Customer service lessons from a Cambodian tuk-tuk driver

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of tuk-tuk drivers in the city of Siem Reap, Cambodia near the Angkor Wat temple. The ability to feed their families is determined by whether or not they can attract new customers.

“Madam, want a ride?” “I take you to temples.” “Want to go to shops?” they entreat, like barkers on a carnival midway. Perched atop their motorcycle with a buggy attachment for 4 passengers, they beckon riders outside tourist haunts.

Not, however, Mr. Go, a 27-year-old tuk-tuk driver with a winning smile. Mr. Go is in the enviable position of having a loyal following.

When Mr. Go wasn’t at his familiar parking spot, my travel companion, Jana Stanfield, offered a reward to other tuk-tuk drivers to help her locate him.

On our first night in Siem Reap, Jana went looking for Mr. Go. When she asked his competition, of course none of them knew his whereabouts, but they’d be glad to take us anywhere we wanted. Right.

She had the bright idea to offer a $10 reward to whomever could produce Mr. Go. That’s about two-day’s wages for a tuk-tuk driver. Sure enough, within an hour, Mr. Go was awaiting us outside our dinner restaurant and his pal collected the reward.

Why did Jana go out of her way — and pocket — to find Mr. Go? What made him special and worth paying a bounty to find? After all, aren’t all tuk-tuk drivers pretty much the same?

She explained that she was initially impressed when after riding with him the first time, he didn’t look for other customers the next day. Instead, “he waited outside my hotel all day until I came out. After that, I took his cell number and called him each day so that he would not have to wait in the hot sun.”

“Also, he was honest. I gave him money to get batteries for me. He brought back the receipt and the money, stapled the bag to keep it closed, left it at the front desk, and then called me to let me know the amount that would be waiting for me. He did not keep the change.”

I asked her what else stood out for her, and coupled it with my own observations of driving with Mr. Go during our week-long visit. Some of these are simple, common sense items — but few of his competition melded them into a winning customer-retention combination.

Mr. Go:

  • Smiled each time he greeted us and spoke to us. Other drivers were friendly, but Mr. Go seemed genuinely happy to see us.
  • Was prompt. If we asked him to be at our hotel at a specific time, he was there early.
  • Learned our names. THe took the time to learn the names of all 7 of our group members.
  • Became our personal concierge. He willingly took and fetched our laundry, was our videographer, negotiator, and activity consultant.
  • Was fair. When he told us our fare was $5 and we gave him $10, he protested it was too much. (How many of us would refuse a 100% tip? Would you say no to a tip that was worth the equivalent of a day’s wages?)
  • Drove carefully. The Cambodian roads aren’t always smooth, and Mr. Go carefully traversed speed bumps and pot holes so his passengers had a smooth ride.
  • Was our communication liaison. He called the hotel front desk manager when he needed to talk to one of us at the hotel or to get key information for us. He also translated for us with shop keepers, massage practitioners, and restaurant servers.
  • Arranged for all our transportation needs. When all 7 of us were going to dinner, he asked a trusted colleague to transport half our group.
  • Accepted our suggestions graciously. We offered him ideas on how to increase his business and he never said “that won’t work for me.” He smiled, listened attentively, asked questions and even took notes. He seemed appreciative that we were interested in helping him grow.

Mr. Go went above and beyond in so many ways, I wouldn’t be surprised if he soon started his own chain of tuk-tuks, teaching his drivers how to ensure repeat business. If you’re going to Siem Reap to see the Angkor Wat temple, please let him know and he’ll pick you up from the airport and take you around. His number is +855 0177 60974.