Fleet News

Fleet services: Chauffeurs train up to keep the fleet customer satisfied

DRIVER training for chauffeurs is a completely different ball game to that of regular company car drivers, who don’t normally need to know how to escape from armed hijackers intent on kidnapping their passengers.

Daily vehicle checks take on a whole new meaning. Chauffeurs are encouraged to look for tampering and loose wires and they even use mirrors on sticks to inspect under cars for potential bombs.

The British Chauffeurs Guild says daily checks should be a fundamental part of a chauffeur’s routine.

There are other measures that should be adopted to prevent a possible kidnap or hijack.

David Cabrera, vice-president of the British Chauffeurs Guild, said: ‘Drivers should ensure that the boot and doors are locked at all times. When driving up to traffic lights, never pull up directly adjacent to the next car and always leave a good distance behind the car in front as an escape route.’

While such emergencies are few and far between, drivers must be perfect everyday companions, with a standard of etiquette designed to please even the most demanding boardroom bore.

Those in charge of running chauffeur fleets have to ensure that drivers are trained and qualified and passengers kept safe and happy.

Drivers must be attentive to clients, but at the same time inconspicuous and happily oblivious to sensitive discussions or activities.

Some fleet managers have learned to their cost the danger of employing ‘kiss and tell’ chauffeurs.

Apparently, both Naomi Campbell and Mick Jagger have been on the receiving end of this treatment, but it’s the company and fleet manager whose reputations can also be tarred by drivers with pound signs in their eyes.

The fleet manager has to rely on the integrity of drivers, but there are several aspects of chauffeuring which can be dealt with in training.

I spent a day training with Dennis Johnson, a certified professional chauffeur who also works for Avis Prestige Vehicle Rental. Johnson has been a chauffeur on a rental fleet for the past eight years and was a driving instructor for 15 years prior to that, so he knows exactly what aspects any prestige fleet manager needs to include in their basic chauffeur training. Here he shares his vast knowledge.

Chauffeur etiquette

THERE is an endless list of things a chauffeur should and shouldn’t do when driving a client.

However, the fundamental principle to remember is to ‘see blind and hear deaf’ according to Johnson.

He said: ‘There is a confidential gentleman’s agreement with chauffeurs and discretion is everything as you hear very sensitive things. From a client’s point of view, your ears are deaf and your eyes are blind.

‘Drivers should never instigate a conversation and the client should always begin and end the conversation. Three topics should be avoided at all costs – religion, politics and football – and when you are talking, use your mouth and not your eyes. This means you do not move your head. You focus on the road at all times.’

Drivers should never hurry to a destination and a conservative driving style is needed at all times.

Johnson said: ‘Always drive sedately and never in a rush. Always keep a distance so if the vehicle in front brakes you do not disturb the passenger when you brake, as they could be reading or on the phone. You have to remember that the vehicle is an extension of the client’s office.’

Chauffeurs should always try and imagine that the client is reading a paper and smoking a cigar – and drive without them burning a whole in the paper.

Planning is paramount for any prestige fleet. Routes should be determined long before a client is collected. A passenger won’t want to be driven around an unfamiliar area looking for a hotel.

Some chauffeurs will even do a reconnoitre trip prior to an important journey to ensure they know exactly where they are going. If time prevents this, then satellite navigation can come in handy. Johnson said: ‘We use satellite navigation, but I recommend drivers memorise the route in their head. The client should also be told before setting off what the estimated travelling time will be.’

Drivers have to be a walking encyclopaedia with a knowledge bank including everything from places to eat to where all the local airports are situated.

Johnson said: ‘Chauffeurs need to know where all the airports and financial institutions are and all the hotels, which includes meeting the concierges beforehand.

You need to know all the latest restaurants, the latest fashion stores and antique shops.

It is a constant learning process because what is in fashion now won’t be next year.’

Attention to detail is a key element for chauffeur fleets and remembering the finer details of the service is vital.

Clients should always be invited to sit on the nearside as the passenger seat can be brought forward, creating more legroom.

Drivers should always park the vehicle in the direction the client is travelling to ensure minimum disruption and the radio should be pre-tuned to sedate channels such as classical or jazz, Johnson said.

Guild is the guiding body for licensing, training and employment

THE British Chauffeurs Guild provides help with licensing, training and employment for UK chauffeurs.

