Taxi drivers hope 'charm school' will improve business

TUKWILA, Wash. - Call it a charm school for cabbies

The region's long-established taxi companies are sending some of their drivers to a hospitality class to improve their customer service skills.

About 130 drivers, most from Yellow Cab, sat in a classroom to listen to instructors from the Hospitality Management program at South Seattle College.

The idea was hatched in response to increasing competition from app-based ride services companies like Uber and Lyft that are taking business away from the traditional companies.

"We want to earn their business," said cab driver Paul Cheema about his customers. "This is showing the people that we're actually taking our time and spending money and trying to make a change in this industry."

The four-hour class costs $60 and comes out of the drivers' pockets.

Dr. Hana Gala is one of the instructors.

"These drivers are essentially business owners, and this shows they care deeply about making sure they are successful," said Gala. "That includes providing excellent customer service."

Drivers will learn techniques for connecting with customers in a positive way, leaving a good impression to ensure repeat business, and learning to deal with complaints in a productive way.

"Ultimately it's about, do we believe there's the determination to improve," Gala explained. "These drivers are showing they are committed to providing the best experience possible."

The classes are being held at the Teamsters Union Headquarters in Tukwila. The Western Washington Taxicab Operators Association in conjunction with Teamsters Local 117 approached the college to design the special hospitality course.

Another will be held Thursday. If reviews are favorable, there will be many more according to organizers.

After completing the class drivers will receive a certificate they can display in their cabs.