I am sure some of you have heard of the Singaporean taxi driver with the Stanford PHD. Much has been said about about Dr. Cai Ming Jie, especially among the Twitteratis (SG #trend of the week?), you can personally check out his blog and see what’s the buzz is about. Its a good read and what I love most is Dr Cai does not go on ranting or lamenting on his predicament. That was kept only to the first post. Everything else written is about his daily encounters and conversations with customers from behind his trusty wheels, captured with his brand of perspectives. I like that.
Social media works, doesn’t it?
A blogging taxi driver. Now that’s a purple cow. Other than the remarkable fact that he has a PHD and was a Principal Investigator in a government lab for 16 years before getting retrenched, blogging got his story out into the open. In this economic climate, there are probably thousands of other folks in the same quandary as Dr Cai. But blogging gave him an edge, a story to tell. Perhaps, he may even score a job out of this spot in the limelight. Time will tell as we peel our ears to hear more from Dr Cai.
If you continue reading Dr Cai’s posts, you will know that taxi driving isn’t exactly a walk in the park. People have pre-conceived ideas about taxi drivers, especially in Singapore. They place a stereotypical social profile on them. Even though there are many angels among them, a taxi driver’s profile isn’t very flattering. Furthermore, making a living is tough. There are many competitors, including an increasingly affluent society with too many cars and, of course, our “world class” public transport in Singapore. Which got me thinking, how then can Dr Cai and his fellow taxi drivers get an edge in a “social-media inflected” world? How can Dr Cai and the likes of him (the nice, honest guy kind) differentiate themselves from the competition and leverage on the Web 2.0 economy? As much as we would like to help him out directly, the odds of flagging him down the next time you need a cab is pretty slim.
So let’s step back a moment and discuss Dr Cai’s story in a different context. Here’s something I am passionate about. My pet agenda, as a life-long customer advocate, customer service as a social media/marketing strategy. Plus a ‘one-tiered’ social conversations strategy I thought out to get the ball rolling.
The Social Economy is Here
Many have discussed using conversations with your customers as a long-term strategy to get customers interested and loyal, but how exactly would it work in a profession such as taxi driving? The touch on customers is always fleeting, you may leave a great impression but repeat customers are few and rare (unless you’re in the business of chartering). Its always the next customer down the road that fills your coffer.
How then can a taxi company get an edge in an increasingly social world? How DO they differentiate themselves and help their driving employees, honest folks like Dr Cai? Or do they still cling on to “nah, we are an old school business, we will be okay! People will always need cabs!” Now, simply ignoring the changes in how business is being done these days or that your customers are talking about you will only hurt you in the long run. Imagine a one-time negative buzz gone berserk, not unlike United Breaks Guitars or the Whole Foods Facebook boycott, your taxi company may never recover. And believe me your customers ARE talking.
Have we ever discussed this in our commuting: “Oh, Comfort Cab has better customer service!” or “Stay away from that company’s cabs, they have uncouth drivers”. No, we do not differentiate our choice of cabby, its almost always the next one empty (most times anyway, and even if we do, its usually something trivial like “oh i want that newer cab!”)
But someday this kind of talk will happen. And taxi co. executives should take heed and take advantage now.
So how can our taxi companies differentiate themselves and their brand? How to engage? What is this ‘one-tiered’ strategy?
Simply, make customer service your marketing-social media strategy! Leverage on the hundreds of your employees out there who are serving your customers every single day. Teach them to interact with Your Customers in a ‘socially-savvy’ way. But forget the social media tools (for now at least, it is really hard to envision anyone joining your Facebook page, the groundbuzz has to come first).
In reality, you have only one engagement opportunity per customer. Unlike a social media strategy in retail or B2B, your taxi drivers are probably not going to meet the same customers over and over again and build great relationships off that. So its a one-bullet, one-kill operation.
How to do this and how to start?
Be different. Don’t stop at half-day sessions to extol the virtues of good customer service to your drivers. Have a Public Relations specialist speak to them on PR101, let them understand the power of public perception, see the big picture. Importantly, tell them about the power of the internet, how easy it is for their customers to post a complain or highlight a bad experience online.
Definitely keep a close tab on recruitment and training, you will need the right kind of workforce. I am sorry if I offend the many folks who depend on taxi driving for a living, but the reality is not all of you are suited for the job. You are not doing any favour for your company or your colleagues by sticking around.
Also remember that Customer Service is not through a Toll-Free number. It should not get that far.
And on the road…
Start with a simple greeting. Many a times drivers don’t even bother asking where we are going. Initiate niceness.
Conversations matter. I know this is a 50/50. Some customers hate being in conversations with taxi drivers. Drivers need to learn to step back if a customer doesn’t wish to chat. But if customers really want to chat, use that permission to impress with good conversation skills! Teach the drivers on the hows to manage conversations and also to listen. Sometimes customers wish to share too.
“Brand-Drop” When is the last time you heard any cabby promoting their company’s brand? Hardly. Which company did the last cab you took belong to? Dunno. So train your drivers to talk “brand”, subtly of course.
Now this is the good creamy topping!
There are actually two types of conversations, offline and online. But if you do the offline well, you can be sure the online conversations will take care of itself. And best of all, all these for free! Social media will work for you, for next to nothing.
When everyone in your team plays a part to be the brand ambassador or the customer advocate, the collective effect is pronounced. Zappos is always a good example for me. A very apt local Singaporean example is Botak Jones. So by virtue of making good impressions through customer service everywhere, your brand will be memorable. And memorable brands get talked about very much, online.
Soon enough you will watch your brand grow online, as long as the conversation is good and worth sharing.
Maybe next time we will talk about how to leverage on these online conversations.
What will you get out of this?
Brand differentiation and social media wins through excellent customer service. And a definite edge in the new social economy.
Will this work? I think it will work like a dream. Perhaps you think otherwise? Please share below :)