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April 20, 2018

Can Manila taxi drivers get better at customer service?

By Eddie Ybanez 

Dubbed the “summer capital of the Philippines” for Filipinos who make the circuitous trek toward the mountain city for its cold weather, Baguio is also remarkable for a reason rarely mentioned, but one that all motoring and travel enthusiasts should celebrate: The taxi drivers there are a model of customer service.

If you hail a cab, they will slow down to a crawl before you and politely let you on board. They will give you a friendly greeting – in Tagalog, if you’re a local, in English, if you’re from abroad – before asking you where you’re headed. They’ll then take you to your destination with not a single complaint, no matter how bad the traffic, and if you are so inclined, engage in polite conversation about the city and your itinerary. They’ll then drop you off at your destination, again with a friendly goodbye, but not before giving you your exact change, down to the last centavo – and the same holds true of drivers from my hometown of Cebu: They’ll give you what you are owed, after a trip in which they were unflaggingly respectful, kind, and courteous.

Baguio’s and Cebu’s cab drivers are notable because they can serve as a model of what all taxi drivers across the Philippines can achieve, if given the opportunity. The operative phrase there is if given the opportunity, for we all too often write off all taxi drivers based on one exceptional news story or one bad encounter out of dozens, if not hundreds of satisfactory trips. We need to remember that the taxi industry is one of the largest in the Philippines, employing thousands of drivers, the vast majority of whom want to get better. These people are our neighbors, our friends, our loved ones – they deserve the chance to become better customer service professionals, just as the waiter at your restaurant deserves the chance to get your order exactly as you want it.

As the founder and CEO of taxi-hailing application Micab this is a question I’ve wrestled with since we launched in Cebu in 2012 and especially now that we recently expanded into Metro Manila: How do we train our taxi drivers to become better service professionals? It would be easy enough for one of Micab’s team members to spend a day with each driver and personalize our instruction to where they each are. Such a system would be ideal, but it would be impractical. There are tens of thousands of taxi drivers in Manila alone. It would take years to spend individualized time with each driver – our instructional approach needs to be scaleable in order for us to achieve the improvement that our taxi system deserves today.

In thinking of how to solve the scalability of our training, I devised a rule of thumb that would benefit any founder, entrepreneur, or professional dealing with a large community or userbase, which in the age of platforms, is most of us: Aim for your edge case. Now what do I mean by this? An edge case is the anomaly in your userbase that you would normally dismiss for being so far from the core of your community that it would not be worth it to even engage. In the case of Micab, for example – since most taxi drivers want to improve their customer service – it’s the odd driver who may be initially reluctant to put in the effort to learn our training. To create a easy-to-visualize persona, let’s call him Reluctant Rogelio.

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When I sat down with our team to refine our instructional curriculum in time for our Manila launch, we realized that should not teach to the top half of our taxi driver trainees. They would learn the material no matter what. Aligning the curriculum to them would be akin to preaching to the choir. What would be far more effective would be aiming to reach Reluctant Rogelio, the student at the back of our class (perhaps both literally and figuratively). If our curriculum could be so efficient and engaging that it could even convert Reluctant Rogelio into an enthusiastically courteous cab driver, we would have built a scaleable system that works for practically every person who walks through our doors.

After some exhaustive trial-and-error, I’m proud to say that I think we have developed a system that transforms the Reluctant Rogelio into a Courteous Chris. Through a combination of case studies, role-playing, and other hands-on activities, “graduates” of Micab’s training program go on to become and remain courteous, professional, and caring drivers. Is there still room for improvement? In a realm as ever-changing as customer service, you can bet there always will be, but in the same manner, you can always count on us to be there, striving to get better.

I’m proud of having achieved this for our taxi industry, if only because it gives us a roadmap for how we can improve similar industries in the Philippines: We can promote change in our communities by targeting the those we most often overlook, but who always had it in them to be better all along.

Eddie Ybañez is the CEO and co-founder of taxi-hailing application Micab, and he envisions the creation of a “Taxi 2.0” for the riding public in the Philippines. A widely sought after thought leader in urban mobility, transportation, and ride-hailing

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