Creating a Chauffeur Handbook
by Matt Harrison
Professional Chauffeurs are not found. They are not generally hired away from the competition, and they certainly don't just happen by, having nothing better to do or no one else to work for. The progessional chauffeur is created through an easily understood, comprehensive training program. Your company's service level is a direct reflection of you company's level of chauffeur training. Every dollar you invest in training the only people your clients have direct contact with will come back to you many times and in many ways. Our greatest challenge is the numerous applications for our service. Factor the huge number of small operations providing essentially the same service in a huge number of different ways and it becomes almost impossible to teach as a whole.
Our industry has a number of training programs available. Some focus only on driving safety, while others focus mostly on the customer service aspect. There are even professionals who will come to your location and train your chauffeurs personally for a (sometimes) hefty fee. Never having been one to pay for something I think I can do myself (whether or not I really can), I have accumulated a vast collection of chauffeur training materials over the years. The program I use today is a combination of most of them. The sad truth is that not one of the programs truly covers all of the bases. This isn't to say that they are all no good - in fact the are all very good - but in their own regard. No one but me can create a chauffeur who will deliver the kind of customer service I envision my company giving because it is just that - my vision. Not long ago I realized that it was necessary to skim what I considered to be the best information off the top of virtually every chauffeur training program I came across. In order to bring it all together, I created a chauffeur handbook and a progressive compensation schedule to go along with it.
A chauffeur manual will serve as an employee handbook as well as a reference guide for the chauffeur. It must contain your company's vision, all the legal mumbo jumbo, a how-to-guide for your most popular points of service, and the chauffeur compensation schedule. Somehow it must be kept to less than 50 pages.
The beginning of the handbook should contain your vision, which incorporates your chauffeur's function within that vision and what it is about your company that you feel inspires your customer to call you as opposed to the competition. In our chauffeur handbook, the first page identifies the difference between a professional chauffeur, one who provides luxury transportation, and a driver who delivers Chinese take out. We describe what it is about our company that has drawn our clients to us, who our customer is, and why they will look for a company that offers a general service in the very specific way we provide it.
Next, you must provide a detailed job description. Let them know they will be responsible for prepping the vehicle before their shift, resetting the vehicle between trips, as well as the end of shift refueling and cleaning. Be sure to include DOT pre-trip inspection lists. You should list whatever is important to you in every aspect of the job description so there will be no misunderstanding of chauffeur responsibilities later on.
Be sure to identify the chauffeur's employment status. If you are withholding taxes, let them know that they are employees and have a workers' compensation policy as well as state benefits protecting them. Tell them about your pre-hire and random drug testing program, lay out your sexual harassment policy. If they are independent contractors, tell them that they will be responsible to pay quarterly federal and state income taxes as well as Social Security. Tell them that they must apply for their own workers' compensation policy if they are to be covered in an accident if necessary. Provide contact information as to where to get proper insurance and include all vehicle lease paperwork if you use it. Let nothing go unsaid on the front end because whatever is left out will definitely come back with a vengeance. Also be sure to list out the disciplinary process up to and including termination. The compensation program and legal mumbo jumbo should be presented to and discussed with your attorney, accountant, and/or tax attorney before you publish anything. In every area there are different legal requirements: you should know your local labor laws well and abide by them. The chauffeur handbook should cover all these bases in addition to how to be a professional chauffeur.
Chauffeur etiquette should come next. Write about your client confidentiality policy, why they should arrive early but not too early, and why they shouldn't knock on someone's door at 4:45 in the morning. Tell them what to wear, and how to address clients. Let them know that they must know how to operate all of the controls in the back of the car well enough to describe how to do it while facing forward, not taking their eyes off the road. Give them general information about how the company works from the reservation process to the drop off so they will be able to answer questions and know where to direct the client. They should know a little about everything your company has to offer.
Standard operating procedures must be included if your new hires are to survive their first 30 days. Lay out what is expected of them in all of your most common situations. If your company primarily provides service for weddings and special occasions, then give a full account of what is necessary from prepping the vehicle to backing it into the garage at the end of the night. If you are an airport provider, then give them the information they need to monitor flights effectively and a full description of the airports you serve.
