Lessons from Knoxville: A City’s Brand Ambassador

taxiKnoxville is a beautiful city. Pretty landscapes, nice people, good vibe. And fun taxi drivers.

On a recent trip, I arrived about 11 pm and found one taxi waiting outside the airport. So I hopped in and was greeted by a cheerful man with a heavy foreign accent who was delighted to take me downtown. And equally delighted to have someone to talk to, it seemed.

Our trip into town was a treat. Highlights included:

  • World geography: I asked him where he was from, and he slyly grinned and said “I tell people they get free ride if they guess accent in 10 tries!” When I got it in four, he said “See, it’s tricky, that is why I sometimes tell people I give free fare. Good thing I didn’t tell you!” Smart guy.
  • Relationship advice: After he asked about my love life, he warned me that “American women are not for marrying! They talk talk talk and try to control husbands!” Which he then followed with “You didn’t marry her, did you?” When I said yes, he just sighed and shrugged.
  • An olfactory challenge: At one point, completely unsolicited and without warning, he rolled down the window and said “You smell that? Skunk! Every night skunk! Is bad, yes?” Yes. Yes, it was.

The rest of my night was typical and uneventful: a courteous desk clerk, a quick snack, a soft mattress. And the next day: a great client meeting, a little spat with an airline, and a flight back to Memphis. Another trip in the books.

Only several days later, when I was still chuckling at some of the taxi driver’s statements, did I realize what an impression he made on me as a visitor to the city. Granted, I’ve had several trips to Knoxville and will have many more in the future, so in that sense I’m not the typical visitor. But let’s say I was a tourist, a consumer of the “Knoxville brand”… my first exposure wasn’t UT or country cooking or scenic vistas or the world’s largest basketball – it was a quirky, funny, happy man who made a late-night trip into town a memorable experience.

But what if he had been a jerk? What if my trip to Knoxville had started off on the wrong foot? Would the rest of the experience, however positive, have made me forget that? And how much is Knoxville (or any city) doing to make sure taxi drivers are well-trained and knowledgeable ambassadors?

There’s a lesson here that applies to all businesses, large and small, in every industry. We all have taxi drivers. We all have those touchpoints, some obvious and others less so, that initially set the tone for the customer experience that follows. More often than not, we aren’t in control of those initial interactions – and may not even know they are happening. For your brand’s sake, it’s critical to find out who is introducing prospects to your brand and how they are doing it.

Do you know who your taxi drivers are?

*Photo credit 123RP


  1. Brianna

    I don’t think I’ve ever taken a taxi. If I ever do, I hope I get a driver as friendly as yours was.

    • Tom

      They’re mostly great folks with a few exceptions. You’ve gotta be a people person to stay sane in a job like that.
      Oddly, though, this particular taxi driver hated traffic, which seems like it would be an obstacle. Guess that’s why he likes the night shift.



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