The ROI of Stories- An Informal Case Study

Taxis The other day, I made a rookie mistake. I left my suitcase in the trunk of a taxi. As it sunk in what had just happened, I knew that I was doomed. Or was I? Here’s the story and how it relates to value.

When I get in the cab at the Park Plaza hotel in Boston, I engage my driver by apologizing for interrupting her lunch break, and asking her how much of the day is left. She says, “Too much,” and sighs a bit. I ask her how she’s doing.

The stories in the car are between this woman and myself, but we have quite a back and forth about her life, about family, about cultures and how difficult it is to make relationships work when some very basic cultural similarities are missing. It was a great conversation, where we both told each other small stories of our lives. I leave her cab happy, and she seems a bit more peppy after the conversation, too.

About 10 minutes later, I realize that I’ve left my suitcase in her trunk. Worse, that suitcase has my very expensive Nikon D60 camera in it. Even worse, I’ve picked up this cab without calling, and paid cash, so she is completely unknown to me.

I call the dispatcher, who had no idea how to determine which Afghan woman had picked me up, and who essentially told me to call the Boston Police Hackney Unit’s lost and found. I did this. Calling lost and found meant just calling an answering machine. No humans. By the way, that was days ago, and still no response.

At this point, I’m fairly sure my bag is gone. I’m reasonably sure this woman will discover the bag, and if she chooses to turn it in, will no doubt keep the camera. There’s no reason for her not to do so. And having just watched a TV news undercover report on how honest people aren’t (17 out of 17 people failed a simple test), I wasn’t feeling especially positive about my chances.

Flash forward about an hour and a half from when I realized the bag is gone. I’ve been to three appointments and lunch. I’m now standing exactly where the woman dropped me off. I am on a phone call when I look over and I see her pull up. Yes, the cab driver who has my bag has just pulled back up.

“I figured you were in a meeting, so I waited about an hour and then came back.”

I can’t believe this. There’s my bag. Completely intact. I give her a big hug, give her money equivalent to 2x the original cab ride (which probably still isn’t enough, given how much she saved me), and we part.

Was the storytelling and conversation itself what brought my bag back? I feel it was. Was the connection we shared in the cab better than the connection with the dispatcher who did nothing to help me? Definitely. Do I see that this kind of interaction (being human, caring about others, telling stories) offers a measurable ROI in business transactions? I say so.

My total expenditure: $40 (or so) plus a heartfelt conversation. What it saved me: $1000 (or so).

Yep, that’s ROI to me.

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  • Siobhan bulfin

    Treat others the way you'd like to be treated and they might just treat you the same back. Great story. Same thing happened to Sharon Crost in Wellington, she left her wallet in the cab, he then found her on Cuba St.
    A friend and I agreed the other night, that invariably the most interesting conversations you have if out on a Friday night, are with the cab driver on the way home.
    It's about connecting yes. It's also about respect.
    Good for you, and good for her.

  • Fabulous Photo Gifts

    You just can't beat a friendly smile or a word or two of interest in what that other person is doing.

    Cabby of the year award potential i'd say.

    Quite bizarre because I was only trying to explain this to my 13 year old son saturday at their Scout's plant sale – the Scouts carry peoples purchases back to their cars etc.

    As we helped one old lady back to her car, I smiled and said politely “looks like someone's going to be busy if the weather holds” motioning towards the plants.

    There started a lengthy conversation about her garden and her plans etc that lasted till we got to her car. I made an extra effort to make sure the plants wouldn't tip over etc and my son got a tip.

    As we walked back to the plant sale, we talked about engaging 'strangers' in positive conversation to help them feel their time wasn't wasted and enforce their positive experience of the plant sale. Next years customers for sure.

  • Chris Jones

    Extra points for connecting with the hardest “target audience”… cab drivers. Last taxi I took in NY the driver threw the change at me when I said he could keep it. Thanks for sharing this great story.

  • Sharon Hearty

    Got goose-bumps, brill story. Sharon

  • deanholmesbrogan


    You have hit on something that I have been practicing for years. What you have experienced is Psychology and the human inability to react in kind to like gestures.

    Sales has been doing this, unknowingly for years, without training, they like Pavlov's Dog, learn the art of Psychology by taking the hits on the chin and figuring ways to eliminate this pain.

    Most of us do this instinctively, but there are those who take the other side, maybe to avoid a discussion into the “unknown”. I on the other hand, like you, prefer to learn from others, no mater the culture, geography or race because I find I grow as a person and too often learn more from a brief conversation I never would have known before.

