NOV. LCT: What operators can learn about building a steady client base from a leading fleet vehicle seller.
On the surface, his multiple roles could be viewed as temporary common gigs done out of necessity to help build a dream career. After all, how often do we hear of actors also working in hotels and restaurants, or as chauffeurs?
In hindsight, the experiences helped inform Heinrich’s success as the 15-year owner of LEADER Chauffeur Services Worldwide of Kansas City, and eventually laid the groundwork for his new chauffeur training program, called PAX. Tiered to chauffeurs and company employees, PAX Certified Training launched on the exhibit floor of the International LCT Show in Las Vegas, Feb. 29-March 2.
High, Wide & Deep
In creating and developing PAX, which is the Roman word for “Peace,” Heinrich aims to provide the limousine industry’s first consistent, yet flexible, online training program that strives to set universal industry standards for client service.
“Everyone is farming worldwide,” says Heinrich, a 2009 LCT Operator of the Year Award winner. “Not many operators know how the chauffeur at the other end has been trained or if he’s been trained. PAX was created to create a gold standard of what passengers should expect, especially when TNCs are making such an impact. It’s a way to differentiate ourselves from the TNCs. If you are farming a trip to another city, you’d feel better knowing the chauffeur has been PAX certified and up to that standard of training.”
As of March 9, 60 limousine companies ranging from small to large fleets have signed up with or incorporated PAX Certified Training. Among well-known companies: Reston Limousine of Sterling, Va., Premier Transportation of Dallas, and Hermes Transportation of Denver.
“The Ritz is what made the biggest impact on me,” Heinrich recalls. “My first day of orientation at the Ritz changed my world. You only have one chance to make a great first impression. The big key to reducing turnover and getting more of a team unity and spirit into an operator’s business is to get that chauffeur on the first day to buy in on how important their job is and what it means to the company. Ultimately, I’m only as good as my chauffeurs. My chauffeurs act out my branding.”
Heinrich also was a devoted student of the late industry consultant and educator Tom Mazza, whose predominant chauffeur training program inspired him. “Tom Mazza was a good friend of mine,” Heinrich says. “Back then I could see where I wanted to improve his program, but because he was Tom and I was running a company, I didn’t act on it. After Tom [died], there was a huge void for training. My company, LEADER, was known for providing excellent service. People came to me asking about training, and asked, ‘Who do you use? Can I use it?’
“Very few people in the industry come from a service program,” Heinrich adds. “It’s just a hodge-podge of pieces they pick up along the way. You wouldn’t believe how many people are still using a Mazza video from 2001 and a program from the 1990s.”
Multiple Sizes Fit All
PAX can adapt to any number of chauffeurs and employees of any fleet-sized company. Unlike list-oriented training programs, PAX is tiered and comprehensive.
“The whole premise is to provide peace of mind for passengers, for their dispatches, for the owner/operator and for the chauffeurs because it empowers them to make good decisions with the common end goal in mind,” Heinrich says.
For small operators without a big budget or in-house trainer, PAX can provide a fast, affordable training program easy to administer. For larger companies, trainers can use PAX to create custom courses. The online training takes about two and a half to three hours to complete. Trainees who pass get a certificate of achievement and a lapel pin for a uniform.
“This gives the chauffeur an overall vision for peace of mind by showing the three levels of service to prepare and to execute,” Heinrich says. “Chauffeurs feel more confident going on the road. It raises their game. This was created to raise their self-esteem. Owners and chauffeurs alike don’t always value how important they are to get business done, for people to arrive safely feeling good, and providing an experience that is warm and welcoming. The passenger should get out of the car feeling relaxed and better than when they got in. They may not know why, but that should be the end goal.”
Time Stamped & Sealed
As part of the program format, operators can communicate and update training points with employees via email as often as they like. E-verification options ensure employees have read and understood any training policies or instructions. All communications are time stamped, enabling supervisors to see how long employees were on the program.
