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Uber Cool ‘Rommel’

brand consulting

Early morning on any given workday could mean only one thing. Work sling bag on left shoulder and overnighter on the other, I make a beeline to the airport. For those who groan about the Bangalore traffic, the silver lining of departing at sunrise is the heady feeling of zipping through the climatically gifted city

It’s 5:45 a.m. on the 26th of June when I step into an Uber and settle down. I’m greeted by the clear, confident and friendly voice of the driver, “Sir, what time is your flight?’. I was already on my way into doing a shut-eye, but the question piqued my interest. “8:00 a.m, I responded”, promptly. I half expected that with this newfound information, the driver might decide to step on the gas, with me as a guinea pig, to achieve his own personal best timing. He responded plainly, “It’s good to leave early for the airport”. What? Wow! That was quite unexpected, and I wonder what he would have said if I hadn’t factored in the requisite buffer

The ride went on smoothly and as I saw the airport in view, I started to put my ticket and ID together. We drove into the airport, where, by sheer habit drivers stop at the first departure gate and hence that section is perennially clogged. My man had something else in mind, he breezed past the jam and headed to the last departure point. He somehow sensed that I would pipe in with a question, comment or exclamation. Pre-empting me he said, “Sir, the queue for entering the airport is shorter from this gate, which is why I am taking you there”. The man had me floored. I asked him his name, thanked Rommel and left; however, the memory of that trip hasn’t left me

The ‘Rommel moment’ as I have come to call it, is not something I had experienced prior to that day, nor post in a cab journey. So clearly to my mind it was the individual and not the organization; a flash in the pan, or in CX language, an experience that is not consistently delivered to customers. But is it fair to expect this treatment every time? If one were to take a broader view, it is often difficult to count on workers to organically deliver levels of service that they perhaps haven’t ever experienced themselves. But let’s not throw in the towel. There must be a way …

Oops; there seem to be further complications down the road. In the world of business, this is an era of aggregators. Businesses galore that own the ‘platform’, but do not necessarily ‘directly employ’ the people who interface with or deliver the service to the end customer. I recently spoke with the CEO’s of a bus ticketing company, a car rental platform and a trucking logistics firm. All echoing a similar strain – “The moment of truth for the end customer is with a set of people who are our partners, not employees. Making it herculean to orchestrate and control the brand experience”

There’s light at the end of the tunnel; here are a couple that might illuminate:
(written with a taxi company in mind, but can potentially be scaled across sectors and businesses)

  1. Tech is the nerve centre of these businesses; the same tech-edge and ethos can be leveraged to scale service capabilities of ‘business delivery partners’. So virtual and live induction, push-based personalised content in response on specific feedback received on a driver, periodic byte-sized videos on exceptional customer service moments (drivers have all the time in the world to consume content) are just scratching the surface on how ‘show and tell’ that can make the ‘Rommel moment’ exponential and hopefully a way of life.

Don’t believe it will change behaviour? Picture this. While the travel aggregators guard their algorithms, what is anecdotal is that a better customer rating gives a driver a higher probability of landing the next ride, all things being equal. At least the drivers strongly believe this is how it works. So you have the carrot. I did a little research on the cabs I’ve taken over the past year (quite a number). Rommel has been with the cab company for 2 years; if I compare his ratings with those of drivers of the same vintage, he has close to 300 6-star service ratings, the next best driver half of this, beyond which there is a steep decline.

HYPOTHESIS – Exceptional customer service correlates with improved business – HENCE PROVED

  1. There is a strong likelihood that cabbies will mirror the experiences they consistently have. For example, if employees of the cab company smile and wish the driver every time they see them, the driver should start to do the same with travellers. If the employee always carries a cloth and gives the cab a wipe on the outside if it is dirty, it is likely that this will rub off. It always helps to belabour the point; experience delivery has to start inside – out. Over the time we’ve consulted, we’ve been called in on occasion where companies have been dropping the ball here

Back to the hero of the 26th of June!

I intend to connect with Rommel and understand better his story; what makes him an ‘experience role model’. Therein might lie some valuable nuggets.

If I do get to have filter coffee with Rommel, watch this space for a ‘behind the scenes’ story…

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