What makes a great chauffeur?
What makes a great, great?
What is the difference between a good and great chauffeur? We wanted a definitive answer to this elusive question: What makes a great chauffeur? Are the greatest chauffeurs just outstanding butlers on wheels? Or is it something else? Do they have a special sauce in their DNA? Or is it a combination of factors? Drive on with us to help redefine what makes a great chauffeur.
Redefining great chauffeurs
We asked two dozen, award-winning chauffeurs, the private hire press, mined feedback from clients since 2005, and of course the iChauffeur Team. We received a variety of responses. And a lot of useful data to help polish our levels of service. But in specific areas a strong consensus arose. We will reveal some key insights into the unique challenges that professional chauffeurs deal with daily. We hope you’ll find it interesting to discover what makes a chauffeur ‘Great’. Ride on, James.
So, what makes a ‘Great’ chauffeur?
Seat belt on, sit back, relax, as we travel in style through the most important attributes any professional private hire driver should have. Plus identify what differentiates the great, from the could try harder. We hope you enjoy the ride.
Safety first. Clients, chauffeurs and operators all agreed this was non-negotiable. Good command of the vehicle at all times is essential. But does an advanced driving certificate always mean a safer driver? And a relaxed passenger?
John, an experienced chauffeur said, “We ensure the day / journey is all about the client’s heartbeat. We plan for traffic, we plan for weather, and we drive in a low-energy manner to ensure their heart rate is lower than before we greet them.”
A chauffeur-driven journey’s success should be judged by smiles per hour not miles. All agreed, speed does not make a safe driver. The only performance yardstick would be the smoothness of the acceleration and deacceleration.
Good car control, attention, awareness and unflappable cool are vital elements for a great chauffeur. Safety first, second and third.
A good chauffeur is never late. Proper preperation and planning see to that. A great chauffeur will allow generous amounts of time between clients. Plenty of time to arrive at the collection point early. With time for the chauffeur to prepare the vehicle before departure. Sometimes this can help the client too, for example, if the client has a last minute change of plan. Like safety, punctuality is paramount for any chauffeur, not just the greats.
“Time keeping is most important. Ensuring plenty of time to arrive before the pick up time, so a chauffeur can check on traffic conditions, and plan the best route – whilst having alternate routes if a change is needed at any point.” writes Lee, a professional chauffeur.
Long before the client steps into the vehicle, there is meticulous planning. Google Earth may be used to check out entrances to certain buildings; opening times for theatres are double checked; flight arrivals are monitored; potential route disruptions are anticipated; everything is researched.
The chauffeur losing their way or not keeping to the time schedule is not an option. Preparation is vital. Remember, a great chauffeur is never late.
3. Topographical Knowledge
All London chauffeurs are required to pass a TfL PCO topographical test. A great chauffeur would not only know the way around but also where to get the best fish and chips!
“I was driving American clients on a World War 1 and 2 gardens tour. After we visited Charles Darwin’s House, I pre-booked the clients a table for lunch at an 18th Century Grade ll listed pub called ‘The Olde Jail’. American tourists love English fish and chips, and the pub didn’t disappoint.”
— James, Chauffeur
And of course, the chauffeur ideally would have a good relationship with the door persons of the best clubs, restaurants, casinos and hotels.
People skills are as important as driving ability. Someone who is both relaxed and quietly confident; someone who is easy to be with. Someone who gives a ‘feel good feeling’ to have around and to be around.
“Good communications before the pick up, so the customer knows you have arrived, and of course, a smile to greet the passenger to brighten their day.”
— Lee, Chauffeur
Knowing when to talk
The late co-founder of iChauffeur, Andy Senior knew this instinctively. He was once chauffeuring the bride and her father to the wedding venue. The atmosphere in the car was tense. Nerves were getting the better of the bride. Her father said, “You look beautiful darling”. Andy quipped “Thank you very much sir!” With that they all burst into laughter. The ice now broken, both the bride and groom relaxed. Their journey now one of celebration instead of anticipation. Joy instead of nerves. Crucially, they were both in a great mood before they walked down the aisle.
Knowing when to talk, joke or stay quiet is one of the key characteristics of the best chauffeurs.
A sentiment echoed by chauffeur Jim, “Appreciating that every single customer is different. Knowing when to talk, when to keep it zipped.” He concludes with some more golden advice for the new chauffeur, “Remembering small details, what coffee they prefer, which route they like.”
“Judging when to talk and when not to is also very important, but also what ‘not to talk about’ as you don’t want to upset anybody!”
— Lee, Chauffeur
Helping the customer kick back and relax on the back seat is the goal. We’ve all experienced a taxi or mini-cab ride where we get a strong feeling that the driver needs to be somewhere else, and is itching to drop you off as quickly as possible. That just makes you feel awkward. The driver isn’t present and the passenger feels it. That is not a recipe for a pleasurable journey.
