Your business mirrors your drivers… but as we approach 2017, who will that be?
Any ground transportation company is really only as good as the driver you designate to take that high-powered CEO from the airport to his hotel. Which means hiring chauffeurs in 2017 will be more important than ever.
Your business mirrors the quality of your drivers, so it is imperative to make sure they do their job well and, just as important, they want to stay with your company. And therein lies a major problem. The perception of a chauffeur’s 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, that is no way to think of that model of employing chauffeurs.
As recently as the late-1980s, chauffeurs, for the most part, were no more than low-paid independent contractors. Many were forced to pay for the use of the company’s 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 drivers available. When someone needs to feed their family in the midst of an economic hiccup, 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 off the hook. But when the economy got better, as it usually does, guess what? Sayonara.
To build upon that same mindset in 2017 is a recipe for disaster. In the first place, potential drivers aren’t trolling the help wanted ads anymore, opting instead to go online to job search sites like Indeed and Monster. So if you don’t know what a “user name” is, you better find out fast. You might also want to put on your 2017 calendar any local job fairs as a source of potential new hires. A job fair for military veterans is a great avenue for potential drivers.
It’s also important to realize in the 30 years that have passed between 1986 and 2016 and the way to operate today is to make it worthwhile for good hires to stay. This starts with a fair wage and a sense of belonging. The days of the independent contractor and the potential insurance/work comp minefield it occasionally spawned is gone. When you hire drivers in 2017, you should consider your chauffeurs as paid employees with all benefits and perks associated with the title, such as vacation time, sick days and bonuses.
Give your drivers a competitive starting wage and an attractive benefits package including health, dental and LTD. If possible, provide your chauffeurs with 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 driver retention is creating a reward system where a driver’s 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.).
Pardon the pun, but as limo business owners, you need to “drive home” to your chauffeurs that this is a really good job, one that 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 sugar-coat 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. But in the long run, the good times will always outweigh the bad.
Finally, by keeping your current chauffeurs happy, 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 the driver pool. But in 2017 that will change as potential chauffeurs are now 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 that ran away from home.
Back in the 1980s the main source of communication with drivers was the local pay phone on the corner or a walkie-talkie, which was how all information on pending jobs was related. Today it’s important that the drivers you hire have at least a working knowledge of today’s high-tech bells and whistles, like iPads and SmartPhones, because that is how they will communicate not only with your front office but also the important client. Drivers in 2017 need not be M.I.T. graduates, but knowing how to turn on an iPad should at least be a prerequisite.
There’s also an 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 on the rise since 2002. 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, work time lost and longer durations of worker disability. These drugs, which are powerful and cause impairment, have also understandably contributed to higher accident rates.
Drivers should be screened randomly at least once a year and paid for by the company. Should a driver fail such a test, try to work with them to be placed in rehab for 30 days. After a sufficient time, re-test them every 90 days. Should they fail a second time, terminate their employment.Testing should begin before they hit the road, in the pre-employment phase.
Here are some additional helpful tips to use when looking to hire chauffeurs in 2017.
Remember that you are not just hiring a driver, 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. And they should feel like they have a vested interest in your company, which goes back to our discussion on hiring employees not contractors.
Not everything will change in 2017. Travelers will continue to have high expectations as they search for better value. They’ll still expect to be picked up by a courteous chauffeur who shows up when and where he’s supposed to, will know where he’s going and how to get there safely and on time, isn’t texting on his phone, doesn’t have AC/DC blasting on the radio, and is quick to offer the customer a bottle of cold water and magazines that aren’t three years old. As someone once said, “The back seat of a car shouldn’t look like a doctor’s office.”
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 cut back on their transportation needs. When the economy is good (as it is now) business is up, but we need to search more diligently for drivers to represent us in the field. But they are out there and they can be found. You just have to know where and how to look. //LD
Steve White is the owner of Steve White Public Relations in Boston, MA. He has a 35-year track record of providing marketing & PR services to companies from all industries across the country and UK, including leading ground transportation operations. He can be reached at SWhite@SWhitePR.com or 781-254-6204. Please visit his website at www.SWhitePR.com.