George the Cabbie: A Tale of Customer Service

Every now and then, a stranger crosses our path, sometimes just for a mere moment, and we catch a glimpse of greatness.  We catch a glimpse of what it means to serve others with a glad heart, a lively spirit, and personal integrity.  We catch someone ‘getting it right’ and we want to share their story.  So it is with George the cabbie.

I met George last weekend in Orlando, while standing in line outside my hotel, waiting to catch the bus that ran between the hotel and convention center.  Buses ran every thirty minutes, and all of us standing in line were anxious to arrive in time to hear the morning keynote speaker, Marcus Buckingham.  The bus came, picked up five people, then announced it was full, pulling away and leaving the rest of us waiting in earnest for another bus.  Impatiently, I turned to my new friend, Lorin, and asked if she wanted to grab a taxi instead.  She agreed and within seconds, we were joined by Peter from Japan and Jan from Belgium.

Quickly we piled into the nearby town car, my leg still hanging slightly out the door on the verge of doing a slight split, when the driver, George, started to pull away.  We were nonetheless greeted with a smile when George jokingly assured me he had insurance, just in case I needed it.  We were off, and in the span of a less-than-five-minute drive, we had all managed to introduce ourselves and pass out cards, including George.  Without being pushy, George also managed to pass around a spiral notebook in which he asked us to write our name, number, and when our departure flight was.

At this point, I had been collecting cabbie cards throughout the previous few days, including one from Samuel, who shared stories of his hurricane-wrecked home, Haiti, various relief efforts, and his perception of the Americans who have extended a hand to help rebuild.  “Who” he asked, “comes and serves others so selflessly, and with such love and generosity?  People don’t do that much anymore, but your people do.”  I liked Samuel, and though George was courteous and entertaining, I wasn’t ready to commit my transportation needs to him.  Instead, I politely filled in my name and number, telling George that while I was leaving the next day, I wasn’t prepared to make firm plans.

Departure day:

Eating an early breakfast with my girlfriend, I remembered that I had not yet made taxi arrangements, though I was scheduled to fly out just before noon.  I quickly retrieved Samuel’s card and dialed his number, to no avail.   Hmmm.  What other cards had I saved?  Before I could even look for another number, my phone rang.  It was George.  “Good morning, Ms. Reed.  I remembered you were flying home today and wondered if you have already made transportation arrangements, and if not, if I could be of service to you?”  “Absolutely,” I exclaimed, and proceeded to give him instructions for picking me up outside of the convention center at 9:45 a.m.  He reconfirmed the time and promised to call me at 9:40 a.m. to let me know he was five minutes out.

9:40 a.m.

My phone rings, though I missed the call because I still had my phone on silent.  I listen to the message.  It’s George.  “Hi, Ms. Reed.  It’s George.  I apologize, but I am running five minutes late.  I realize that there is a line of cabs outside of the convention center, but I’m asking if you will please wait for me.  I have confirmed with the airport that the lines are short and the traffic is light.  I promise you will get there in plenty of time.”  I called him back and agreed to wait for him.  He recommended that I wait inside where it was cool, and promised to call when he was within one minute of arriving.  And so he did.

He told me on the way to the airport that most people would not have waited for him, and he greatly appreciated my willingness to do so.  I admit that I took a chance, and for a brief moment while I was waiting for him to arrive, I wondered to myself:  should I trust his word?  If I’m wrong, I will miss my flight and it will cost me hundreds of dollars and a great deal of wasted time.  But if he’s being honest, then I want to deliver on my end of the deal.  I won’t sell him out to someone who hasn’t earned the business.  Sometimes, amazing things can happen when you take a leap of faith.  Even on the little things.  Like a cab ride to the airport.  As he pulled up to the airport, he reminded me to stay safe, gave me a big hug and bid me a pleasant farewell.

End of the story?  Not quite…

True to his word, the lines were short and I had plenty of time before my flight took off.  Feet sore from three days of walking endlessly around in high heels, I got to my gate, dropped my bags, took off my shoes, and breathed a sigh of exhaustion.   Just then, my phone buzzed, indicating a text had arrived.  From George.  “Hi!  This is George.  I just wanted to wish you a safe trip home.”

