Lancer Insurance
Monday, June 24, 2024

BY JAMES BLAIN

At PAX Training, we’ve been helping companies train, test, and ­certify their chauffeurs for over a decade. Even now, one of the most common questions we get asked is, “How long should training take and what should be covered?” So, we were excited to partner with CD on last month’s Benchmark & Best Practices question, “How long is your chauffeur training program? What are the three most important things you cover?” It’s only fitting that I follow up with an article that explores a bit more about training programs using some of those answers as a starting point.

James Blain Before I do, however, it is important to note that training is often overlooked, especially in the rush to get chauffeurs on the road. This is almost always a classic example of robbing Peter to pay Paul: You may get them on the road quickly, but as a result, you will likely lose time and potentially even clients later when they start making mistakes that could have been avoided by spending the time training them in the first place. 

❱ Finding the Right People to Train If you don’t have the right people to train, you won’t get the results you want, regardless of how good or thorough your training program is. Ensuring that individuals possess the appropriate background and fit for your company (and the industry) can make all the difference—and it may mean making hard choices early on. You should also be taking steps like driving and drug tests, along with thorough background checks. Spending that time now will save you from headaches later.

It’s also important to be aware that just because someone has experience, it doesn’t mean they were trained correctly or even that they were trained at all! As Quentin Shackleford of All Class Limo mentions in his answer, “bad habits will present themselves over time.” This means that if the company this person worked for before didn’t take the time to ensure bad habits didn’t form, you may not only have to train them but break their existing poor behaviors.

❱ Duration of Training The right length of training can vary based on the type of vehicle the chauffeur will be operating and the service your company provides, but we have found that 1-2 weeks on average is the right balance between getting them on the road quickly and ensuring they are trained effectively. That was also reflected in many of the Benchmark answers.

James Blain Chauffeurs who will be driving specialty vehicles, buses, or other larger vehicles may need additional training beyond this. In these cases, you may want to consider extending training up to 3 weeks, especially if they are new to these types of vehicles.

Also, remember that the longer we have done something, the easier it seems to us. Although a week might seem like a long time, when you are teaching a new skill, it can fly by. That is why it is absolutely essential to have a plan and checklist and know exactly what you are going to cover. DO NOT wing it or try to rush through everything.

Also, this process is always ongoing. In addition to regular training, establishing a mentorship program like the one talked about in our Mentorship: Better Onboarding in The Ground Transportation Industry article (July 2023 issue) can further enhance your chauffeur’s effectiveness.

❱ Your Key Areas Although there are many components to an effective training program, you should focus on three key areas: culture, safety, and customer service. Beyond mere procedural knowledge, it’s crucial for chauffeurs to understand the underlying principles and rationale behind why you operate the way you do.

When it comes to safety and customer service, you often hear them together and see the order flip from “safety & service” to “service & safety.” However, in our industry, safety takes precedence, as emphasized by both Harry Dhillon of Ecko Worldwide and Karl Guenther of Statement Limousine, who both highlight safety first: A chauffeur who doesn’t operate safely will never truly be able to provide authentic customer service. 

Creating exceptional customer experiences hinges on understanding the distinction between providing a ride and crafting an experience, and that starts with embracing a customer-centric mindset.

❱ Onboarding & Orientation These terms are often lumped together, but they serve two different (but important) purposes. Onboarding primarily focuses on administrative tasks, such as completing new-hire paperwork, setting up logins, and familiarizing new hires with HR policies. It’s about ensuring individuals are ready to be officially onboarded onto payroll or to commence work for the company.

Orientation, on the other hand, delves deeper by integrating new hires into the company’s history and culture. It’s a pivotal phase where the organization’s vision, goals, and unique identity are communicated. This is when new hires gain insights into the company’s values and the roles they play in growing the organization. It is also when they should truly feel that they are joining the team and becoming aligned with your overall mission. More than just a paycheck, why are they coming to work every day and who are they serving? They aren’t just shuffling people between points A and B; they are reflecting all the nuances that make your company special in a sea of transportation options.

“Even for experienced chauffeurs, we dedicate at least one and a half weeks to ensure they align with our standards and ethos...” – Christina Zanone of Beau Wine Tours
Bridging the gap between onboarding and orientation is crucial for seamless integration. For instance, setting up access to platforms (like training programs, for example) during onboarding aligns with the overarching orientation goal of prioritizing safety and customer service. Establishing buy-in is key during this phase, as emphasized by Christina Zanone of Beau Wine Tours who says, “Even for experienced chauffeurs, we dedicate at least one and a half weeks to ensure they align with our standards and ethos because we believe in cultivating ambassadors of luxury and professionalism.” This is a great example of a company that has clearly established who they are and are taking the time to ensure their new hires understand and can embody it.

