A Customer Win-Back Strategy to Beat a Better Competitor

It was the end of the term in my first year at college. The dorm was closing up, and my flight was in three hours — plenty of time to get to the airport. I packed my bags, called a cab, and went to stand on the corner to wait.

I waited, and I waited. The cab company had promised me that someone would arrive in 15 minutes. I saw a cab slow down, stop, and pick up a random person down the street. I called back in a panic. Yes, that had been my cab. Of course, they’d send another. But after waiting for an hour, I went inside in a panic to try and find a friend who could drive me to the airport. I missed my flight and had to scramble to get on another one, two days before Christmas.

Today, when I need a ride, I’m much more likely to use Uber or Lyft than to hail a cab. Is it because these cars and drivers are perfect? Of course not. But at least I know with certainty when they’re coming and trust them to take me to my destination without haggling. It’s not that they provide a great customer experience (CX) — it’s that the CX issues with traditional cabs are so huge, they drive customers away.

Better than Nothing

Uber and Lyft both have extensively documented issues with aggressive business tactics, unscreened drivers, data theft, and iffy data practices. Meanwhile, taxi cabs are an American institution, memorialized in fiction and film (not to mention highly regulated in most cities). So why are these upstarts winning out over the more established businesses? Because the cab companies alienated customers when they ignored these three key CX issues:

Convenience. In many places, hailing a cab is difficult. Some travelers are better at attracting the attention of taxis than others. Even when you call, the cab might not always come, especially if you live in a marginal neighborhood or are traveling to an unpopular destination. In some large cities, cab companies have limited the number of drivers to the point where cabs become a hassle, not a help.

Predictability. Miracle of miracles, you’ve gotten a cab! Will it be one that’s in good shape with a pleasant driver at the helm, or one that smells like a murder’s been committed with a driver who’s sending off Silence of the Lambs vibes? You never know! Oh, and what’s he doing with that meter? Why did he just add $5 to your fare before he even started driving? Is he really taking the shortest route? You can’t ask, because if you argue, you might not have a ride at all.

Customer Needs. Are you trying to get a ride home? If your home is in the wrong neighborhood, you’ll have to cut a deal and throw in extra money to bribe the driver to take you there (been there, done that). Do you have a child who needs a car seat? Good luck with that. Would you like to schedule a pick-up the day before? You can try, but if the cabbie has the option of better fares, you’ll probably be dropped like a hot potato.

Taxis had a near monopoly for so long, they could essentially ignore CX issues. After all, what were you going to do? They practically acted like a public utility, and they had no reason to change since the alternative (buying your own car and finding a place to park it) wasn’t worth the cost difference to many urban dwellers.

However, the advent of firms like Uber, Lyft, and Zipcar has cracked the market wide open. Suddenly, taxis need to focus on CX, or they’ll simply be one option of many.

It’s Not Just Cabs – Everyone Needs to Focus on CX Issues

Any established business can fall into the taxi trap. If you’re used to being one of the only players in your field, it’s easy to take your customers for granted. You ignore lapses in customer experience because your clients have nowhere else to go. You’re the corporate equivalent of the spouse who stops shaving, dresses only in sweatpants, and leaves the toilet seat up. Your every action sends the message: “I don’t care what you think of me because you’re stuck with me.”

Unless you’ve got more than a decade left on your patent and make the only device that can keep your customers alive, you’re probably wrong. Someone will show up and do what you do, only better, and your customers will leave without saying goodbye.

You can avoid falling into the taxi trap if you put CX first even during the good times:

Don’t Assume. You may think your CX is excellent, but when was the last time you experienced your company as a customer? Try to make a purchase, contact an agent, or get information from the outside. Was it easy when the employees didn’t know who you were? If your CX drives you batty, it’s probably driving your customers away.

Don’t Make Them Beg. No one wants to approach business interactions as a scared suppliant – save that attitude for dealing with the IRS. You’re there to serve you customers, not haze them. Try to make things easier and more convenient before they have to ask. Here’s an example: a local car dealer allows you to book a test drive from his website. When you show up, he has the car warmed up and ready to go. This means you can run over for a test drive on a lunch break or between errands without having to set foot inside the building. Did customers ask for this? No, but they’ll appreciate it and, in the end, probably be more loyal.

Be Consistent. Uncertainty makes most people angry or afraid. Do you want to be the call that your clients dread making because they never know how it will turn out? Keep your CX consistent. Your customers shouldn’t wonder if they’ll get stuck with that one awful sales representative or if they’ll sit on hold forever. 

Taxis Fight Back

In New York City, taxis are beginning to fight back against the Uber and Lyft insurgency. And instead of trying to fight the ride-sharing apps in City Hall, the yellow cabs are taking the fight directly to consumers.

The cabs have debuted their own hailing and payment app, making it easier for riders to find them and figure out fares. They’re also replacing the aging, iconic fleet of Crown Victorias with newer, safer vehicles that come packed with amenities, including see-through tops (great for tourists who want a view), phone chargers, Wi-Fi, and more seats for larger groups.

Business analysts think they have a good chance at success. They describe Uber and Lyft as “unicorn technologies.” They’re popular because they’re new, but they don’t provide any real value that other services can’t provide. They only grabbed market share in major cities because legacy cab companies hadn’t upgraded their customer experience since Robert DeNiro played a cabbie. If cab companies succeed in creating a CX worthy of the new millennium, they’ll have nothing to fear from Uber and Lyft.


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