Regrettably, some taxicab companies have allowed their service levels to degrade over time. The result is that they now find their user base shrinking to the absolute minimum "users of necessity". The process is slow, insidious, tending not to be noticed as these companies show a marked reluctance to see themselves through the eyes of their lost customers.
The blame for their misfortunes is often focused on a number of perceived "intruders" such as a second family car, subsidized public transit, stretch van "buses" behaving as taxicabs, U- Drives, corporate fleet vehicles, hotel vans, etc, etc, ad nauseum. The critical issue often overlooked is that these competitive services have not been the "cause" of their misfortunes, but rather the "effect" of their own inattention to service levels.
All too often, taxicab company management will hold themselves blameless claiming their service levels are just fine, thank you. "Let the record show that we routinely respond to requests within x minutes, well within our service standard." Unfortunately, response time is not the true measure of service, which also embraces vehicle quality, cleanliness, comfort and features; driver appearance, conduct, grooming, knowledge, honesty, and attitude; corporate image, status, and services; dispatch efficiency, responsiveness, and responsibility; and a whole host of other relevant factors.
The world is full of entrepreneurs constantly seeking out opportunities to provide a better service or a better product, so as to improve their competitive position and enlarge their share of a particular market segment. Such is the way of democracy and competition. The taxicab industry, even though regulated, is no different in its vulnerability to the onslaught of natural competitive forces.
It is precisely because it is regulated that the taxi industry has no option but to be vigilant in sustaining and continuously enhancing their service levels. For if they fail to do so, they will surely fall victim to external competitive forces that are not regulated.
Contrary to industry opinion, regulation is not there to guarantee success and survival. It only guarantees that the public interest will be protected. The industry has responsibility to take its service levels seriously, and they would be well advised to heed the advice offered by Stanley Brown, a Director in the consulting firm of Laventhol & Horwath.
Sponsored by five major Canadian firms and by the Faculty of Management of the University of Toronto, Brown recently surveyed 1000 companies and wrote a book, "Creating the Service Culture: Strategies for Canadian Business", due imminently from Prentice- Hall. Copies of the research report itself can be obtained from L&H for $25 by faxing them at (416) 977-3538. The report is called "I.D.E.A.: The Status of Innovation and Service Excellence in Canada."
According to Brown, the consequences of service neglect can be devastating, causing a 20% drop in profits, a 10% decline in sales, and an annual 2% loss of market share. The nourishment of a "service culture" is generally poorly handled, as less than 60% p73 of the firms surveyed allocated a budget for training in service excellence.
Brown believes their are 5 key "pillars" that must be in place to nourish a service culture:
So what has all this to do with the taxi industry, and our job as regulators? While it is true that our first responsibility is to protect the public interest, it is prudent and appropriate that we take some appropriate action to help, if not direct, the taxi industry to adopt an attitude of service excellence. If the industry will not willingly embrace this attainable goal, then we should do what is necessary to provoke and sustain an environment in which it can emerge and thrive.
As published in The REGULATOR, May/Jun 1990. Terry Smythe, GM of the Manitoba Taxicab Board, now retired.
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