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Chauffeur, The Soft Skills

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Chauffeur, The Soft Skills

Post by Ted-Pencry on 13/11/2015, 19:53

The reality is, good chauffeurs…really good chauffeurs are a minority – but why do so few excel at what appears, from the outside anyway, to be a fairly straightforward job? Andy Dubberley explains how to use your ‘softer skills’ when dealing with clients.$

Perhaps it’s down to the fact chauffeuring is a profession that relies considerably on the personality of individuals and not just professional ability. Skill sets differ enormously between chauffeurs and although training will undoubtedly improve a person’s capabilities, there is no course on offer which has the potential to miraculously change someone’s personality traits. In a nutshell you are what you are!
In close protection the terms ‘hard and soft skills’ are frequently used to describe the requirements needed for a security professional to be effective at what they do. ‘Hard skills’ describe the more practical abilities needed for a particular role, so when we relate these to chauffeuring, we’re talking about things such as driving, geographical knowledge and even first aid – all pretty obvious stuff.
‘Soft skills’ however are a little more complicated, but equally as important because without them, a chauffeur will struggle and any amount of practical skill will be wasted.

What are these ‘soft skills’

According to good old Wikipedia, ‘soft skills’ are defined thus; ‘a term often associated with a person’s “EQ” (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, interpersonal skills, managing people, leadership, etc, that characterise relationships with other people’.

The ability to interact with clients is everything in our profession and this is where a chauffeur’s personality can and will define just how suited they are to our trade.

These softer skills include reliability, temperament, honesty, integrity, discretion, demeanour, appearance, flexibility, punctuality and conscientiousness. There are others of course but the ones I’ve listed here are the more obvious personal attributes any decent chauffeur should be displaying as a matter of course, although sadly not all do.

We all know each and every client is individual and unique in their likes and dislikes, but while many are fairly forgiving when it comes to a chauffeur’s appearance, (within reason and as long as they are up to scratch personally), most would agree the absence of key traits such as integrity, honesty and reliability will cause them to dispense with a driver’s services pretty rapidly. Another couple of biggies are personal hygiene and professional standards, but they are most definitely self-explanatory.

Whilst most of the personality traits listed above speak for themselves, there is one soft skill that deserves some individual attention because, quite simply, it serves as the benchmark for success or failure in the chauffeuring profession and that is ‘communication’.

At this point, a lot of my colleagues will assume I’m talking about the verbal communication between chauffeur and passenger but that’s only part of it and we’ll deal with that bit in due course.
Equally important is ‘non-verbal communication’ because that is very often the part of the equation which forms the first impression a client gets of the chauffeur. Whether that first impression is wholly accurate or not, it will form the basis of the relationship between driver and passenger for what could be an hour’s journey or a business relationship lasting several years.

As it implies, ‘non-verbal’ communication is the contact between parties before any words are spoken and this contact can be transmitted via gestures, demeanour, actions and even appearance. Nothing demonstrates this point better than an airport meet and greet, something most of us do numerous times each week.

Turn things around for a second and think about how you feel meeting a new client at the airport for the first time. You’re waiting in the arrivals hall with a name board and the chances are you’ll know nothing about them beyond their name and perhaps their role, (you may of course know more if you’ve done your homework)!

In the few seconds between them spotting your board and you actually greeting each other, you will have already drawn some conclusions, correct or otherwise, about your new passenger. They may be smiley, they may look serious, they might look irritated that they had to spend those few seconds seeking you out in the long line of drivers. They may be dressed in a way that says ‘serious executive’ or perhaps their attire makes you wonder how the hell they ever made CEO! Like I’ve said, these assumptions might turn out to be way off the mark but it’s still human nature to make them.

It goes without saying their mind will be processing what they see of you in exactly the same way. Top button undone and tie pulled down suggests unprofessionalism and no pride in what he/she does. Still drinking coffee – rudeness. Scrawled name board shows lack of attention to detail.

There are many more similar scenarios but I’m sure you get the picture. Common sense dictates any or all of the above doesn’t automatically mean the chauffeur is in any way an unpleasant individual, poor driver or untrustworthy, but the fact is it’s creating negativity in the mind of that client and the chauffeur will have done themselves no favours whatsoever.

“He wanted to tell me his life story”

How many times have you heard that from clients who’ve experienced ‘chauffeurs’ who have just a bit too much to say for themselves? Perhaps there’s another soft skill coming into play here and that’s a chauffeur’s ability to interpret a situation and to adjust their behaviour accordingly – clearly not something everyone in our profession is able to grasp. It’s more than just etiquette and it’s another thing that sets good chauffeurs apart.

Whilst not speaking unless spoken to is a given in our job, there are clients who want a chat and for many it’s this part of the client-chauffeur coupling that’s the difference between a business relationship that lasts for a couple of jobs or many years.

Not everyone is a natural conversationalist, be it client or chauffeur, but whilst the passenger has the prerogative to please themselves whether they chat or not, a chauffeur that struggles with verbal communication will unfortunately be on a downer when it comes to leaving a lasting impression on a passenger for whom good conversation is part of the all round service and experience they’re looking for.

“Don’t mention politics”

If only it were that easy in the confines of a car but the truth is that if a client engages you on a particular subject you can hardly say “I’m sorry Sir, I can’t answer that question” and stick with name, rank and number! We chauffeurs are all different and personally speaking, some of the most fascinating conversations I’ve had with clients have been about politics, religion and my total inability to appreciate the game of rugby.

Again, it’s all about how you handle yourself and there’s always going to be times when you’re forced to feint interest in a subject that bores you rigid, or make yourself sound like the worlds leading authority on a topic that you can’t even spell. Seriously though, whilst you don’t need to be Einstein to do this job, you do need to have a little interest and a little knowledge in a lot of subjects.
Keeping up with the news is an absolute must and the same goes for the weather forecast and sports results. With most senior execs and certainly with celebs, some information can be found about them on the net so if you know in advance that they’re a fanatical Liverpool FC fan or they collect super cars as a hobby, you can prepare yourself and you should.

The whole package
Like many of you reading this, I often find myself standing in an airport arrivals hall scrutinising other chauffeurs and wondering how they can get it so wrong. For me, this all goes back to the difference between those of us that like to consider chauffeuring as a ‘profession’ and those who simply see it as a job.

Whilst the necessity to master the all important hard skills is pretty obvious, the need to have and develop these soft skills should never be underestimated.

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