Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Customer Satisfaction

I know this will shock you but I used to get into a lot of arguments with customers. No - it's true. One reason I liked working for City was that Jim Miller used to throw complaints into the wastebasket - unless they were about something really important like a driver punching someone or refusing to convey a blind person. And, Miller was right. Most complaints aren't worth bothering about. I'm mean, 75% of them are about the driver going too fast or playing the music too loud.

"Did you ask the driver to slow down?" I'll ask my customers when they tell me stories like this. "Oh no," they'll say. "We were afraid. He was insane."

What can I tell you. These people should get out more. If they think San Francisco taxi drivers are crazy, they should travel to New York, Latin America or Asia. My favorite cab drivers are Mongolians. Rather then stop at a red light, they'll drive up on the sidewalk. And, they have the right of way. People scatter like pigeons.

But I digress. Early on in my career, I couldn't figure out why I should be polite to people who'd been rude to me. For that matter, I still can't but, back then, I didn't handle it well.

One day when I came in to pick up my cab, Jim gave me a significant look and said laconically, "It's Bastille day."

I instantly understood. "I'll try not to storm anybody," I said.

"That would be a really nice thing for a change," he replied.

As I walked to my cab, I thought to myself, 'My God! If I'm getting too rude for Miller, I'd definitley better change my act."

And I did. Here are some suggestions for dealing with problem customers.
  1. Never use obscenities. If, say, you have a drunk who's upset because you wouldn't let him step out into traffic and keeps screaming, "don't you think I'm smart enough to open a door by myself?" don't tell him to shut his effing mouth. Tell him something like, "if you were smart enough to open a door by yourself, we wouldn't be having this conversation." More often then not the situation will be resolved by his throwing himself out of the taxi, saving you the trouble of doing so.
  2. Never pick on person's personal flaws. If, for instance, you have an obnoxious obese person giving you a hard time, be indirect. You might say something like, "a good walk could work wonders for your waistline" or "whatever happened to fat and jolly?"
  3. Be nice to tourists and conventioneers. If you have Tom, Dick and Harry in the back of your taxi drunkenly trashing everybody they see, when the moment comes for them to talk to the "cabbie" and they ask you, "tell me cabbie - what brings all these weird people to San Francisco?" Don't insult them. Simply say, "hotels, Harry, hotels and conventions."
Just kidding. Those are from my pre-Miller-epiphany days. Such quips can be fun but, as Mahatma Ghandi might have put it, they don't do anything to promote world peace.

Try the following advice instead.
  1. Never use obscenities. If you find yourself in an argument, calmly defend yourself by saying exactly what you think is wrong with their behavior. If they start using obscenities on you, you've won the argument.
  2. A lot of arguments result from cab driver paranoia. People will often think that you're cheating them because they'd been taught that that's what "cabbies" do. If you have a fare dispute, simply tell them to pay what they usually pay for the ride; or, if they're not local, tell them to pay whatever they think is right. The most you'll lose is a couple of dollars. I've also had people give me large tips in those situations because they liked my attitude.
  3. When dealing with the public, attitude is really everything. If you've had several jerks in row, take a break and mellow out. Don't let their negative energy get to you.
  4. If you've had a bad ride, don't let it carry over to the next customer. Always start you're next ride like it's the first ride of the day: A nice smile and a warm hello.
  5. If you do get somebody who is a major asshole or snob, interact with them as little as possible. No reason to let their attitude dictate yours.
But so much for the negative. Dealing with the public is all about creating a positive atmosphere. When they're having fun, even assholes will show you a good side.

For the last couple of years, I've been bringing CD's along with me when I drive cab. I like a wide variety of music: classical, jazz, blues, country, 40s and 50s ballads, 50s through 70s R&R, salsa, folk, international and opera. When I'm really working it, I try to guess what kind of music my customers will like before they get into the cab. I'm right about 80% of the time.

Even when I'm wrong, it sometimes works out right. Like I was listening to a Vaughan Williams tone poem when some punk rockers jumped in my taxi. I started to change the music but they wouldn't let me. They thought that the Tallis Fantasia was the greatest thing they'd ever heard in their lives.

Since I've been doing this, my tips have gone up about 50%. It's not uncommon for people to give me a $20 bill for a $7 or $8 ride because they loved the music I'd played for them. But more important then the money is the fact that I've made people feel good. And, that makes the job much more entertaining for me than it used to be.

Now when I go to work, I take the attitude that I'm going to a party. I try to make at least one friend every shift. I usually succeed.

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