Fleet operators responsible for prestige fleets can also take advantage of a free advisory service which is offered to guild members, employers of chauffeurs and any member of the public on any matter related to chauffeuring.

By joining the guild, drivers are given a chauffeurs’ permit, a ‘silver cockade’ to be worn on the cap and a members’ handbook containing the rules of the guild, code of conduct and guidelines for members.

To become a member, drivers should have been employed as a chauffeur for at least three years, and undertaken the guild’s membership qualification course.

Applicants who do not fulfil this criteria are requested to complete the guild’s Security Chauffeur Training Course.

  • Visit www.britishchauffeursguild.co.uk for more information.

    Chauffeur training: Training schemes cover every aspect of the job

    EACH prestige fleet will usually have its own in-house training programme and set of standards.

    According to Johnson, this should always cover driving styles, opening doors for passengers and car preparation, including stocking the vehicle with water and newspapers before a journey.

    When opening a door for a client the chauffeur must approach with the left hand and always look away if the client is female, mainly to avoid embarrassing situations if the client is wearing a skirt.

    Advanced driver training is encouraged by some fleets but often it is not a compulsory aspect of the job.

    However, chauffeurs do have to complete stringent criminal and medical tests, an examination, eyesight test and have a urine sample taken to check for drug abuse.

    The Government’s bureau for criminal records is also checked by employers to see if prospective employees have past convictions. Johnson said: ‘To be a chauffeur, drivers have to fill in a lengthy application form, show their birth certificate, passport and two references.

    ‘We also have to complete high security checks because we sometimes have to go airside at national airports. We always need to carry identification and we need two types of licence, a chauffeur licence and an automotive one, both have to be checked.’

    Johnson carries clients from presidents to office juniors although his biggest client base is merchant banking.

    There are almost 130 vehicles on the fleet ranging from Mercedes to Volvos but if a client requests a model which is not on the fleet, the firm will hire it from an alternative company.

    Johnson said: ‘I am contracted for 40 hours a week with a maximum working week of 48 hours but unlike HGV drivers, the number of hours driven is not restricted.’

    Armour plating is a must for those high-risk fleet users

    SECURITY is a concern for some high profile clients, including royalty and politicians, who require additional protection.

    Armoured vehicles are a lot more expensive than standard chauffeur vehicles, starting at about £160,000.

    Several manufacturers including BMW, Range Rover and Audi offer armoured versions. Fleet News reviewed Audi’s latest offering – the A8L 6.0-litre quattro.

    The Audi A8L 6.0 quattro looks like any other – and that’s just how it should be. But under the skin the A8 Security includes full cage armouring. In the rarefied circles in which the new Audi A8 Security is going to move, safety consciousness takes on a whole new meaning.

    VIP passengers obviously have luxury, quality and style high on their wish lists. But some also have an overriding need for the ultimate in armoured protection.

    It’s for this reason that Audi has invested in its state-of-the-art production facility for full specification armoured vehicles at Neckarsulm, Germany. Based on the A8L 6.0, powered by Audi’s 450bhp W12 with quattro drivetrain, the A8 Security features full-cage ballistic steel armouring designed to withstand heavy arms fire.

    This covers the A, B and C pillars and doors, the underside of the floor, roof and rear parcel shelf/seat back area.

    Additionally, the underfloor armour is anti-magnetic. All glazed areas use B6-standard glass up to 50mm thick.

    The doors are hinged directly to the B-pillar armouring, eliminating the possibility of door drop.

    Audi specifies Michelin PAX System run-flat tyres, mounted on reinforced alloy wheels styled like the standard unit’s.

    In conjunction with the A8’s air suspension, upgraded to cope with the armoured A8’s 3.5-tonne minimum weight, they enable unaffected progress even when deflated.

    Inside, standard A8L appointments can be augmented by a huge range of luxury options, including a TV and a powerful smoke extraction system. Additionally, the potential for telematics and Bluetooth communications solutions are virtually limitless.

    Need a lift? S-class leads the way...

    The top 10 best chauffeur cars according to the Chauffeur Magazine are:

    1. Mercedes-Benz S-class
    2. Mercedes-Benz E-class
    3. BMW 7-series
    4. Audi A8
    5. Jaguar XJ
    6. Chrysler Grand Voyager
    7. Volvo S80
    8. Bentley Arnage
    9. Maybach 62
    10. Rolls-Royce Phantom

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