Humble, Humble, Humble
We asked Will Senior the co-founder of iChauffeur to share his experience of particular personality traits portrayed by successful chauffeurs. “Humble, Humble, Humble. Having a modest level of one’s own importance is always a good trait in any profession”, Will said.
“Customers need their space, and interfering without invitation or necessity, is not good practice. These skills are what great chauffeurs apossess naturally. Some aspects can be taught, but for the most part there are natural personality traits that set some apart from others.”
A great chauffeur will become part of your ‘family’.
“Yes, sir,’ said Jeeves in a low, cold voice, as if he had been bitten in the leg by a personal friend.”
A general consensus amongst the office based staff was that each new job, whether for a brand new client or for someone we have driven perhaps hundreds of times before, should be approached with a passion for excellence. There is no room for complacency.
“You’re only ever as good as your last job”
— Andy Holme. Head of Operations, iChauffeur
Preserving a positive and consistent image of calm and control reflects on the passengers. Congruence and equanimity are really important in the quest for chauffeur-driven perfection.
It can be true that opposites attract. People who like to please are frequently drawn to people who like to control. So, do great chauffeurs need to be people pleasers? Yes!
At an intrinsic level, they need to enjoy taking care of another person and offering service, in return for satisfaction of a job well done.
They are often perfectionists, fusspots even. With a naturally keen eye for detail. And this focus is reflected in the care given to their vehicles, which are in effect ‘their office’ and in which they take great pride. Immaculate is not an exaggeration when describing a professional chauffeur’s workspace – their vehicle. As should be their personal appearance.
Clients expect a chauffeur to be well presented. Good personal grooming and the preparation of the chauffeur vehicle are essential. Andy a pro-driver said this of the characteristics of the best chauffeurs, “Personable, very good personal grooming, and knowing when to talk and (as importantly) when not to!
The chauffeur needs to shine just as much as the vehicle. A sharp suit, crisp shirt, tie and polished shoes are the standard chauffeur ‘uniform’. Mark elaborates the importance of the chauffeurs presentation and the best approach for each journey, “Each job is individually catered for, but the car and driver will always be immaculate.”
Clients don’t usually prefer the chauffeur to wear a cap nowadays, but a great chauffeur will have one ready if needed.
A great chauffeur will also help with their client’s presentation too:
“I had a client whose cuff link broke so I gave him the ones I was wearing. I have carried spares ever since!”
— Andy, Chauffeur
A chauffeur will often drive business leaders and celebrities. Discretion is crucial. A great chauffeur will never share who, what, and where. Whatever is said in or out of the vehicle, goes no further. A great chauffeur will become the clients’ confidential allie. Keeping their business and personal secrets safe, is crucial to many clients.
For many discretion and confidentiality will be number one in a list of desirable chauffeur qualities.
Some chauffeur companies, like iChauffeur, require that each chauffeur signs a non-disclosure agreement. But of course a great chauffeur is doing this without prompt. Confidentiality is one of the main reasons why someone might choose a premium private hire service.
7. The Magic stuff
So, a great chauffeur is safe, punctual, well-presented, discrete and has superb topographical knowledge. But the icing on the cake is passion. Their joy at doing something well. Serving their clients with all their heart.
“Every contact we have with a customer influences whether or not they’ll come back. We have to be great every time or we’ll lose them.”
― Kevin Stirtz
With a professional chauffeur, the journey is as important as the destination and being ‘in the now’ with you as the passenger, is all that matters. A first class chauffeur will say that “being totally present” is a must.
“Really think it’s hard to put into words. Like a butler on wheels perhaps.”
— Anthony, Chauffeur
Anthony highlights the bespoke nature of the business, “It’s really about reading each client individually, as they are all unique, and if you can keep 99.9% of them happy then you are a good chauffeur.” It also indicates how for some people the changeable nature of the occupation is what drives the great chauffeurs to do what they do best. He continues, “It’s the most tailor made job, that’s what keeps it exciting for me.”
Paul Webb from Professional Driver
We thought that we would ask somebody who has ‘truckloads’ of experience and knowledge in this area and Paul Webb, co-founder and publisher of the industry standard ‘go to’ magazine Professional Driver, was the obvious choice. The fact that Paul was previously a chauffeur was also a bonus.
“I think a great chauffeur is defined by the client, who knows they can rely on you to transport them, or their family, or business associates, in a manner where they feel you are a the most reliable member of their extended family.”
Paul Webb from Pro-Driver Magazine
Chauffeur of the year 2019
We then asked Scott Phillpot, from Belgraves of London, who won the Professional Drivers QSi Award for chauffeur of the year in 2019.
‘The Award is for an individual private hire driver or chauffeur, who provides the absolute highest standard of service, in terms of driving skills, customer service, personality, and ability to represent their company.”
