Lessons Learned From The Cab Industry

When was the last time you were in a cab? How awesome of an experience was it when you did? Was it memorable?

I’ve spent the past two weeks on the road, splitting my time between Las Vegas, San Francisco and Minneapolis. I found myself spending a lot of time getting from point A to point B and often using a cab, for a variety of reasons.

In Las Vegas, they are the only option; granted there are car services providers at the various hotels. In San Francisco they are just outside the hotel door and give the impression of convenience; at least getting around town. Same applies in Minneapolis.

It’s really no wonder that services like Uber have been so disruptive to the industry.

Four Observations:

There seemed to be a common trend on each of the rides. Interestingly enough, they were traits that I felt all businesses could relate with. Here are the top four:

1. Appearance.

For whatever reason, they all appeared to be on their last leg. They appeared dirty, broken down and generally unappealing. This by itself is not reason enough to discount them, but it does add to the overall experience. There was one cab where the entire back seat was plastic; granted this was Vegas, and I can truly appreciate why — I can only imagine what led to this, but it kind of felt as it was a death machine.

Thoughts: You can’t help but wonder the implications of appearance on your business. For today’s small businesses this extends beyond the traditional brick-and-mortar and looks at how you present yourself online. Similar to the cabs, especially when starting off, a pour appearance can really set a negative tone for a potential buyer, if they buy at all. I think this is especially true for those businesses tailoring their services to the consumer; you can possibly argue that those targeting the Enterprise (and that is a very wide spectrum) likely care less about their virtual appearance and more their physical appearance.

2. Attitude.

This doesn’t apply to all, but the general feeling I got from most of the drivers was a level of annoyance. I had one cab driver ask my why I didn’t just walk the half mile to the convention center. While that in itself is not a bad question, but the reason for the question was based around the potential fare, not concern for my health. It stemmed from the annoyance that this would not be a good ride, and they’d have to come back around and get in line again. This annoyance carries through the ride, you can feel it in the air through the entire engagement and it’s almost uncomfortable.

Thoughts: Interestingly enough, while at one of the largest security conferences in the world, RSA Conference, I noticed this same attitude amongst those slotted to work the booths. We must be extra careful I think when we engage with consumers, in today’s world, I feel as if we spend so much time behind social media we’re forgetting how to truly be social and engaging with people in real life. So much so that we forget what and how we react, not just in the way we say things, but our mannerisms and physical responses when annoyed.

3. Convenience.

There really isn’t much convenience when it comes to a cab it seems. Especially when it comes to paying. Have you ever driven in a cab and you get the, “the credit card machine is broken?” They say it because of the transaction fees with the credit card processors and when you deal with cash they take home more, less to record. I get it, I really do but in an age where everything is digital it’s very frustrating.

Then there is the navigation; I don’t think I’d be going on a limb if I said that most of us when we get in cabs expect the drivers to be masters of their domain. In other words, if I get in your cab I’m hoping you can get me to point B quickly. You know your city. If you can’t, because it’s impossible to know every corner of the city, I get that, technology is often your life line. This however does not seem to be the case; I was surprised at how many cab drivers were unable to navigate their own city and depended on me to use my Google maps app to provide them directions.

Thoughts: I think though this and can’t help but wonder how often we do this same thing? What are those instances that we have designed things specifically for the convenience of the company, not the buyer? I could list out 10 things right off the top of my head. I think some will confuse introducing features into a product or service as a convenience component, but I’d argue it’s an expectation. That convenience really comes from the overall experience, everything from the way they can access their billing information, engage your staff, and make ready use of your product.

4. Service.

It seems as if the level of care is nothing but underwhelming. When was the last time the cab driver actually got out of the car to help you with things? If you’re lucky this happens at the airport, maybe at the hotel. Even then, what happens when you arrive? The odds of them getting out, after you’ve paid, dramatically reduces. Why is this? This doesn’t even account for the trip itself.

I think in every cab I had the misfortune of riding it was something different. It ranged from texting, talking on the phone in a different language, screaming at other motorists, blaring some obnoxious music, driving with a heater on or any other number of things. The fundamental problem with all this was none of it was tailored to the passenger, the person paying for your service.

Thoughts: I think all of us have heard the importance of good customer service, and many try very hard to achieve this. It is however something we can’t underestimate and it must always be at the top of our mind. It’s interesting when I think of all the transactions I have with other businesses, even the ones with the youngest product lines, exceptional service always paints my view of the company in a very different light. I think there is a misconception with good service though. Good service is not about agreeing or giving the customer/buyer whatever they ask; on the contrary, it’s about identifying the unique value you are bringing to them. Yes, sometimes that value means disagreeing with them and possibly firing them as a customer.

What Cabs Taught Me

Regardless of industry, we must always be willing to learn from others. The cab industry over the past two weeks taught me a lot, but I’ll narrow it to two key take-aways:

First, most cab drivers could really care less and they are simply doing what they must to make a buck. I don’t hold that against them, but it does make me think about companies that have a customer service element to them. The common trend I found, when talking to the drivers, is that they often had disdain for their employer — especially in Vegas. This is not true for those that are independents and had their own cab, the experience with them was always so different.

I think about this and I categorize the independents as the startup/small business eco-system and the other cabs as the larger organizations. I am almost willing to bet, that when the cab company started their service was very different. They were hustling, they had to get business. As demand grew, so did their organization. Somewhere in the process though, the need to hustle, the need to maintain the right culture slipped through the organizations hands. This reminds me of the businesses we’re running and building, how are we accounting for this? How do we avoid these same pitfalls?

Second, for businesses that are consumer focused you can’t underestimate the value of good quality customer service. A lot of the negative experiences I shared above would have been nullified if the overall service would have been more pleasant. What I realize though is that it was the combination of the various observations that made for an overall bad experience. The negative appearance set a negative tone, the pour attitude closed me off from a positive engagement, the convenience issues made it very frustrating and all that led to an overall lack-luster experience.

A positive experience for our customers is so much more than having an awesome product that solves a purpose. It’s about tackling all the challenges a customer has when engaging with your team. Whether that’s engaging in person at an event, chatting with them via your various engagement mediums or simply how they navigate your system.

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