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If your product or service isn’t doing the one thing it needs to, it’s time to get off the bus.

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Quick story…

that leads to a metaphor about your business. Let’s get right to it.

My Dad came down to NYC from Boston for a visit. We did a father-son road trip, spent some quality time together, and all was good. On Monday morning, we embarked to get him on the bus back to Boston.

For those unfamiliar with the Northeast, a plane ticket will run probably $200 RT, and you have to deal with cabs and security. The train is also over $100, and might save you 20 minutes of time. And driving is a headache with traffic. So the Boston-NYC bus route is very competitive – and thus economical – with promotional fares as low as $1 and usually around $15-$20 each way.

There are 3-4 main competitors:
Fung-Wah bus (I’ve found people that have NOT ever taken the Fung-Wah bus, LOVE to tell others to take the Fung-Wah bus)
Greyhound/PeterPan (The veterans that are feeling the pinch, leaving from the decrepit Port Authority and trying to upgrade their fleet of old buses quickly)
BoltBus (An upstart with new buses and Wifi)
Megabus (A double-decker version of BoltBus)

Let me say that all four companies have their issues, but today my Dad happened to be on Megabus.

So we arrive to the chaos of New York City for boarding, just south of Penn Station, on a crazy Monday morning. The typical distractions (people getting to work, cabs honking, people yelling, tourists, food vendors) litter the area.

First we see the bus, labeled for Philadelphia. We don’t want that. Good start.

We then see the bus labeled Boston. The time is 9:40am, and he has a ticket for the 10:15. There is a line that we wait in for 15 minutes, and then we shuffle forward for boarding. As a veteran rider, the following thought actually went through my head: “Wow, they’re boarding 20 minutes early, so that there is time for everyone to get on board, so they can leave on time.” Of course, that was just wishful thinking.

As we get a few people from the door, the attendant yells out:

“This is for people with 8:45am tickets only! 8:45 only!”

Huh? Why is this bus running more than an hour behind, and what are all these other people doing?

Then he utters the phrase that launches the sidewalk into chaos.

“Everyone for the 10:15 bus, slide against the far wall and get in a line over there.”

Pandemonium.
– People who were in line for the ‘fake’ 10:15 bus now try to get in the new line.
– People who were in the other Boston line, shuffle to be in the right position.
– People waiting for other buses such as Philly and DC are fighting for position like an NBA power forward to figure out where they are going.
– At that moment another bus pulls up. Then more people arrive.
Chaos.

I looked around at the utter failure of what was going on. Yes, the bus company has lots of things to worry about… insurance, hiring good drivers, keeping fares low, traffic regulations, gas prices, and more.

But I guarantee you that on every single trip during every single hour of every single day, every single person dealing with that company has one and only one concern:

“AM I IN THE RIGHT LINE FOR THE RIGHT BUS?”

I know, because I’ve been there. And here’s the worst of it:
1) Not getting this right has HUGE consequences. Going 4 hours south to Philly is a LOT different than going 4 hours north to Boston.
2) It is an incredibly EASY problem to overcome. This is not cleaning up an oil spill.

If you are a business owner trying to make sales and deliver a good product…
If you are a marketer trying to inform people about your product…
If you are a designer creating a website…

Here’s a good place to start:

Am I doing the 1 THING that I need to do in order to succeed?

Here were my thoughts for Megabus to remedy this:
1) Listen to customers
Take a survey, send a “secret traveler” on a trip to get their experience, ask people in line.

2) Training
I would tell my employees that they should err incredibly on the side of OVER-communicating. I would go as far as to say that they should give instructions (“This is the line for the 10:15 bus to Boston”) every 5 minutes from the time the line has 10 people in it until the bus leaves. Put it this way… 5% of the people might get angry that the guy keeps saying the same thing over and over, but 95% of the people will be reassured that they are in the right location.

3) Signage
Again, this is a company that has buses leaving multiple times per hour, every single day. This problem must happen over and over and over again. In every city. How about investing a one-time cost of $100 and printing out a few signs on a stick that have the time and place? Is that so hard?

Now let’s take those lessons and apply them to YOUR business.
– Are you listening to your customers?
– Do your employees know what it feels like to be a customer?
– Are directions in your business or on your website clear?

In the podcast, I go on to talk about companies and products that do a good job (Google, Flip cameras, and… Crocs?) and a poor job (weather forecasts, my Dad’s luggage). Please download/listen to hear more.

Download the podcast from iTunes, or play it below:

 

Photo below: It doesn’t have to always be bad… here’s a photo I took of the Megabus in Boston at dawn.

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