuff from Rich Cooley of Executive Chauffeuring School, which is reviewed over and over again. I believe in things like strong training, repeated training, and going to safety meetings once a month.

We also talk about some of the negatives and positives in the day-by-day operation because I can’t be there when they’re out on the road. I don’t know every little detail that’s involved. I try to find out things to correct or make our service a lot better.

How do we make sure the good ones stay with us? We pay them. Every year we have a Christmas party and an end-of-the-year bonus or we have a big picnic during the summer. Basically we get in the trenches right along with all our employees.

Lenore Vode Len-Mar Limousine New York City, NY

What I did initially when I started to get a larger staff of chauffeurs is I created a manual of my requirements, the dress code and a list of everything that our chauffeurs did. It started out as a list and ended up as a book. And this is what they have to learn and use as a manual on their seat when they drive. I also have a class with my partner who has been driving for 12 years. We have a session where he talks to the chauffeurs and a session where they talk to us. Then we have a day on the road, going to the airport and driving with somebody in the back as the customer.

We need to see the drivers when they come in every day. They don’t ever go directly to the client. We check haircuts, how well they’re dressed, how nice their clothes are, and if their shoes are shined.

What do we do to keep them? We pay them generously. We try to be as understanding an employer as possible. We compliment them heavily when they do a great job. We have comment cards and when a comment card comes back that is complimentary, and sometimes even if it’s a minor critique, a copy of it goes in with their pay so that they can see the feedback from the customers. It becomes something they look forward to. And if they have anything to do with a sale, we’ll give them a commission.

Greg Caster Prestige Limousine Portland, Ore.

When we get an applicant that we like, we run him through Rich Cooley’s taped chauffeur training program and let him take the tests.

That’s a basic foundation. We put new people out on multiple-car jobs so they can learn first-hand from the senior people and are not out there alone. Big points don’t get clarified there, but a lot of little things do, little things that I think polish off our professional image.

We keep the good chauffeurs by involving them in our quality control decisions. The chauffeurs critique the detailers and the detailers critique the chauffeurs. Those are gone over at the quarterly meetings with the whole staff, so it’s not just an owner or a manager pontificating what they should do.

What matters is what the customer wants, not what I want. If the customer writes us that a chauffeur is doing a good job, we put that up in the chauffeur’s lounge. If a customer writes to say he is not doing such a good job, it’s hard to have animosity towards management when it came from the customer, so that solves a lot of the problems.

We pay them for one extra hour for every job. That way they’re never late, they’re not tense and uptight. They have time if a car has a low battery or a flat tire on the way, or there’s a traffic jam.

We spend time detailing the front seat of the cars as well as the back seat. All of the chauffeurs at a limousine company that doesn’t have good equipment will tell you the number one complaint is that they’re driving junky equipment, because they have to take the heat from the customer, not the person in the office. We keep top equipment. I think that it’s a natural human tendency to have pride of association. People like to be around a winner. We think we’re a winner and we do a quality job.

Jay Allen Carey Of Dallas/Fort Worth Dallas, Texas

To train our chauffeurs, we use Carey’s training video and the written material that goes with it. We go through it with them, along with our own policies and procedures manual. All this takes a couple of days. This is all after we have gone through the applications that we’ve gotten and tried to narrow that down to the top 30 percent to 40 percent of the applicants.

They have about a day’s worth of in-the-field driver training. We’ll usually send one of our experience guys with them, or if we can’t send one in the car with them, we will have a lead chauffeur walk them through it and they can be in contact with him on the radio.

We’re instituting a new training situation now where we want to try to bring everybody back for a four- to six-hour refresher once a year. We have about 75 chauffeurs all together, probably 35 who are full time and another 45 who are part time.

How do we keep our good chauffeurs? We try to be good with them. We try to do the right thing by them. We have been blessed with having a pretty good level of business so they can make a decent living and I think that’s the key.

Jon Harper VIP Limousine Inc. Roswell, GA.

I train all my chauffeurs myself. I don’t allow anyone else to do that. They sit in a class with me. I have my own training manual that I go page by page with them. This way later on they can never come back to me and say, “Well you didn’t tell me this,” or “so and so didn’t tell me this.” They learn it from me the first time. I find that I don’t have to redo things by doing it that way. They also go out with experienced chauffeurs to learn how we operate on the road. They observe and sit there quietly. After enough times, we turn it around—they are the chauffeur and they are observed. Once that is finished, they go solo in sedans only.

Everyone knows when they start with me they’re low man on the totem pole. If you’re not willing to stay there for a while, don’t bother coming to work for me. Once people stay with me and build up seniority, they start getting better runs and making more money. People do sacrifice when they come to work for me at first. I tell them that they’re lucky to make $100 the first week. After 3 weeks they’re lucky to make $200. It just depends how work is. It can take three, four or five months until they really get something decent going. The people I do have, I have for years.

How do we keep them? Seniority. People who’ve been with me for a while are treated according­ly. I want them to feel a part of this operation so that when they’re out in the field they talk about our company.

I’ve been in business eight years with some very rough times. There was a period where I had a breakup of partnership and so forth where people didn’t get paid for five or six weeks. But they hung through that, and they’re still with me. That’s the type of loyalty I want. We try to build up that sense of more than just a job. You’re not going to grow and have them as salespeople if they think it’s just a job.

Marion McCormick Sterling Limousine Houston, Texas

When someone calls me for an interview I have a couple of stalling techniques to see if they’ll follow through. After I ask the basic questions about their driving record etc., I ask them to call me back at a specific time. For example, if this is Monday I ask them to call me back on Friday at 11:00, just to test them a little bit. Then when they come to the first interview I have them dress in a dark suit, white shirt, conservative tie, ready for chauffeuring.

I have a written test which takes about an hour and a half. The written test is on locations of hotels and restaurants. We don’t expect them to know exact addresses, but they need to know the major street and the closest cross street. Then we use the chauffeur training videos, along with some written material. We do a driving test and then begin training.

We send them out first with one of our chauffeurs to see the various airport locations and learn how to handle the charge cards and other procedures. Then we send them out to observe with a chauffeur. After that they drive when the clients are not in the car. Our clients, by the way, love having a chauffeur-in-training with them because they have two chauffeurs who open the doors on both sides of the car. The new chauffeur is introduced as a chauffeur-in-training and people seem to like that a lot.

I reward a lot monetarily, and in a complimentary way on merit, not on the time that you’ve been with the organization. I always tell people that if you get in as part of our team, you’re going to stay with us because we really have a spirit of helping each other. I give the chauffeurs respect and I get that back.

Related Topics: chauffeur behavior, chauffeur training, etiquette, Greg Casteel, Jay Allen, Jon Harrer, Larry Dunn, Marion McCormack, Rich Cooley

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