I had an interesting experience on this week’s trip to Edmonton with my cab ride from the airport. As many people do when I am travelling in a city I don’t know well, I just got into the next taxi from the stand as I came out of the airport without giving it a lot of thought. The driver was unusually chatty (for me, anyways). Particularly late at night, I don’t typically encourage the conversation in the taxi beyond a few pleasantries, but this man was interesting and engaging. He was also “personal enough” – talking about coming to Canada for his son, but not getting into more detail than might be seemly. And he encouraged me to talk about my family. As part of the conversation, I mentioned where my meeting was the next day and he made sure that he pointed it out to me as we went to the hotel.
By the end of the drive he knew that I was returning to the airport the next day and gave me his card so I could call him. So far, a very pleasant ride, but perhaps not terribly unusual.
Then came the clincher – he asked for my number so he could check with me in the morning about my flight time and when I might be heading out. I gave it to him, thinking that he would be busy the next day and that was the end of the story. But around 1130am- which was after I told him my presentation would be over – I got a text asking if I still needed a ride, and my time of departure. Ten minutes before the agreed upon time, a second text came basically saying ‘fyi, I am here, outside the door, in case you want to go early.’
In a world where taxis are competing with Uber and Lyft, this gentlemen is competing on a level of personalization that is pretty unusual in transportation in my experience. Starting from the very first trip! On day two he remembered my name and details of our prior conversation. On the drive back to the airport I asked about how much of his business comes from regulars. This is cab, remember, not a limo service – and after four years about half his business comes from repeats like this. We talked about his management system to keep track of regulars and how he deals with conflicts between casual rides and his regulars. Basically he is willing to risk an hour empty to make sure he meets a commitment to a regular. Even though its a cab he talked about his commitment to keep it feeling clean and tidy. He talked about the importance of reliability – the passengers need to know their ride will be available, and on time. Some clients have got to the point where he gives them a unique texting experience – ie they want to know when he is 20 minutes away for example, or only a text right at the planned departure time.
Every business has a balance between regulars and new or 1-time clients. In a commodity business you would think that the balance would be tilted sharply to the unique or ‘1-time’ customers. But with some pretty simple and effective techniques he is building reputation, brand and value. It would have been just as easy – probably the same number of clicks – for me to get an Uber back to the airport, and probably would have saved a few dollars. But I was getting a known quantity, a reasonable price, and certainty – and an interesting conversation.
I am going back to Edmonton in two weeks. Guess who’s picking me up at the airport?