It happens to nearly everyone, if you work in nearly any business for long enough. A customer, partner, client, speaker, or consultant – or a big pile of them – comes into town, and you get cornered and sent out to pick them up at the airport, their hotel, or their business. Whether you’re picking up one person in the boss’s car, or a hundred, all day long in a rented van, there are some practices that will help to make your passengers more comfortable, and make you stand out as the person who’s willing to go the extra mile – no matter WHAT the job might be. Professional drivers know the tricks, but many of us are only in it for a day or a weekend, at most. Here’s how to excel at this occasional responsibility.
1) Know Your Vehicle – Unless you’re being sent out in your personal car (try to avoid this, as it raises strange liability issues), you should take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the vehicle you’ll be driving. You should be able to turn on both inside and outside lights without hunting for them. Understand the climate controls and the radio before another person enters your vehicle, and figure out the wipers, high-beams, and defrost. Nothing says “unprofessional,” more than fumbling for controls. It makes you look bad, and can make your passenger question both your abilities as a driver and the regard that your employer holds for their guests. You should represent yourself as confident and able.
2) Clean Up – When grabbing a shuttle, it’s nice to step into a clean, well-maintained vehicle. Garbage, stains, and unpleasant odors make an immediate negative impression. If you’re driving a personal vehicle, make sure that it’s completely clean, both inside and out, before it enters service. If you’ll be shuttling a lot of people around, it’s important to stop every hour or so and spot-clean the vehicle. Paper cups, schedules, maps, and such are often abandoned by passengers, and need to be cleaned up. Spot cleaning will also help you to spot misplaced wallets, bags, briefcases, and purse and get them back to their rightful owners.
3) Know the Route – If you’ll be driving to an unfamiliar location, make a point of going there once before you have passengers. Pull-ins, pick-up, and drop-off areas vary in their setup, approaches, and appearance. Make sure that you know just how to get where you’ll be going before you have to perform.
4) Know the Other Stuff – This is one thing that separated the acceptable from the exceptional. Before you make your pickup, check out a three-day wheather forecast and commit it to memory. Know the basic population statistics of the city or town you’re in, and learn a little bit about any landmarks you’ll be passing. How many students go to the local college? What sports teams to they have, and how are they doing? Check out the final scores of any national sports games that were played since your passengers left home. Being able to answer these questions will make you a shuttle-driving god. Be approachable, but don’t dominate the conversation. Some folks don’t want to chat, but want to mentally prepare for their upcoming speech, conference, or meeting.
5) Be Prepared – It’s not just for Boy Scouts. Prepare your vehicle ahead of time with a few essentials. A few bottles of water and some name-brand pain relievers like Advil or Tylenol are the bare essentials. Traveling is stressful, dehydrating, and tiring. Providing these little gestures of sensitivity to your passengers’ lives will go a long way toward making them more comfortable, and will be much appreciated.
6) Driving and Parking – Driving an unknown vehicle can be difficult enough, but if you’re piloting a twelve or fifteen-passenger van, things get even harder. Try to get to know your turning radius, and understand the traffic-flow around airport and hotel pick-up and drop-off areas. When pulling up to a sidewalk, make sure that the vehicle is parallel to the curb, and as close to the edge as possible. If there’s a ramp cut into the curb, align your passenger doors with the center of this ramp area to eliminate stumbling and tripping. If you’ll be idling for a while, leave room for other taxis and shuttles to get by you, and don’t idle in the prime pick-up and drop-off spot. Professional drivers know this, and will be seriously irked with you if you make their jobs more difficult by blocking a loading area, or forcing their passengers to walk a long way to get to their rides. If it’s clear that your passenger will be a while, clear the loading area entirely, and either park in a nearby shopping center, or circle the block for while, allowing others access to the prime real-estate.
7) Luggage, Embarking, and Disembarking – When you stop to pick up or drop off a passenger, turn the vehicle off, exit the vehicle, and assist passengers in loading or unloading their luggage. Open and close the doors for folks coming onto or off of your vehicle, and always be the first person out of, and the last person onto your vehicle. Even if your assistance is declined, you should be available to assist passengers at all times. After everyone is on board, check for missed luggage on the curb, or clothing, luggage straps, or other materials caught in the closed door. If working with large groups, take one more look for additional passengers running to catch you before pulling away.
8) Music – Choose something inoffensive, and with broad appeal for on-board music. Avoid harsh rock, talk radio, news, or any music with extremely prominent vocalists. Talking or prominent vocals can be distracting to folks trying to converse, read, or make phone calls. Instrumental music is ideal, either simple jazz standards, bright classical, or something similar. Come prepared with CDs, as even the best radio station has commercials. Keep the music relatively low at all times, but don’t turn it off – even if people are making phone calls – unless requested specifically by a passenger. Turning off the music forces all other passengers to listen to the phone call taking place.
9) Dress the Part – Try to look sharp. A clean and presentable appearance will engender trust in your passengers, and often improves your relationship.
Driving isn’t anyone’s favorite task, but it can be a lot of fun if you go at it with the right attitude. If you do your homework and prepare ahead of time, you can do the job well when called upon, and have a good time with it at the same time. If you do it right, the drive in may well be the most pleasant and least intense part of your guest’s visit.