A chance encounter.  A random cab.  An unknown driver.  Four initial passengers.  At least two repeat passengers (and loyal passengers for life).  One referral passenger.   As I picked up the last text from George, I smiled deeply and thought to myself, “George gets it.”  Life is so much more than just an exchange of goods and services.  At it’s heart, life is about people.  It’s about connections.  It’s about service.  It’s about living, leading and serving from the heart.

Postscript:

For those of you who took the time to read the tale of George the cabbie, I
thank you. To my surprise, it proved to be the most popular post I have written
to this blog. Perhaps it’s because it was a post celebrating another – catching someone doing something right. Perhaps it’s because customer service, like personal accountibility, is eroding in a world where people have become commodities, bought and sold to the highest bidder (or to the next cabbie in line). Perhaps it’s because in this age
of technology, people still crave personal connection and want to believe in the
word of another. At the end of the day, we all need affirmation that doing what
is right is…well…right.

If you read closely, you saw that the tale of George was more than
just a tale of excellent customer service. It was also a tale of personal
integrity. George could have made different choices. He could have chosen not to
call me to tell me he was running late, afraid that I might catch a different
cab instead, disregarding my schedule and how I might feel about having been
kept waiting. He could have been selling me a line about the light traffic and
lines at the airport, willing to say whatever might create the sale, though he
proved to be telling me the truth. Likewise, I could have chosen not to trust
George’s word and/or hung George out to dry and caught one of the cabs outside
when I first learned he was running late. No one would have blamed either one of
us, and many would call me naive for trusting my flight to the word of a cabbie.
Still, it is the everyday little choices we make – to trust or not, to tell the
truth or not, to do what’s right or not, that add up and ultimately shape one’s
character.

Capital Service and the Priceless Gift of Friendship

white house-eveningTechnology can be a wonderful tool.  Thanks to advances in data analytics and the use of algorithms to predict human behavior, businesses are more equipped than ever before to anticipate, target, and/or attend to our every need and want.  But true customer service is measured by what we do with this data, not just what it tells us.  It is about exceeding expectations, not just meeting them.  Moreover, in an age when customer service has been largely relegated to automation,  I appreciate the human touch more than ever.

On a recent trip to our capital city, I was thrilled to find a great deal at a new favorite hotel, the Capital Hilton.  Thrilled, because I love the location and it’s convenient proximity to my various comings and goings while in D.C.  Thrilled, because the Hilton hotel chain has always been known for reliable quality and service.  Still, as Stan Phelps writes about in his book, What’s Your Purple Goldfish, it’s the marketing G.L.U.E. (giving unexpected little extras) that differentiates one hotel/chain from another and solidifies our preference.

I remember walking into my hotel room last Wednesday afternoon, tired from the day’s events, with little more on my mind than a good nap.  I walked in to discover a tiered tray with wonderful snacks accompanied by a small vase of beautiful orchids.  There was no note and no card.  This must have been a mistake, I thought to myself.  I checked with the front desk to confirm.  No — it was not a mistaken order.  They were sent for my enjoyment.

From the morning breakfast staff to the bell desk, I continued to enjoy a degree of service and friendliness that I’ve come to appreciate when I travel.  While some people prefer the anonymity that hotels afford, I prefer engaging with others, having learned from a lifetime of international travel that hotel staff often have some of the most interesting stories to tell.

It’s Thursday afternoon at 5 p.m.  Checked out, but without the requisite daily parking fees on my bill, I went to pay for my car.  The valet staff suspected a mistake.  If the hotel didn’t charge me, they would need to.  I checked again with the front desk.  “No, Ms. Reed, there’s no mistake.  There’s no charge.”

Mystified, but deeply appreciative nonetheless, I headed out to spend time with friends, later receiving an unexpected text:  “Did you enjoy your time at the Capital Hilton?  Did you get the basket/food I sent to your room?”  An old friend from high school with business ties to the hotel industry and to this property in particular had seen my ‘check-in’ at the Capital Hilton via Facebook (data-driven marketing at its finest) and arranged for the basket and parking.