Scott said:”It goes without saying that a good chauffeur should always be sharply dressed, well groomed, smell good and have an immaculately clean vehicle. But I believe a great chauffeur is one who always has their client’s needs and safety at the forefront. A smooth ride, good route knowledge and vigilance are expected from your client but I try to always go the extra mile. By learning what makes my client tick, what they like to do, where they like to go to what brand of coffee they like, I can anticipate what they would want in the vehicle, suggest new places that would interest them to directly make the service tailored to them. I try to find out any special dates/anniversaries so that I can surprise them with a special gift. I get to know the front of house staff at their favourite restaurants and the concierges at the hotels they stay in so I can always get a reservation or any form of special treatment for my client. It is always the little unexpected details that a person will take away from the service you give.
I was very proud to win the gold QSI ‘Chauffeur of the Year’ award last year, but I mention this as I believe no matter where we are in our careers we never stop learning and I am always trying to improve my service wherever possible. I continually listen to my peers especially very experienced chauffeurs and am never too proud to learn. By adopting good advice has made me the chauffeur I am today.” – Scott Phillpot
What makes a 'Great'?
So what characteristics are shown by the true greats? Do certain characteristics make ‘Great’ chauffeurs, surgeons, guitarists, bar tenders or grand prix racing drivers?
Sir Stirling Moss, a true ‘Great’, arguably the greatest racing driver.
What qualities do the ‘best chauffeurs’, the truly great chauffeurs have? One could argue that passion is the difference between good and great. From comfortable to first-class. From satisfactory to exceeding expectations.
“And so you touch this limit, something happens and you suddenly can go a little bit further. With your mind power, your determination, your instinct, and the experience as well, you can fly very high.”
Driven to please
You know. Those rare individuals with a certain flair or a magic touch. A photographic memory for the clients personal preferences. Someone that can transform a simple A to B journey into a sublime experience. A great chauffeur will be enthusiastic and with great passion comes great chauffeuring. But is passion really enough?
“With regard to performance, commitment, effort, dedication, there is no middle ground. Or you do something very well or not at all.”
Great or Good?
What distinguishes these great chauffeurs from good? Are these individuals born with an exalted talent or is it merely a matter of training? What exactly is the ”right stuff” on the road?
Exceeding the client’s expectations
Chauffeur Jim indicates the level of service that his clients can expect, “Just knowing that when you are with a client nothing is too much trouble (even if it is).” Exceeding expectations is also something Mark works hard at delivering, “That special something is a chauffeur going that extra mile to make sure the client’s day goes smoothly.”
Lee shows just how important this personal service is, this extra attention to detail is something you won’t find in an app. “Whatever can be done to help their day run more smoothly, even if it’s to get milk while they are in a meeting, so they don’t have to after working all day.”, Lee wrote.
“Punctuality, discretion, calmness, thoughtfulness, good driving skills and road knowledge.”
— Andy, Chauffeur
Out of 100 interviews, we would be looking to recruit a possible 20 candidates, and from those we would choose 10, after our internal driving test.
Our view is that a great chauffeur embodies his role. So much so that he submerges himself in his very own ‘chauffeur world’ at every opportunity.
Fusspots are welcome
At iChauffeur we prize fusspots. And, you can’t turn fusspot mode “on or off” at random. Great chauffeurs are natural fusspots. With an attentive and quick eye for the details. They relish and take great pride in their work. These are individuals who will pull-out all the stops. Their goal to make the journey a pleasure. And to treat someone the way they would wish to be treated themselves.
The journey is much more than the ride. A chauffeur is much more than a capable driver. A chauffeur is there to assist with bags, open doors, help with hotel and restaurant reservations, and aid clients in all sorts of ways. So, fusspots, please fuss-on.
The iCHAUFFEUR driving test
An important part of our interview process is passing the “iChauffeur driving test”. An iChauffeur chauffeur has to drive at least one member of our office staff, before becoming part of the team.
Here are some examples of folk that didn’t cut the mustard for us:
- Drivers that parked in the bus stop/taxi rank/disabled bay outside our office.
- Drivers who were more engrossed with the talk inside the vehicle and how much money they would earn, as opposed to giving their attention to what was going on outside on the road.
- Drivers who were clearly trying to impress, and pass a test, rather than driving safely and mindfully.
- Drivers who didn’t present themselves and/or their vehicles to our exacting standards.
Then there is the first visual impression for the client; the suit, the pristine vehicle and the provisions within, and of course the initial greeting. Everything has to be first class. But this is par for the course. This is the very least we expect. The great chauffeur will go that extra mile.