    I suspect there are many stories that we have as a population, that would prove out a similar set of metrics, however, getting to those stories is why we have Blogs – wish there were more of these uplifting “Acts of Random Kindness” (ARK).

    Great story…

    Dean Holmes

  • Peter O'Connell

    I hope you got her tag number, name etc., so you can send her company a letter (maybe even copy the NY Cab Commission). There ARE good, honest cabbies in NYC and you got one of three…let her bosses know in writing.

    Best always,
    - Peter

  • sarahmerion

    As I read this I wasn't in the least surprised. You have that effect on people – which is why I think the cab driver was gracious enough to come back and return your suitcase. This is a lesson to us all on how we need to treat every single person we encounter in life with respect and kindness. It pays off.

  • Pixie Stevenson

    Chris, great story. It's your power of connection on a real and personal level that i appreciate about you the most. It is that gift that makes you a success.

    I think the beauty of this encounter was that you were “good for nothing” without expectation of return.

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  • Elevenser

    It's a great story, Chris, and I'm glad it turned out so well. Like you, my impulse would have been to reward her. I wonder, though, why we feel as though we should pay people for their honesty. Sometimes it's the best and most personal gift given, so would we do it more honor by graciously accepting it? I'd really like to know your thoughts on this.

  • Lisa Kennally

    What an amazing story. Your are so right about making connections. All it takes is just a teeny bit of effort and the payback is enormous!

  • carrie

    Great story, and so glad you got your bag back. Do you think if you hadn't had such a great conversation with the driver, she wouldn't have doubled back? Also, I find it interesting that so many of the people who commented on this story think it happened in New York! That shows you another valuable lesson — the power of stereotypes, the story “around” and story, and the legacy of New York City cab drivers.

    PS I moved to CA from NYC 2 years ago so I don't take cabs much now, but when I did, I tended to not want to talk, only because I usually wanted to zone out and look out the window, etc. Maybe I will be more interactive in future, whether or not I have luggage in the back.

  • paulmerrill

    Great story! One aspect of the equation not covered is how connecting with people just makes you feel better about yourself too.

  • cindy espinoza

    This is classic! After working customer service for 8 years, I could never understand how many people dont know the simple lesson: when you are nice, polite, and friendly-that person will WANT to help you. its so easy. if you are demanding and cold, they just want you gone!
    conversation is key! do unto others? it always comes back to you!

  • Doug McSorley

    Chris – great story and also great to hear that your stuff was returned without an issue. There is some good still in the world :) I totally agree with you in the sense that was great ROI within this story. Great job! Doug (@dougmcsorley)

  • Mary Cullen

    I left my laptop in a cab in Victoria, British Columbia a few years ago. The cab driver had picked me and my family up at the ferry and brought us to the house where we were staying. I was heartsick when I realized this, because I was going to be on vacation there for two weeks, with no way to stay in touch with my business, plus I'd lost a critical document. I had no way to reach the cab driver.

    Late that evening, the cab driver pulled up to the house. He had noticed my laptop in the back seat when he returned home after a long day at work. He lived well outside Victoria and drove far out of his way after work to hopefully find me at the house, to return it.

    I'll never forget what he said: “You're a kind lady with a nice family. That's why I am here. Enjoy your stay.” Most people are inherently good, especially when we connect truthfully and respectfully with each other.

    Thanks for sharing your story, and reminding me of that cab driver who validated honesty and kindness.

  • jeff shuey

    What a wonderful story. She did the right thing, you did the right thing … life goes on and everyone has a smile (with a nice positive story to tell). That's how life should be. People helping people and Doing the Right Thing. People make the Difference.

    I think your gregarious nature made the initial connection with the cab driver. To you she was more than just a cab driver – she was a person. People make the Difference. Thank you for sharing.

  • EH

    What a great story! I'm sure your conversation was what made the difference. Think of how many busy, inconsiderate, rude people she had driven. You must have been a breath of fresh air to her! We need to remember that no matter where we are or what we are doing, those we interact with are people and we should treat them with the same respect and interest that we want to be treated with ourselves.

    Taking this into business, if we treat our clients/customers with respect and interest no matter what, it is bound to have a positive affect on the way they do business with us. Whether it be in positive reviews, increased business, or referrals.

  • Viv

    Wonderful story and restoring faith in the human race. I lost my wallet on the bus (I live in London) a few months ago with everything from Driver's license, personal and business debit cards, bank details and some other precious items. The wallet had little cash (£3 or about $5) so I wasn't mourning the loss of that, but the fact I had to change all my details again! About a week or so later I got a notification from the lost and found bus dept saying I should call in. I did and they had my wallet! Everything was there minus the £3 but that was a small amount to lose! The human race! Great people still exist out there.