“If something changes in the industry or there’s a better idea to do something, we can do it instantly and it will go out to everyone,” Heinrich says. “With others it was on a DVD and you couldn’t change it. Anybody can train someone, but how do you know they’ve comprehended it? This is all online. You can assign it to an entire chauffeur team, no matter five or 500. You can assign a test in less than 20 seconds, or a course. Then when you do a report, you can see when they went on to take a test and how long they were in the test, and you can see the results. It’s all time stamped and saved so the owner can prove they have done their due diligence.”
At Reston Limousine, PAX has been used for chauffeur training for more than a year. The company supplements the PAX program with segments for charter commercial driver’s licensing, advanced chauffeur practices, and related safety and regulatory courses, says Barry Gross, Reston’s director of business development.
Videos and other materials can be layered onto or combined with the core PAX program, Gross says. Reston also customizes specific training for contract work, such as how to drive shuttles for George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., a major client of Reston. “It’s a living document,” he says. “We are consistently adding to it and adjusting it. We can keep track of who completes each section and how long it took.
“It’s a good way of communicating memos,” he adds. “The nice thing is instead of emailing policy updates, PAX enables you to make sure employees have to read and certify if they’ve read it.”
In one example, the company needed to educate its chauffeurs and drivers on wearing full length wool coats instead of less formal leather duster jackets. “We put them through the program, list very clearly what is expected, and show them what’s acceptable and what’s not,” Gross says. “PAX makes it easy to head off and correct potential issues. You can always go back to PAX and re-educate. We are looking to do all training online.”
As of February, Reston had 58 chauffeurs use their advanced training program and documented 318 responses to its last memo on refueling tips, for example. In 2015, Reston held a total of 31 training classes and oriented and on-boarded 215 new chauffeurs and drivers, both full- and part-time.
“People learn better online at their own pace, and it’s easily monitored. You have to retain information and pass the test. You can’t fall asleep in class.”
Like many large fleet companies, Reston faces recruitment and retention challenges given the many options in the high turnover ground transportation market. Consistent, online training can efficiently accommodate high turnover as well as inspire excellence among employees who stay longer term.
“Our biggest problem in this labor market is low unemployment and high wages,” Gross says. “If they can make 20% more at a government transit job, they leave for that. We have to keep hiring and training. With more than 300 drivers, we must have continuity. Training has to be uniform. Everyone has to get the same message. We depend on PAX to standardize what every employee sees.”
At Premier Transportation in Dallas, owner and President Eric Devlin plans to take his PAX module to the next level with a set of custom videos to portray training scenarios unique to the Dallas-Ft. Worth region, such as transportation protocols for airports, stadiums and popular destinations. Heinrich will bring in a crew to record the training videos to feature local actors.
“The current module provides a basic understanding,” Devlin says. “The new module will fine tune and show what we experience with routing, parking and staging. That’s how a lot of chauffeurs learn, by seeing it.”
So far, about 70 chauffeurs and 25 office employees have been through the core PAX training since Premier started it in 2014 as part of its beta testing phase. “They can’t be employed until they’ve passed all six modules,” Devlin says. “We can see how many times it took to pass this.”
Fleet/business relations manager Todd Davis points to added advantages of an Internet-based, interactive training program aside from creating a consistent culture of customer service:
1) An ability to easily show it to prospective contract and corporate clients to reassure them about safety;
2) A morale boost to employees who will want to be a part of a company that trains and invests in them;
3) An electronic, verified, “time-date-stamped” proof of any and all training for each employee, and proof the employee comprehended and understood all aspects of training. Such documentation becomes invaluable in the event of any lawsuits or depositions related to fleet accident liability and/or accusations of poor chauffeur/driver training.
“We need our chauffeurs to represent us,” Davis says. “We don’t use it to beat them over the head with mistakes, but to give them a sense of ownership and pride that says, ‘We’re in this together.’ Everybody in Dallas knows our brand so we have to make sure our chauffeurs know how to make sound decisions on the road.”
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