That day my expectations were truly exceeded, in business and friendship, reminding me that good service, like good friends, is priceless.  And my hotel of preference for my next trip to D.C.?  You betcha — the Capital Hilton.

I’m curious… In an age of automated efficiency, how important is personal customer service to you?  What role does it play in brand loyalty?  How has technology changed the way service is delivered?  In what ways have others exceeded your own expectations, whether by thoughtful gesture or exemplary service?

 

Acknowledgement and Appreciation

Recently a dear friend in my life and I were talking about the difference between and the importance of both acknowledgement and appreciation in relationship with another; how the give and take of a relationship is less about measurement and perfectly balanced scales than it is about taking the time to show appreciation for acts of loving kindness through the simple act of acknowledgement.  As I mulled these thoughts around in my head, I  kept silently see-sawing between what it means to selflessly give without expectation and our very real and human need and desire to feel acknowledged and appreciated, an endeavor that in some ways I excel at, yet in other ways fall well short of the mark.

Just this week, for example, I have been struggling to tackle the mounds of personal papers in my home office, stacked up and put off to be dealt with another day.  In the purging of all of this clutter, stacks of written, yet unsent cards were unearthed…the best of intentions rendered meaningless – for the intended recipient never heard my words, never received an acknowledgement, and never felt my thanks.  Worse still are the notes my children took time to write for gifts received, but which I failed to send on their behalf.  Yes, guilty as charged.

Recently, this topic of acknowledgement and appreciation has surfaced in other facets of my life, as I’ve found myself observing patterns of behavior, not just in my personal relationships, but in professional circles, too.  This topic, after all, is not only about what we do in response to loving acts of kindness, but in how we interact with others in our day-to-day lives.

I have one professional friend and ally, for example, who regardless of schedule, always manages to find the time to acknowledge emails within the day, even if only in a few words, though you may have to wait patiently if you’re hoping for a long conversation by phone.  Still, without exception, this friend recognizes, values, and finds a way to balance the need for honoring connection with others, while setting and maintaining boundaries in his own personal and professional life.  It’s a delicate balance, to be sure, but one I both admire and respect.

On the other hand, there are those others, who, despite their intellectual understanding of the importance of connection, fail to remember that influencing change does not just happen in a classroom or office setting or within the confines of ivory towers, but in our every day encounters with others; that real leadership happens in real life, through the values we live every day. While it’s true that not everyone is interested in establishing connection or building relationship with others, it’s equally true that we are nevertheless measured and judged by our interactions with others, and oftentimes these seemingly random and meaningless interactions can have a far-reaching impact, for good or for ill, extending well beyond what the eye can readily see.

Take the simple act of returning emails and phone calls as an example.  Sure, we all get busy with the business of life and need to set healthy boundaries with others if we hope to be productive.  Sometimes we even flake out, forget, or lose an important message; but the patterns of time reveal our true values, and when we consistently fail to do the simple things, regardless of intent, the resulting message is the same:  You are not important to me.   Ouch!  And yes, the bold is for emphasis, but isn’t that how we often feel when we are ignored?

Alternatively, the simple act of acknowledgement and appreciation, even if only expressed in a few words, creates opportunity for connection, builds bridges of understanding, closes gaps, heals wounds, and opens doorways to paths that might otherwise remain closed to us.  When we take the time to acknowledge and give thanks to another, we not only say, “I SEE you,” but by way of the gift of our time and attention, we communicate to the other, “YOU are important to ME.”

I’m curious…

Who and what do you invest your time in?  Do you take time to acknowledge and appreciate others in your life?  Are you better at acknowledging some over others?  If so, is it because you tend to take those ‘others’ for granted?  When you give of your time, talents or money, are you able to do so selflessly, without the expectation of reciprocity or acknowledgement?  When you are not acknowledged, what message do you receive?  What is one thing you could do today to show appreciation for others in your life?