Avis Shuttle Bus at LAX
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Key Learning From NAMM 2019

This was my first time attending “the NAMM show” at the Anaheim Convention Center. The event is, by any measure, the biggest trade show for musical instruments (MI). Every exhibitor was bringing their “A game” to the event, spending a significant amount of energy and resources to highlight their newest product lines. For three days I walked miles of floor space seeing/hearing the latest gear, meeting with potential partners, bumping into rock/pop stars, demoing product and reconnecting with friends & colleagues. The scale of this annual event is awe-inspiring.

And yet, by 3pm every day, I found myself hitting a proverbial wall. The sounds of percussion instruments, human voices and amplified instruments began to merge into a virtual hammer on my ears. I struggled to speak loudly enough over the din of noise when engaged in conversation. I only caught every third or fourth word from people that were speaking to me.  This isn’t just my own personal experience.  A number of people who attended NAMM this year said similar things to me, unaided.

NAMM is a must-attend when you work in MI. And I learned a ton over these past three days. But, I think my biggest lesson came from something that happened shortly after dropping my rental car off at Avis. Immediately after I checked the car in and received my receipt, I hopped on to the shuttle bus to take me to the airport.

Here’s what transpired next:

  • The bus driver greeted me at the door.
  • He asked which airline I was taking.
  • He took my bag and placed it on the luggage rack near where I was sitting.
  • When bus was 3/4 full, he asked the riders on the bus if anyone objected to us immediately leaving for the airport.
  • Everyone agreed.
  • He sat down in the driver’s seat and began driving slowly towards the exit of the car rental lot.

He then began speaking to the entire bus, “I didn’t want to wait until the bus was too crowded before we left for the airport.
You’re people, not cattle. You deserve some breathing room. You want to get to the airport on time.
Before we leave the lot, I want to ask you a question, ‘Have you brought everything with you?’ I don’t know what you packed but here are some things that people sometimes forget: Eyeglasses, cell phones, laptops, jackets. How about the rental car keys? If you still have your rental car keys, please leave them with me and I’ll return them for you. Otherwise, you’ll get charged for a replacement set of keys and that will be expensive. I don’t want you to have to pay for a set of keys that you’ll never use again. Have I jogged your memories? Has anything been left? I take your silence to mean that we have everything.”

By the end of this short dialog, the bus had reached the end the rental lot. As no one had forgotten anything, we exited the property and headed towards the airport.

The driver continued speaking:
“Here are the airlines that people are taking (he then listed the airline names as reported to him from the passengers as they entered the bus) and these are the terminals in which you will exit (he then shared the exact terminal number to the corresponding airline). Did I forget any airlines? Does everyone know which terminal they are getting off at?
You can see that I’ve placed the luggage near where you are sitting so you can monitor it throughout the drive. At each stop I will pick up your luggage and remove it from the bus for you, so you won’t have to worry that someone else will accidentally remove your luggage.”

And, just as he had promised, when we arrived at a terminal stop, he would get up from his seat and take each passenger’s luggage off the bus, placing it on the sidewalk. It occurred to me after I got off the bus, as I was walking to my gate:

  • This driver cared about my experience on that bus ride.
  • He wanted me to feel safe. To not have to worry about catching my flight. Or pay for things that were unnecessary. Or to lose anything of personal value.
  • In short, he actively worked to make that the best possible experience I could have on a shuttle bus. He was pleasant, professional and methodical. He was, without question, the best bus driver I have ever received a ride from.

My expectations for bus rides had been limited to fundamentals like:

  • Safe driving
  • Getting from point A to point B
  • And not much else

This ride was a revelation to me. An entirely unexpected epiphany.

With his commitment to identifying all the things that could make a traveler unhappy – communicating his awareness of these things clearly and, at the appropriate time, to everyone on that bus – and proactively making sure that those things did not come to pass, I began to rethink my NAMM experience. Yes, it was big. Yes, it was important. But, was it all that it could be? Had the experience of the attendees and the exhibitors been fully considered by the organizers? Or, was the entire enterprise focused on making it “bigger” – bringing in more participants and monetizing every possible activity? Could NAMM be remade into something beneficial, on a more human scale?

This bus driver set off a light bulb in my head with his example of creating the optimal experience. I don’t have all the answers yet, but I’m committed to re-examining all aspects of sharing musical instruments between peers and applying those observations into the DNA of Fretish, with the customer’s perspective firmly at the center of all decisions. Thank you Mr. Shuttle Bus Driver. You taught me such a valuable lesson.