By Deborah Wroe
This week I read that Manchester is the first place outside London to offer a new app that allows you to ‘hail’ a black cab by phone. That’s pretty revolutionary for an age old service, but the taxi business as a whole is going through a bit of a metamorphosis, and not before time in my opinion.
So let’s take a look at taxis… London cabbies have a reputation for having strong opinions on everything and anything and being picky about where they take you – “I don’t go south of the river mate”. But also being incredibly knowledgeable about routes, fastest, quickest etc and don’t flinch when navigating Piccadilly Circus (for that alone I admire them).
Local private hire firms have a reputation for being very late or total no shows (your ability to complain is impeded when their non committal response to “how long will it be please?” is a standard “calling it now”), not always the cleanest, clueless about local addresses, and wildly varying prices.
In Cyprus there are shared taxis, Dolmus, which pick up as many as they can get in en route to a destination and I forget how the fare is worked out, but I’m not sure it’s scientific or consistent.
Now Sydney is a joy in comparison, though I reckon some Sydneysiders would beg to differ, but they haven’t had to suffer years of “calling it now”. Sydney cabs are clean, you can pay by debit or credit card (I’m not even sure there is a minimum spend to have to do this) but my favourite bit about Sydney cabs is that the customer is in control. Not actually driving the thing, that’s just silly. But in control of the temperature, the music and the route. OK, sometimes it’s more than just being in control of the route out of choice, it’s the default stance as again local knowledge is not always spot on. But, that sign on the window clearly displaying your rights is a joy to behold. Want Classical music for your journey? You got it. Need the aircon up? Righto. You can book online or book on the phone, via one single number, and no doubt there is an app since I left four years ago.
And now we welcome to Manchester (or do we?) Uber. Uber is NOT a taxi company. It’s not a transportation provider. It’s an app that allows you to book the nearest cab to your location, get the price and receive a picture of your driver. Uber is disrupting the taxi market in some key elements of customer choice, offering itself up as ‘cheap, faster and reliable’. Its location based system avoids the need for a ‘calling it now’ dispatcher and its cashless payments is another incentive. If you spend all your money on porn star martinis you can still get home safe.
London cabbies, along with other cities around the world as Uber entered them, staged a protest (traffic jam) to highlight their outrage at the service, understandably so as their livelihood is being challenged.
Uber gets that waiting for a cab can really ruin a great night out and the customer wants the shortest wait time at the best price. They are challenging the norm in a market that’s needed a kick up the backside for a while. This innovation in truly looking at what the customer wants and how to deliver that via technology is great for customer choice.
Uber is disrupting the cabbie industry, and disruption can be a good thing. It can improve an industry as a whole – demanding that the industry raises its game can mean a rise in standards for the consumer. Whilst we don’t suggest that companies stop producing metal widgets and make them all from balsa wood instead, we do know that thinking outside the proverbial wooden or metal box in terms of your communications and marketing can revolutionise your business.
Always used advertising and not had great results? Try something else. Profile your customers. Where are they? What do they do? What do they read? Do they use smartphones? Find them and talk to them in their language. Your goal being to form deeper conversations than, “Been busy tonight?” and “What time you on ‘til?”