Are you giving your clients an Uber Black experience?

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I had a very early flight the other day. I knew it was going to be a grueling road trip so I decided to splurge on an Uber Black car to get to the airport. I usually take (the no-frills) Uber X to save money, but I wanted to be well rested and start the trip on a positive note. What an eye opener!

While Uber Black didn’t get me to the airport any faster than Uber X would have, and while the ride cost me more money (albeit less than a traditional town car), all the little intangibles that go into making Uber Black a superior experience were worth every penny.

When you call an Uber X, anybody with any kind of car can pick you up. It’s often a student, a retiree, a shift worker, a part-time actor or maybe a musician...anybody who’s trying to make some extra money in the gig economy. An Uber Black driver, by contrast, is a full-time professional and it shows.

Here are some notes I took I took during my ride to the airport:

Uber X
Uber Black
Driver appearance
T-shirt and flip flops
Black suit and black tie. Professional demeanor.
Initial interaction
Driver stays in the car.
Pops trunk for the passenger.
Driver gets out of the car.
Comes all the way around to the back of the car to greet me and assist me with my bag.
“How are you doing Mr. Walters. I hope you’re having a wonderful day. I’ll be taking care of you today.”
Phone charger.
Fresh bottle of water in the cup holder.
Four different types of M&M packets in the tray holder.
Passenger seat position
Seat all the way up to give passenger maximum legroom.
Pops trunk and waits for passenger to leave.
Exits car. Grabs passenger bag. Wishes passenger a warm farewell.

Source: Kyle Walters, L&H CPAs 2020

That initial greeting from the Uber Black driver took all of three seconds, but it set the tone for an entirely different experience from what I’m used to with Uber X or a traditional taxi. By the way, I’ve had Uber X drivers pick me up in big luxury Suburbans just like Uber Black. Same car, entirely different experience.

What CPAs can learn from Uber

When you have a client in your lobby, which experience are you providing?

Uber X – Staff sits behind desk when client walks in, says, “Hi, who are you here to see today? I will let them know.” or
Uber Black – Staff comes around the desk to greet them by name: “Hello, Mr. Smith. It’s great to see you. We’ve been expecting you.”

It takes only a few seconds to make clients feel welcome in your environment — just like entering an Uber Black. Compare that to a second-rate firm that barely acknowledges a client’s presence when they arrive. How many clients feel welcome when your receptionist barely acknowledges their arrival and simply mutters, “Last name, please,” without looking up from their computer.

Where would you rather be as a client? This experience doesn’t take more time or money; it just takes awareness.

Remember the M&Ms in the back-seat tray of the Uber Black car? I didn’t even eat them, but I said to myself, “Hmmm. Caramel M&Ms are fun. Never had them before.” So, I grabbed a pack for later and it just got me in a better mood for my trip. It cost the driver almost nothing to purchase the snacks and bottled water, but what a difference it makes for passengers.

Here’s what came next: “Mr. Walters, I just want to confirm that we’re going to the airport today. It’s going to take 27 minutes based on my map. We should be there by 6:47. Make sure you have your keys and cellphone with you. I don’t want you to forget anything before we get going.” The driver set my expectations before we even left my house. As we were driving, he said, “The radio is currently on smooth jazz. I can change it if you like.” I told him, “Nope. I’m good.” He replied, “OK. Just let me know if you need anything.”

As CPAs, letting a client know how long your meeting should take is a great way to set expectations and build goodwill. People don’t like paying taxes any more than they like rushing to the airport. But when you frame your client’s expectations, they’re more likely to stay engaged during the meeting instead of thinking about other errands and appointments they have after they leave your office.

Here’s another reason why Uber is brilliant. They realized early on that people will wait patiently for a car if they can gauge how long the wait will be and how close the driver is to the designated pickup spot. Compare that to a typical wait for a taxi, train or subway when you don’t know how long the wait will be or how long the trip will take. You’re just stuck there in the dark. Same goes for accounting firms. Do clients want a “take a number” experience, or a valued client experience in which the firm tells them how long the meeting will take, what the likely outcomes will be and what the firm is doing to take care of them after they leave your office?

I think you know the answer.

Little things add up

Let’s go back to my airport ride in Uber Black. All the driver really did differently from standard Uber X was greet me at the door, set expectations about how long the ride would be and provide some snacks, bottled water and a phone charger for the ride. It cost him next to nothing to purchase those things, but boy, I noticed.

In this age of technological disruption, everyone can find a lower price. If you keep doing things the way you’ve always done them, you’ll be in a race to the bottom with compressed fees and more and more calls from people asking, “How much do you charge for tax returns?” Or you can provide a few personal touches like I’ve outlined in this article to go from a low-cost provider to a high-value trusted advisor. Just make a few tweaks. It doesn’t take much time, money or effort to create a completely different experience for your clients.

When I got to the airport, my Uber Black driver got out of the car again and held the door for me. Then he shook my hand and said, “Mr. Walters, it was a pleasure riding with you today. Hope to see you again soon. Have a safe and wonderful trip.” Wow.

As professional service firms, we’re essentially knowledge workers in the “experience economy.” If your client gets a better experience on the ride TO your office than they get IN your office, then you have a problem. You’ll have to find some ways to keep delivering the “wow” factor.

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