The only five-star cab ride Iíve ever had.

I was, as usual, running late for my airport departure. I’m rarely giddy about cavity searches, peanuts disguised as a meal and sitting next to people who consider deodorant optional.

Yet, I’d made an arrangement with the nice girl in the lobby for a cab at 2:20. “He’ll be here,” she assured me. At 2:15, I gave her an expectant glance. “He’s already out front,” she said as she motioned toward a black car. Not just any black car, either.

It was the shiniest black car in all DC, where shiny black cars compete at an entirely different level. Next to it was a man in business casual, holding a black and white umbrella with a gold cab company logo on it. As soon as he saw me heading toward him, he popped the trunk.

Before I could say anything, he asked, “Are you well-rested for your flight or are you hoping to rest during the flight?” He beamed this friendly question - later becoming important - and I answered, “Depends on who I’m sitting next to.” He laughed and, in an instant, hadcarefullyplaced my bags into the immaculate trunk and motioned me to the rear seat.

As I turned toward the car, he whisked the door open. His manners were so different that I scanned for the hidden camera in case this was a big joke. Once in the car, my shock factor increased notably.

First, it didn’t reek like the Sherwood Forest cocktail most cabbies use to disguise their lack of automotive hygiene. It was just clean. There was no debris, no crumbs and wait … what isthat

Magazines. Several magazines were in the seat backs, including that day’s Washington Post. “Take your pick,” said Mr. Woods, whose name was on a professional sign preceded by “Your Travel Host.” This was a far cry from the normal hand-scrawled legal requirement duct-taped to the seat back with a mug shot. Travel Host. Nice touch.

Just to make this scene even more eerie and hidden camera-ish, he said the unthinkable.

“Care for a bottled water?” He pulled one from a tiny cooler up front. I’m thinking, “You are from a different planet and you want to take me back there and experiment with my organs and stuff.” But he was too sincere to be an alien. “Um, no thanks, but I do appreciate it,” I  responded.

“Just let me know if you change your mind,” he said. “We have about 20 minutes of travel time. Please note the music selections on the seat back if you want anything different.” We merged onto the interstate.

Top-rate customer service

If ever there was a five-star cab ride, this was it. I’ve been in limos where the service wasn’t this good. “What is the name of this cab company?” I queried.

“It’s Woods Transportation.”

“So, it’syourcompany?” I leaned forward.

“Only this one cab - I bought it three years ago,” he said with a hint of pride.

“And you had the sign, the umbrella all done for you … and the magazines, water … all that is …you?” I mustered, trying not to sound too surprised.

“All me and the good Lord, who asked me to make people feel like people instead of cargo,” he said solemnly.

I got a little choked up at that, already knowing the answer to the next question. “Has it been rewarding?”

“Oh, beyond measure.” Woods put on his blinker, checked his mirrors and changed lanes. “Most cabbies complain about rude, low-tipping, demanding customers. I don’t really experience that much. Passengers seem to appreciate it and, unlike my colleagues, I keep a full book of referrals.”

“I can see why. You’re completely different.”

“People told me not to even try to be different because they think all cab drivers are the same,” he said. “To me, that would make it easier to stand out! I use the umbrella. No one else does. Whether sunny or rainy, it’s a service. I ask whether people are rested to know if they want conversation and music or silence.”

We continued on, talking as we made it safely and quickly to Ronald Reagan National Airport. “Here we are, Delta. See that guy at the kiosk?” He motioned. “Friend of mine. He’ll take care of you.”

“Thanks,” I said, fully intending to follow through. As soon as all my bags were at curbside, Woods presented me with a business card. Not a normal one, but glossy and handsome, befitting the rest of the trip. “I hope you’ll get in touch if you come back to DC.”

Heck, at this point I was ready to take him to dinner, but just said, “Sure will. You’ve been a delight.” And my inner cheapskate cowered in a mental corner as I gave Mr. Woods a $20 tip for a $26 ride. “Worth it as much for your service as your attitude.”

He thanked me graciously and said, “Have a great trip and a blessed day,” and drove off.

Here’s a guy in the most “blend-in” type of business imaginable. He’s got a thoroughly different attitude, look, demeanor and approach. None of his differences are at any great cost, but they make a tremendous difference to his passengers. They reward, because they feel rewarded, accordingly.

And he’s happy to make people feel likepeople.

Questions for you:
  • What are three ways you can stand out for little or no money to your customers?

  • What do you do to make your customers feel like people rather than just the next name on your list?

  • What referral systems do you have in place?