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Screenshot 2014-08-27 09.05.26

Service Is Free to Offer But Incredibly Valuable: Lessons from an Airport Shuttle Driver

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At the Hyatt Dulles, my shuttle driver was named Abdullai. He was extremely enthusiastic about welcoming his early-morning travelers on board for the ride to the terminal.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “Welcome to my shuttle. I’ll be taking you to the Dulles airport this morning. The journey will take exactly 13 minutes.”

Then he opened a cooler and handed us all a bottle of cold water.

A bottle of water! Such things go a long way when jet-lagged at 5:30am.

Midpoint through the 13-minute journey, we stopped off at an office. “Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be picking up a UPS employee on his way to the airport. This stop will take exactly one minute.”

Except that the UPS guy wasn’t ready, so after exactly one minute, Abdullai backed up the van and took off again. “I guess he’ll have to find another way in today,” he said. “It’s more important to get you to your flights.”

Abdullai was the first world version of Rhett, the Cambodian tuk-tuk driver I met in Phnom Penh. Rhett was able to command a wage of at least 4-5x what other drivers receive. He did this by being smart—focusing on recurring customers more than one-off fares—but also by being highly reliable and personable.

At the end of the journey, all of the passengers offered a tip, and I’m pretty sure that most of us added a dollar or two more than we usually would. Whoever thought a 5:30am airport shuttle run could be so enjoyable?

Thanks a lot for the great service, Abdullai. I hope you get a raise.

Side lesson: you always have the opportunity to brighten someone’s day. Use your powers for good.

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Image: Xyzt

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