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Three Customer Service Lessons From Jeff the Cabdriver

by Drew McLellan  |  
December 10, 2012

From the outset, I knew this was going to be a different sort of cab ride. I walked out of the hotel and, just like it has happened hundreds of times before, the taxi magically appeared. But from that moment on, it wasn't a ride; it was an experience!

The bellman put my suitcase in the trunk as I got into the back seat. The driver immediately turned around in his seat and extended his hand.  As we shook hands, he introduced himself and asked what kind of music I liked.

I told him to surprise me and he suggested some Carlos Santana because, he said with a big grin, "You can't help but feel joyful if you're listening to Santana."

As we headed towards the airport, with Carlos Santana providing our background music , my marketing lesson continued. Jeff got a call (like cab drivers always do) but quickly told his wife he had to go because he was chatting with his new friend Drew.

He proudly pointed out to me that his taxi was a Lincoln Town Car and, after I commented on how the leather glistened, he explained that he wipes down the interior a few times a day to keep it like new. Unlike most cabs, the car was immaculate. The carpets were freshly vacuumed, and the cab actually smelled nice.

Over the course of the conversation, he gave me his business card with his cell phone number on it. He invited me to call and pre-schedule with him next time I was in St. Louis. He’d be happy to pick me up at the airport and be on call for the duration of my trip. He told me that most of his fares were by referral or repeat business. I'm not surprised.

When we got to the airport, he not only got my bag out of the trunk but carried it to the airport's door. We said goodbye with another handshake.

I bet it won't surprise you that he received more than a healthy tip from me. And I suspect that's the case with most of his fares.

What are the takeaways from Professor Jeff?

People do business with people. It's hard to imagine a less random choice than hailing a cab. Whoever is first in line is who you choose.  But Jeff made sure he wasn't some random cabby to me. He went out of his way to become a person---and a person I liked.  Next time I am headed to St. Louis, I will be calling Jeff.

It's all about the customer. Jeff made me feel like he actually cared that I was in his cab. He called me by my name. He didn't chat away on his cell phone but instead stayed engaged with me. He invited me to partake in the music selection, and we chatted for the entire 30-minute drive.

Appearances do matter. His cab was immaculate, inside and out. He was dressed neatly, and he had a warm and genuine smile on his face.  You honestly couldn't help but enjoy doing business with him.

I'd bet that Jeff never took a single marketing course. (He told me that he was a cop for 25 years before becoming a cab driver) He probably doesn't have a brand manual, a tagline, or a company vision statement. But he understood customer service better than many companies that have all three.

If you're ever headed to St. Louis, let me know. I'll hook you up with my buddy Jeff, so you can get some marketing schooling!

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Drew McLellan's a 25+ year marketing agency veteran who lives for creating "a ha" moments for his clients, clients' customers, peers and audiences across the land.

Drew writes at his own blog, Drew’s Marketing Minute and several other hot spots. He authored 99.3 Random Acts of Marketing, co-edited the Age of Conversation series of books with Gavin Heaton, and he launched his own firm McLellan Marketing Group in 1995.

LinkedIn: Drew McLellan

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  • by Robert J Banach Mon Dec 10, 2012 via blog

    Drew- Thank you for sharing and next time I'm heading to St. Louis I'll be asking for Jeff's number.

  • by Brandstein Mon Dec 10, 2012 via blog

    This story makes me want to make the trip to St Louis to meet with this buddy – here from Finland.

  • by Ann Handley Mon Dec 10, 2012 via blog

    One thing Jeff might do is create a bit of customer-focused content to go along with his stellar customer service. Maybe a small St. Louis guidebook or map for best breakfast spots/top bars/top lunch places/etc. that includes his name/phone #/etc.

    Great story, Drew!

  • by Sheldon Borges Mon Dec 10, 2012 via blog

    Agree with Ann....Jeff could also employ some technology. He could use twitter to connect with his passengers and provide tips on restaurants, bars, events etc while in town. This would further elevate his profile and build more value for his services. Maybe he would get extra fares to take folks to the places he suggests.

  • by Bruce La Fetra Mon Dec 10, 2012 via blog

    Great story. I learned exactly the same lesson as a teenaged paperboy, and it's stayed with me my entire life. I called my customers (and their dogs) by name and picked up papers if they piled up. The result was huge Christmas tips each year. My family (I have a unique last name) for years have encountered people asking, "Are you related to Bruce La Fetra, our old paperboy?" The most recent exchange occurred more than 30 years after I stopped delivering newspapers. My story is here:

    Ann and Sheldon, I'd caution against too much complication. Additional content might add value, but unless Jeff is trying to build a cab company, it might distract him from what he does really well (keep the cab clean and be assessable).

  • by Shep Hyken Mon Dec 10, 2012 via blog

    I love a good story about a taxi-driver. The three lessons from this cab driver are perfect for anyone, in any business, who has direct contact with customers.

  • by Drew McLellan Tue Dec 11, 2012 via blog


    He was certainly one of the highlights of my trip and I have no doubt he'd be the same for you!


  • by Drew McLellan Tue Dec 11, 2012 via blog


    Now that would be a heck of a commute for a marketing lesson. But it was a cab ride I'll never forget!


  • by Drew McLellan Tue Dec 11, 2012 via blog


    It would be a great way to get his number into his fare's hands and make another connection. I am sure he doesn't have to queue up for fares very often. The part that I think people often miss is -- because of the experience he creates -- he is probably one of the top grossing drivers in St. Louis.


  • by Drew McLellan Tue Dec 11, 2012 via blog


    it may be that he's plenty busy and doesn't need to drum up any more business. But you are absolutely right -- he could extend his reach easily and with that same helpful spirit.


  • by Drew McLellan Tue Dec 11, 2012 via blog


    Great story -- thank you for sharing it. I think part of what made Jeff stand out is exactly why your customers still remember you today. It's easy to be remarkable in a world of mediocre with a little effort. Especially in a field/profession where apathy seems to be the norm -- like cab drivers or paper boys.

    Sometimes I think people mistakenly believe that they have to do something out of this world but really, it's about the little things.


  • by Sedruola Maruska Tue Dec 11, 2012 via blog

    This is a great story and I'm so glad you shared it! Thank you. I'm not currently doing much traveling, but if I were, I'd certainly ask for Jeff's number.

  • by Debbie Rudawsky Tue Dec 11, 2012 via blog

    Mr. McLellan - While you don't list the name of the cab company that Jeff is affiliated with, we think that he might be one of our drivers!! If so, we are grateful that you shared your amazing experience and we will pass along your Kudos to him as well. Jeff takes great pride in providing each of his passengers with a premium experience and is very proud of his service levels as well as the appearance of his cab.

    Thanks again for sharing your experience.

    County and Yellow Cab

  • by Sheldon Borges Tue Dec 11, 2012 via blog

    Bruce - You are correct the reach would help him build a company. If he has already reached his peak of fares, and this is a steady state then perhaps he has no need to attract others in which case stay business as usual, it works.

  • by Drew McLellan Fri Dec 14, 2012 via blog


    Knowing your story -- I figured this would resonate with you!


  • by Drew McLellan Fri Dec 14, 2012 via blog


    It was one of your company's cabs so I am guessing that Jeff is one of yours. Please tell him his efforts DO get noticed and appreciated!


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