LCT With You: Jim Luff talks a bit about the COVID-19 situation and how operators can make it through times.
Your business mirrors the quality of your chauffeurs, so you must make sure they do their job well and want to stay with your company. Therein lies a major problem. The perception of a chauffeur job being a way-station until “something better comes along” is a notion that has been a part of our industry for years. But truth be told, we never really gave chauffeurs reason to believe otherwise.
When I started in this business in the late-1980s, chauffeurs were no more than low-paid independent contractors, forced to pay for the use of our cars while digging into their own pockets for gas, tolls, you name it. But the economy was on the downslide then and there was no shortage of chauffeurs and drivers available. When workers need to feed their families in an economic downturn, they often turn to the one skill they’ve possessed since they were teenagers: the ability to drive a car. Put an ad in the local newspapers and the phone rang often. But when the economy got better, as it usually does, guess what? Sayonara.
To build upon that same mindset in 2016 is a recipe for disaster. First, potential chauffeurs aren’t trolling the help wanted ads anymore, opting instead to go online to job search sites like Indeed and LinkedIn. So if you don’t know what a username is, you better find out fast. You might also want to put on your 2016 calendar any local job fairs as a source of potential new hires. We recently did one focused on veterans that worked well for us.
It’s also important to realize in the 30 years that have passed from 1986 t0 2016, the only way to hire and retain good help is to make it worthwhile for them to stay. That starts with a fair wage and a sense of belonging. Gone are the days of the independent contractor and the potential insurance/work comp minefield it occasionally spawned. When you hire chauffeurs in 2016, you should consider them as paid employees with all benefits and perks associated with the title, such as vacation time, sick days and bonuses.
We give our chauffeurs a competitive starting wage and an attractive benefits package including health, dental and LTD. We give them newer model vehicles, all the high-tech bells and whistles they need, flexible hours, and the opportunity to make as much as they want by driving as much as they want.
Another important area to help chauffeur retention, and one I stress highly, is creating a reward system where their performance will dictate whether they take a bachelor party to the local casino, or a backseat full of high-powered executives to the swankiest hotel in the city (i.e. more prestige, better tips, etc.).
We all need to drive home to our chauffeurs that their occupation includes rewards for a job well-done. They get to dress well, spend time in an air-conditioned top-of-the-line vehicle, and meet some pretty interesting people. But don’t sugarcoat it, as there will be times when they are stuck in traffic, need to drive in a snowstorm, and have to put up with Attila the Hun in the backseat. In the long run, the good times will always outweigh the bad.
Finally, if you keep your chauffeurs happy and they stick around for the long haul, they are likely to maintain a positive attitude about you and say nice things about your company to other drivers they meet.
“At the airport, all drivers talk,” says one ground transportation executive. “Having our chauffeurs at the airport speaking well about the company — I think we get a lot of people that way.” If you and your company have positive word of mouth, good chauffeurs will seek you out, will want to work for your company, and hopefully, will want to stay with your company.
For the past few years, Uber and similar services have tapped into our driver pool. In 2016 that will change as potential chauffeurs are learning they probably won’t make $15,000 a month, as some Uber radio ads have suggested, and they will come back to the fold. It is important to welcome them back for the value they add to your company, not as a petulant child who ran away from home.
In the 1980s, our main source of communication with our chauffeurs was the local pay phone on the corner and a walkie-talkie, which was how operators relayed all information on pending runs. Today, it’s important that the chauffeurs you hire have at least a working knowledge of today’s technology, such as iPads and smartphones, because that is how they will communicate with your front office and clients. Your chauffeurs in 2016 need not be M.I.T. graduates, but knowing how to turn on an iPad should at least be a pre-requisite.
Remember that you are not just hiring a chauffeur, but a company ambassador. Chauffeurs constitute the direct link to your company and the client. They have to be friendly but not necessarily buddy-buddy. The client needs a knowledgeable, courteous, capable driver, not a new BFF. They should feel like they have a vested interest in your company, which goes back to our discussion on hiring employees, not contractors.
As an industry we work under a double-edged sword. When the economy is down, the hiring pool expands, but business slacks off as companies reduce their transportation needs. When business is up in a good economy, we still need to search more diligently for drivers to represent us in the field. They are out there and can be found. You just have to know where and how to look.
Chauffeur Hiring Tips For 2016
Here are some additional helpful tips to use when looking to hire chauffeurs in 2016.
Physical appearance: This could be a tight-rope walk over a job discrimination chasm, but one that probably needs to be successfully navigated. Looks play an important part in our business. You don’t have to hire only fashion models, but you want your chauffeurs to be well-dressed and well-groomed (Metallica t-shirts and flip-flops should stay at home).
Communication skills: The ability to have an intelligent conversation, should the client start one, is a major plus when taking on new chauffeurs. It’s not about knowing what stock is trading the highest on Wall Street, or the name of the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Just the ability to speak clearly and distinctly, and to avoid slang and obscenities while not venturing into any PC-minefields (religion, politics, etc.). Remember, good communication skills don’t mean you can drive with one hand and text with the other.
Area knowledge: Don’t let your chauffeurs rely 100% on their GPS. They should use common sense and a working knowledge of the streets, especially if they grew up in the area. The goal is to get from Point A to Point B. Knowing how to avoid traffic jams, construction zones and accidents can only endear you to a client who would prefer not to have to run through an airport to catch the next flight.
Driving Drug Alert
One area in the hiring phase that companies must be especially aware of in 2016:
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, although the overall rate of U.S. workers who tested positive for drugs is down, the identification of opioids, such as OxyContin, Vicodin and various other prescription painkillers, has been rising since 2002. The report further notes that the number of people who use pain relievers for non-medical reasons is second only to marijuana users, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
A 2011 Justice Department study also found that the economic cost of drug abuse in the U.S. was $193 billion, mainly due to lost productivity. Other studies have tied the use of opioids to increases in workers’ compensation costs, lost work time, and longer durations of worker disability. These drugs, which are powerful and cause impairment, also have contributed to higher accident rates.
We pay to randomly screen our chauffeurs once a year and put the results through a seven-step lab test required by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Should a chauffeur fail such a test, we don’t just kick them to the curb. We work with them to be placed in rehab for 30 days, and then after a sufficient time, they are eligible to be re-tested every 90 days. Should they fail a second time, we terminate their employment. However, our testing begins in the pre-employment phase before they hit the road. We’re happy to report that of the 70 or so chauffeurs we hire per year, only a few fail to make the grade.
LCT With You: Jim Luff talks a bit about the COVID-19 situation and how operators can make it through times.
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