Examples of chauffeurs going the extra mile:
“En-route to a special evening occasion, a lady was doing her make up in car when she realised she had forgotten her lipstick. It was a crisis! Knowing the area, I found her a Boots and it saved the day. Also I drove a businessman on back to back meetings who realised he had forgotten his wedding anniversary. So whilst he was busy, I went off and got a bouquet. It saved his day, and made mine, as he gave me a nice tip!”
— Lee, Chauffeur
“For weddings, always have a lint roller and a few snacks, as bridesmaids normally haven’t eaten anything on a busy morning and they can usually devour a tub of M&S choc crisps.”
— John, Chauffeur
“For one of iChauffeurs regular American customers, as I got her to lunch meeting half an hour early, instead of dropping her off I suggested a little diversion to see some Country cottages and properties as she loves British architecture, rather than her waiting on her own. She loved it and asked me to stop to take some pics. I still got her to the restaurant a few minutes early and she was very happy.”
— Lee, Chauffeur
Matching clients and chauffeurs
A great chauffeur can mean different things to different clients. Which is where having an experienced operator helps. Matching clients with chauffeurs is part of their remit.
We asked Andy Holme, iChauffeur’s Head of Operations for 15 years, what elements he believes to be crucial in matching the right chauffeur with the right client.
“Firstly, it’s our relationship with the chauffeur which has built up over the years. We get to know their habits, how they deal with tricky situations, and of course how punctual they are. As well as their knowledge of London, especially the major hotels, restaurants and business epicentres. And we know which chauffeurs have contacts with certain hotels, membership clubs and restaurants.
It’s equally important to have a good sense of what our clients require. Some clients like to chat, and some don’t. Some like a certain newspaper, a particular brand of water or even a specific meeting point at the Airport. It’s our job to collect all this valuable information and always have it to hand.
It’s then a matter of matching the right driver to the right Client. In the initial stages of developing a new client relationship, we may allocate drivers with varying styles for the first few jobs, to determine client preference.
Once we create a synergy, the chauffeur or chauffeurs can almost become an extension of the family – someone trusted to drive loved ones, perhaps to special events, or taking unaccompanied minors to/from school or for airport transfers.
Sometimes clients have a few preferred drivers for different occasions, which we always try to facilitate.
For me, I look for chauffeurs who are willing and helpful. Ladies or gents that will always go out of their way for the client, for whatever reason. All iChauffeur drivers have this skill and we very rarely get it wrong.”
What our clients say
We believe it is a testament to our pursuit of excellence and in particular our great personal chauffeurs, that we retain a large number of clients. Some have been with iChauffeur since our inception in 2005. We get positive feedback every day from our clients. From a simple “Thank you”, to on occasions moving stories of how our chauffeurs have made a real difference. We follow up every first journey, to make sure it was a pleasure. And we specifically ask how they rated their chauffeur. Most of the time we get it right. The right chauffeur, for the right client. But of course, they can always request a different driver for their next journey. Our process quickly identifies the passionate chauffeurs. We know also from their good communication skills, any specific client preferences that they think should be added to the client’s account notes.
To conclude, let’s recap some of the essential characteristics and attributes required by a great chauffeur:
- Immaculate – professional attire, meticulous personal grooming
- Quiet Confidence
- Calm under pressure
- Geographical knowledge – knowledge of local area
- Exceptional customer service
- Passion to please
- Clean Driving Record
- Planning – route planning
- Driving smoothly
- Knowing when to talk
- Enjoy driving/chauffeuring
It’s always difficult explaining to a potential client the way in which a smooth, professional chauffeur actually operates — there are a lot of moving parts. It’s a thing of beauty to watch a chauffeur operate properly.
From a distance, I suppose the average chauffeur wears a suit and tie and drives important people around. In a fancy car. But if you actually pay attention, you see that everything is pieced together a certain way for a reason. A great chauffeur will deal with each job on an individual basis. Because every client is as individual as their chauffeur.
What do you think?
Please let us know what you think makes a great chauffeur. We would love to hear from professional drivers, as well as people that regularly use a chauffeur-driven car hire service. In doing so, we hope to drive up standards across the industry, as we will share our key findings in a follow up to this article. This will also help us serve our clients better. Which is always our driving ambition. We are in this for the long ride. There are no shortcuts.
Let us know what you think makes a great chauffeur. We would really appreciate your thoughts.
Are you looking to hire a great chauffeur?
Call us on 020 8400 4829 or use our booking form, to book a chauffeur-driven journey.
Gary Mansfield RIP
As we published this article we learnt of the passing of Gary Mansfield. We are all saddened by the sudden and unexpected loss of our friend. He was a truly Great Chauffeur. We will miss him deeply.
If you know, worked with, or were one of Gary’s clients you may wish to visit the Gary Mansfield Memorial Fund page. His sudden death has put his family in a financial predicament. Please, if you can, donate to his fund, he was a true gentlemen, and deserves nothing less. Thank you.