The operational section your chauffeur handbook will inevitably be vast. Include an outline of the billing procedures for your company. The new chauffeur should be able to determine how off-peak surcharges work and when to impose or request authorization to charge for waiting time. If your company has a frequent rider program, they should know how it works well enough to explain it to a new client. Where they go for gas, how they pay for it, and where they wash the car should be included. Don't forget paperwork; every company has a method to it madness, and paperwork is probably the most frightening aspect of the job for many new chauffeurs, so give them a good guideline.
Your company's compensation program, including a schedule and requirements for advancement, must be included. Begin with a general overview of the different types of trips they can expect and the differences, if any, in compensation. If you are a percentage, commission, or flat rate per trip on certain types of trips, identify those trips and the rate the chauffeur can expect. Explain whether you charge a gratuity that the chauffeur keeps or levy a service fee of which the chauffeur gets part. Whatever your compensation process, you must define what that process is and create a compensation schedule that includes entry-level pay rates, veteran pay rates, and however many steps in between you can tolerate.
All your chauffeurs should have the ability to track their advancement and future pay increases. It feels good to reward a well-respected chauffeur with a pay increase, but it is even more rewarding to watch them earn it through training and improving their service to your customer. It is important to monitor their progress and let them know when it's time for a review. Just recently we appointed someone in our company besides me to keep track of review dates (which was long, long overdue since I could never keep track) and monitor chauffeur advancement. We can plainly see the improvement in chauffeur morale. It really makes your people feel appreciated when you are the one letting them know it's time for a raise.
Your chauffeur handbook will remain a reference source that will serve your chauffeurs for their entire tenure with your company. It must be well documented and well presented to your people. Believe it or not, most people really do want to do things the way you want them done. The only catch is you have to tell them how that is. If you give them a chauffeur handbook for ongoing reference, you can bring them up to speed with just a couple of days of training. I have heard of two-week training periods beginning in the classroom and ending on the road; or a weekend in the classroom to weed out those who will end up leaving in short order; or a week on the road with a senior chauffeur; or and even an owner tossing a total stranger the keys while pointing toward the airport saying, "It's that way." Training your chauffeurs must not be taken lightly for it is who you are as a company. Never forget that every dollar you invest in training your people wil be a dollar well spent.
SJLA Holds Chauffeur Training Night
Do you, like most of us, feel there are not enough hours in the day? Do you find yourself making a "to do" list, only to scratch off some of the items and feverishly rewrite them for the next j week? Managing your time efficiently is direct- I ly tied in to meeting your company's goals, both short-term and long-term. Most people in this industry are in it to achieve success and be rewarded. Yet achieving success and being rewarded means setting goals. To reach your goals, you must be efficient at managing your time. "We could achieve any goals we wanted to if we had unlimited time," says Todd Stephens, vice president of operations for BostonCoach, at the LCT Show in March. "If you had 200 or 300 years to become the biggest company in the industry, I'm sure you could figure it out. The fact is that we don't have that amount of time to achieve our goals. The fact is, time is really quite short. We have to be a little bit selfish with our time if we really want to achieve our goals."
In March, the South Jersey Limousine Association (SJLA) held its annual Chauffeuring Training Night. The event featured "advanced level chauffeuring techniques" from Scott Mezger, president of the Executive Chauffeuring School Inc. and M&M Limousine Co. in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Mezger offered tips on defensive and night driving, customer service, grooming, proper attitude, and preparation for a trip. According to Mezger, companies should have a standard uniform (black suit and tie) that is worn by every chauffeur.
"A chauffeur's appearance and attitude are more important than the year of the vehicle," says Mezger. "People probably won't remember the limo after a year, but they will remember a quality chauffeur."
During the seminar, Mezger suggested that all chauffeurs carry a bag with the following items: An appointment book, sewing kit, road atlas, umbrella, flashlight, calculator, sunglasses, super glue, comb/brush, travel kit (deodorant, colgne, toothbrush, toothpaste), and light snacks.He also offered the following driving tips:
Chauffeurs must be able to stop a limousine smoothly, which requires practice.
Always use turn signals well in advance.
Never slam on the brakes to scare a tailgater.
Use the horn sparingly.
Allow traffic to merge in front of your car at intersections and off-ramps. LD
A Career Path or Just Another Job
By Robert Logan
No one would dispute that chauffeurs are the backbone of our industry, and what they do affects our business life deeply. Now if we can all agree on this one unifying issue, then why isn't more being done to elevate chauffeuring as a respectable profession with a lifetime of benefits and future career possibilities, so we can attract additional higher quality prospects? Could we not as industry agree that working together to strengthen the chauffeur profession would only benefit our businesses and improve the reputation of our industry?