This is often the first thing to be cut short, rushed through, or skipped, especially when you need to get someone on the road fast. However, it is this step that ultimately defines the type of company you will have, as well as the continuity you have across your organization. Making sure your team is aligned with your core principles fosters genuine commitment and enhances brand representation, which ultimately leads to return business and growth.

❱ Safety Training This is the stage where you are imparting essential knowledge and skills for safe driving behind the wheel. Safety serves as the foundation on which the customer service experience is built. Passengers must feel safe and comfortable to appreciate the service provided, and no amount of customer service training can compensate for compromised safety standards.

Moreover, safety extends beyond the vehicle. New hires must internalize the concept of safety as a mindset, not merely a set of rules. Proactivity and forward-thinking are essential for ensuring not only the avoidance of accidents but also the creation of a safe working environment.

❱ Customer Service Training Customer service training is about more than just verbal interactions with passengers; it encompasses the way the chauffeur presents himself, vehicle preparation, and his perception of their role in serving the passenger. Ed Walch of Gem Limousine Worldwide does a great job of capturing this in his Benchmark response: “Our clients expect premium service, and we train our chauffeurs to deliver a Ritz-Carlton experience.” If you aspire to this level of service within your own company, you will be able to clearly define the standard you are aiming for every time.

While many companies focus on the mechanics of customer service—steps, processes, and procedures—what they often overlook is that customer service is more than a process; just like safety, it’s a mindset. Of course, how you expect your chauffeurs to act should be detailed in your training, but the crux of customer service excellence lies in what can’t be taught. A person who has a true knack for customer service will anticipate the needs of their passengers, rather than being reactive. 

Defining customer service can be difficult, but it is easy to say what it isn’t. Helping chauffeurs understand that, in addition to their service mindset, they need to avoid any actions that intrude on passengers’ senses or detract from their overall experience is also crucial.

❱ Practical Application, Key Locations, and Points of Interest This is where you delve into the practical aspects of the job. This often forgotten yet crucial phase involves familiarizing chauffeurs with significant locations and points of interest in their service area. Providing firsthand exposure and allowing them to ask questions and interact with these areas significantly boosts their confidence and navigation skills.

We advocate for a dual approach to this training aspect. Start by having them review the location, pickup, and drop-off procedures beforehand (our customers often add this as a custom course to enhance their program). Then, instead of teaching them on location, have them take you there and apply what they have learned as they would with a passenger. This shifts you from training to coaching, where they demonstrate their abilities while still being able to adjust and increase their understanding through the guidance of your team.

❱ Commercial Vehicles While many areas of training overlap, it’s crucial to acknowledge that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, especially when dealing with a mixed fleet or larger vehicles requiring CDLs. These vehicles often come with additional—and specific—responsibilities such as tracking hours of service, and are subject to more extensive regulatory requirements.

It is important to tailor your training based on the intended role your new hire will have. Jess Sandu of A&A Limousine & Bus Service talks about his approach to doing this: “We divide our drivers into three categories: non-CDL (sedan and SUV chauffeurs), charter bus drivers, and shuttle/school drivers.” This categorization allows for tailored training based on specific job requirements.

❱ Ongoing Training & Development Training is not a one-time task to be checked off a list; it is an ongoing process that demands continuous attention and investment. Completion of initial training is just the first step. Much of what we learn, especially when it comes in a quick burst, fades over time. This underscores the importance of ongoing training, as highlighted by Robert Rodriguez of First Class Destination Solutions: “Weekly continuous education is a must.” Leveraging resources like the PAX Training Platform facilitates regular training sessions and ensures that chauffeurs stay updated with evolving industry standards and best practices.

❱ Creating a Feedback Loop Another crucial aspect of effective training is ensuring accountability through feedback mechanisms. Without these mechanisms in place, it’s challenging to gauge whether your team is meeting the expectations you’ve set. This can be as simple as sending post-trip surveys or conducting periodic check-ins with long-term clients. Shackleford emphasizes the importance of leveraging “wonderful and honest clients” as feedback tools for addressing behaviors.

Moreover, it’s essential to maintain a balanced approach to feedback. While corrective feedback is necessary for improvement, it’s equally vital to recognize and reinforce positive behavior. Cultivating a culture where feedback is not solely associated with mistakes fosters a supportive environment where team members feel valued and motivated. Recognizing and rewarding positive contributions encourages continued excellence and reinforces desired behaviors.   [CD0524]
James Blain is President of PAX training. He can be reached at james@paxtraining.com.