It turns out I live quite a long walk from the train station.
I didn’t realise this at the time – the time being 1.20am, on a bitterly cold snowy December evening, having just got off a midnight train-of-death with other ‘mildly’ merry Christmas party revellers. I also didn’t realise that the local taxi firm at the station would have run out of taxis, not considering that demand might have increased given the season of joyful drinking and the adverse weather conditions (train company translation: anything that isn’t sunshine). To me, outraged at their shoddy preparation, it was entirely logical to shun a 30 minute wait and instead wrap my buttonless coat around me, setting off into the fog and snow, headphones playing Frank and Bing for what I was sure would be a beautiful and magical way to get into the festive spirit.
By the time I’d got to the Shell garage half way along, I was nervously counting my pennies to scrape together enough for a bottle of water and a Strawberry Nutri-grain bar. It was that bad. And by the time I’d got home around two hours later I was just plain nervous, fully aware that I was going to have to explain this ludicrous situation to my wife who’d not heard a thing from me since I confidently texted her about my taxi plan a short while before getting off the train…
Three days later it was time for another Christmas do, as sub-team after sub-team found any excuse for a few drinks, an awkward secret santa, and an opportunity to pull a cracker. Now, it’s not often that you remember your first conversation with a taxi company, but my chat with Neales stuck in my head. Calling up to pre-book (see, lesson learnt…) I mentioned about the situation I’d had a few nights before. ‘We’ll never have that problem – we will always have a car there for you’ came the reply, with such confidence and conviction that I began to wonder just how many cars, or how few customers they must have. Two years later, and I fully believe that man – and that’s just one of the reasons why Neales is the greatest Taxi firm the world has ever seen.
So why are they so good? Well, if you agree with me that Customer Experience is really all about Emotion, Expectations, and Effort, then Neales manages to be great across all three.
Of course, people don’t think about Taxi journeys being particularly emotional (rather like people not thinking that Chiltern Railways is a justifiable Blog post topic) but I’d argue differently. I’m not suggesting the actual process of booking a taxi, running through the standard ‘What time you on ’til?’ questions, and agonising over whether to give a tip is an emotional experience, but the reason for being in the taxi in the first place may well be. The only reason for getting in one is to get somewhere and, unless you’re Alan Sugar or Theo Paphitis, most people only get in a taxi when they’re sure their own car or public transport options aren’t viable to get them where they need to be at the right time.
That’s where the emotion comes in: the airport; a meeting; an interview; a family party… the reasons people are in the car in the first place is where the emotional connection is. Anyone who’s ever stood at their window, peering out and wondering if the car is ‘just coming round the corner’ whilst nervously looking at their watch knows the importance of that car arriving on time, and the feeling of relief when it turns up. Neales, by always having plenty of cars, and also arriving on time, reduce any emotional stress that could otherwise exist – and all they need to do is get the basics right.
It’s because of this that my favourite thing about Neales is how they manage my expectations and reduce the effort involved. This is a typical conversation:
Phone rings for about two seconds.
Me: (half-running along the platform at Marylebone carrying a M&S pasta in one hand and my phone in the other): ‘Hi mate, I need to book a taxi’
Neales: ‘No worries John, is that from the station to your house?’
Me: ‘Yep – 8.20 please’
Neales: ‘Great, see you there’
That’s it. Done and dusted. They know my usual destinations and start points, we both know the price hasn’t changed, and I can concentrate on squeezing my way through hoards of sweaty commuters to find the person with their bag on a spare seat and proceed to make them feel very bad about it.
There’s still that moment of uncertainty though, isn’t there? You’ve made the call and booked the taxi, but the call was so quick! Can he really of made the booking in that time, and got my details right? Will the taxi actually turn up, or will I have to phone again? Or wait? What if they’ve got my adder… oh, hang on, I’ve got a text from them confirming it all. Right, back to the lady with the oversized Hamleys bag pretending not to notice me stood next to her tutting loudly…
The same happens at the other end too. As much as I enjoy opening the doors to an endless procession of taxis as they arrive, scores of eyes on me as I ask ‘are you for John, mate?’ then backing away and handing over to the next person to take their turn, there really is an easier way. With Neales, as the train is pulling in and those ultra-keen commuters are stood up next to their seats to save precious milliseconds when the doors open, another text pops up and tells me the registration of the car that’s mine. Oh, and it’ll nearly always be a Prius, which makes me feel nice and middle-class smug about my environmental credentials, whilst being able to spend the journey confused about the need for them to show the moving car on the dashboard combined with an accurate-to-the-second MPG figure…
Individually all of these things are very simple, and I’m sure that plenty of other taxi companies do it too. But the theory here could and should apply to any company providing any kind of experience. Too often companies spend a huge amount of time, money, and effort focussing on big process redesigns and grand marketing gestures in an effort to improve their customers’ experience. Many companies would focus on the actual ‘journey’, the drive from one place to another, when thinking about the experience, but in truth it’s everything that goes before that really makes the difference. Understanding those small human moments that provide stress or worry – Is my booking right? Will the car turn up? Which car is mine? – and doing something about them is what makes the difference.
It’s what makes Neales the greatest taxi firm the world has ever seen – and reduces my consumption of midnight Nutrigrain, which can only be a good thing…
I really hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, I’d love you to subscribe to my blog at johnjsills.com/subscribe to get new thoughts sent to you on an infrequent basis, and find me on twitter @johnJsills.