It is a common theme with a similar tone of frustration discussed at several different levels in our industry: "Where does a limousine operator get great drivers?" or Why can't I get these drivers to act like chauffeurs instead?" or "Why can't I find enough chauffeurs to expand my business?" Partial responsibility lies with limousine operators — if we did our due diligence for hiring chauffeurs like we do when we buy limousines, then perhaps we would be more efficient and objective in the hiring process. After all, when you buy a limousine, don't you always try to get the best value for your money? Also, let us consider that as networks strengthen and take away many of the corporate account opportunities, the demand for better and highly skilled chauffeurs will only get more competitive, not easier.
Consider your current workforce. We know that one chauffeur who ran a red light and caused an accident, which drove up our insurance premiums in his three-second mishap. We have experienced the headaches of new chauffeurs who don't seem to get the "airport thing" and ended up at the other side of the airport without your five-star VIP. A popular favorite is the wise guy chauffeur who is now is trying to master the game of "double dipping" runs for himself between jobs with your limousine. On the same note, many of us have had the pleasure of receiving a letter from a key executive at a DMC who raved about the smoothness of your chauffeur crew or that savvy chauffeur who picked up a lead at the airport that led to a major corporate account. We could write several pages of positive and negative experiences with our chauffeurs, but the point is these employees affect our entire business lives. As an industry, we need to come to a consensus on the unified definition.
Considering the immediate impact a chauffeur can have on a business, hiring chauffeurs is actually one of the most impor-
tant decisions we have to make, and these decisions are difficult to make when the choices are limited to begin with. Most operators want qualified chauffeurs, but many operations have resigned to the conditions of heavy chauffeur turnover as an industry reality.
Can anything be done to improve the current condition of the chauffeuring profession? I think it can. What we as an industry and as a society perceive about chauffeuring needs to change.
If we agree that the caliber of the profession needs to change, then the designation of "chauffeur" should command the respect and a branding of the skill level of the employee who is given this title. A chauffeur should be regarded as a consummate professional and should be expected to meet the standards of the profession. This definition needs to be uniform throughout your company, but more importantly, within the industry. Think about the applicant who wants the job of driving your limousine or sedan. What thoughts, job habits, and expectations they bring will surely work their way into your business life whether you like it or not. But more importantly, without your own established expectations for a chauffeur in your company's mission statement, hiring practices, and training program, this employee's values and work ethics will instead prevail on the job. Are your new hires and your cur-rent staff in line with your vision of chauffeuring? If not then perception on both sides needs to change, and the change needs to start with you.
Unified Training Standards and Certification Needed
Other professional skilled labor professions have consistency in training in their favor through industry certification and standards. An ASE certified mechanic who works at a Lincoln dealership in Chicago can transfer to a Cadillac dealership in Atlanta, and the senior service manager, after checking his references, can hire this individual with a high degree of confidence knowing he will be able to perform the job in little time with a short period of training. The trustworthiness of the ASE certificate is enough to establish this applicant as a "good buy
employee anywhere in the United States. Why? Because the standardized and uniform requirements to become an ASE technician are the same everywhere and there is no fear that the manager is going to hear, "they didn't teach us that in Chicago" or "this is the Baker City way of fixing an engine."
Certification for our chauffeurs is very much needed to allow our industry to take the job of driving livery vehicles and delivering excellent service to the next level. Many other industries have established certification and training for their critical skilled labor positions — shouldn't our industry do the same?
What about self-certification with your own in-house training program? Currently, in the absence of a comprehensive "accredited" universal chauffeur school, an in-house training program is certainly the next best practice a limousine operator can undertake, and should be commended for doing so always. However, are the standards and methods by which you train your chauffeurs applicable and agreeable to your peers in another city? You may think that it does not matter since you are not trying to train for the benefit of your competitors. However, when an applicant comes in from another city to work for you, would you not enjoy the benefit of that properly trained chauffeur? Clearly, in order for all of us to enjoy a moving pool of properly trained chauffeurs, we need to realize that it will benefit every-one in the end. So far we have only covered how we perceive chauffeuring and the need for universal training, but we have to address on-going training, transferable skill levels/seniority, and much more. LD