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How Manchester United FC May Have Lost This Small Business Thousands

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This is the story about a mini-cab company in London. And customers. And technology. And Manchester United Football Club.

Although we reside in the U.S., my wife grew up in northwest London and her family still lives there. So for the past 22 years we've visited London as a family, to see her family, anywhere from two to four times a year. It's not cheap. But it's what we signed up for when we got married.

For the past 22 years we've used the same mini-cab service to transport our family back and forth between Heathrow airport and her parents' house. No, I don't know why it's called a "mini-cab"...that's just a British thing. It's basically a private taxi service that's somewhat less expensive than the traditional black cabs you see around town. There are literally hundreds of mini-cab companies occupying storefronts throughout the city. We've also used this mini-cab service to take us on the short ride between her parents' house and the nearby Tube station whenever we went into town.

And that's not all. My wife's father, who suffers from very poor eyesight (and an inexplicable passion for cricket which is the world's most boring sport), uses that same mini-cab service to transport him to places nearby. And my wife's sister, who also suffers from a similar hereditary problem, does the same. Our teenage nieces call on the company whenever they need to be rescued late at night when the buses aren't running. And although the British are notoriously low tippers, we Americans make up for it every time we come over with our lavish 20% gratuities. In summary, the entire family uses this small business a lot. For decades. It was, until last week, a very enjoyable relationship.

What happened a couple of weeks ago? Manchester United played Chelsea.

For the record, baseball's my game. But my sons are huge soccer fans and we always go to games when we visit London (I recommend this to anyone visiting). We got tickets for the big match: an FA Cup quarter-final. We booked a mini-cab ride from our friendly local service to a local station so that we could catch a train to take us to Chelsea's stadium. On the way, it should be noted, the mini-cab driver said that he and his dispatcher were big Man U. fans and would also be closely following the match

The driver also asked if we would like to be picked up at the station after the game. I told him that I couldn't guarantee when we would be back. It may be around 6PM, I guessed. Or not. He said "No problem, mate. I'll try to be here at six to get you. Unless Manchester loses. Ha ha!" I said "please don't go out of your way. We'll look for you. If you're not here we'll take another cab. It's no big deal." He said fine, but he would do his best.

As it turns out, Man U. lost to Chelsea 1-0 which eliminated them from the FA Cup tournament. They did not play well. Their fans were not happy. But my sons and I had a blast. Every time we go to a British football match we learn another creative way to use the F-word in a sentence. When we arrived back at the station that evening at around 6PM we went to the place where we agreed to meet and the mini-cab wasn't there. We waited five minutes. No cab. It was raining. We were tired. The day was long. We took another taxi home.

The next day I called the mini-cab service to book another ride. When I told the dispatcher our address he said "Wait a minute, I remember you from yesterday. You had my driver wait for 2 hours last night and never showed up." I explained to him what happened. He wanted none of it. He refused to book me another car unless I also paid the £30 (that's about $45) owed for the missed cab ride the night before. I refused to budge. He refused to budge. We yelled at each other. We shared creative uses of the F-word in a sentence. We hung up on each other. I called another mini-cab service in the next neighborhood and booked another ride. My loyal in-laws, on hearing the story, were also upset and vowed to move their business to the competitor too.

What was this madness? Why was the dispatcher acting so stubbornly over such a small amount with such a good customer? Did this have something to do with his team's disappointing performance the day before? Was Manchester United FC the cause of this crazy behavior?

Or maybe it was something else. So let me ask you...

When someone calls your company does the person picking up the phone immediately know who that caller is? Is it a current customer? How big a customer? What do they buy? How long have they been a customer? Maybe it's a prospective customer with a large pending opportunity. Or an important supplier. Who spoke to them last? Are there any open service problems or quotes? What was the last email exchange with that person? How valuable is that customer to your business? Or is your person answering the phone in the dark. Like the dispatcher at the mini-cab company.

This is CRM. Customer Relationship Management. This is not a foreign concept to small businesses, whether they're in the U.S. or the U.K. It's an accepted practice utilized by millions of companies today. And it's inexpensive. Sure, you can invest significant amounts in great products from Salesforce.com, Microsoft, Sugar CRM, or Sage.But for many small companies, like the little mini-cab service we (used to) use in northwest London you could subscribe to an inexpensive, cloud based CRM like Zoho, Nimble, Highrise or Insightly.

I don't fault the dispatcher of that little mini-cab company. He's just an angry guy (and a frustrated Man U. fan) in a tough job. I fault his boss, the owner. She couldn't cough up a few pounds to implement a simple CRM database in her company? Because if she did then the dispatcher would've immediately seen our history: the rides to and from Heathrow, the doctors' offices, the supermarket, the tube stations and all the other places used by my and my wife's family over the years. He might've seen notes left by drivers like "bloody annoying Americans, but good tippers." He would've seen a relationship going back two decades.

And his boss? With a good CRM system using automatic workflows and alerts she would've known if revenues from a good customer like us fell or disappeared over a period of time. And if she cared, she would've had a simple process in place to reach out with a phone call or email and discover why this occurred and how to fix it. Because that's what smart business people are doing with CRM systems nowadays.

Did Manchester United's loss blind this man? Did his emotions get the better of his common sense when he turned away tens of thousands of future business from a customer's family over a mere forty-five bucks? Perhaps. But a simple CRM system could've avoided this problem. And Manchester United? Oh, please.They may have been eliminated from a tournament, but they're about to win the league. Meanwhile, this small business lost something much bigger: a great customer.