  • Steve Averill

    Bringing out what is best in people can create “ROI” is you are willing to engage with them. Genius post.

  • Jamie Favreau

    I guess the truth is people do business with who they know, like and trust.

    So if you are pleasant you are going to be memorable and this is why she probably felt able to help you. She knew you were engaging and listening to her. I guess this is why I am always nice to my season ticket holders. You never know who they know and how they can help you or how you can help them some day.

  • katbron

    Great post Chris – you are interested enough in someone else to engage them in conversation and they reciprocate by caring about you – good stuff. Absolutely ROI success!

  • Meghan Beattie

    Well I'm pretty sure we are the same person afterall Chris… My friends and family are constantly making fun of me for the interactions I have with people… Grocery store clerk? Security dude in my building? Deli delivery guy? Sandwich artist at Subway? Check, check and check. I have ALWAYS made conversation with these people because I love people, having new experiences and making new friends in the most unique way. I know my Albertson's girl last night was almost finished her shift… I know my waitress was hungover…. I know that the guy who just walks around filling up water glasses was named Marcos. I love getting a smile from a face that looks down. And although my goal and purpose and NOTHING to do with a reward, I have definitely seen perks in this tactic. The grocery clerk gave me extra coupons, the security dude gave me a keychain/weapon to protect myself in the parking lot, the deli delivery guy brings me a cookie every time he comes and the waitress gave our table a little extra attention while we laughed about our crazy night. I don't know why more people adapt and learn that taking a minute out of your day to introduce yourself could lead to great things and blossoming friendships.

  • SBShields

    Awesome story!

    Having lived in Boston for 3 years, I, too, have come to realize that a little human interaction goes a long way. It's often difficult to remember to be human in the midst of running around trying to meet deadlines.

    Great Post!

  • mistressmia

    There is no them and us – there is only “us”. How we treat every person in that moment when our atoms mingle matters. Thank you for sharing this story.

    I am a hobo with a vagabond disease. My whole life is in suitcases and I often hold my breath as the last one takes seemingly forever to come off the luggage carousel. I lost my phone recently and all I could think of was the video of my daughter being a ham … I wouldn't want to loose it. Returning 24 hours later it was exactly where I had left it. Perhaps we need a patron saint of lost technology?

  • Norberg

    Wow. Great story! This reinforces the fact that personal relationships make for good business. I worked for years trying to build up my businesses the common way of barraging too many people with too little personal contact. Positive ROI is always stronger when you take the time to make things more personal.

    Now it's all about taking (sometimes too much) time to make things work. But, because I take the extra time to, trust is formed and business is stronger, and lasts longer.

    Thanks again for sharing this! Well written and too the point. Keep at it!

  • Bill Gibeault

    The large response to this post tells a story about the power of Storytelling. We all love a great story !

  • abhishekraiji

    Chris hi,
    Most of us are brought up with the similar values , that is to be compassionate and loving and so on. However the litmus test is to exercise those values against the lure of money, greed, fame and other such crap.
    Since we in India, are still not very close to technology therefore we get to be closer to real lives' stories unfolding in our by lanes, crowded streets, slums at times, deserted villages, urban ghettos, affluent neighborhood and the list is endless.
    We are going to cover such stories and plan to differentiate ROI in their lives with the tools which we apply to Social Media , as these people form a population which is bigger than Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, FriendFeed and Google visitors all put together. Their life-stream is constantly live and they do not shift online and offline.
    During the same pursuit I happened to read your post , and I instantly connected with it. Thanks a lot for showing your gratitude to the lady.

  • rickey gold

    Wonderful anecdote about the value of connecting….anywhere.

  • businessethos

    Great story!

    Every connection we make is valuable. Excuse me…invaluable!!

  • Christian DE NEEF

    In November of last year, I was returning home from the 1st someso conference (Zurich). I had left my luggage at the hotel, and the conference had ended later than expected, so I was a bit in a hurry. I boarded a taxi on a street corner and had the driver wait for me at the hotel while I picked up my luggage and then we went on to the airport. Being late (and worried that the check-in would close) I had prepared ample money for the driver and upon arrival I paid him and got off the taxi. No time for a receipt. I was the last passenger to check in and had to run for the plane.

    It's only by the time I got to the gate that I realized that I didn't have my phone… I had left it on the back bench of the taxi. I didn't have anything from the taxi driver, didn't even know the name of the company he was driving for. The only thing I could do was calling my own number, hoping someone would pick up the phone. My phone! But in doing so, I got diverted to voice mail over and over again… The phone was lost. Certainly the driver had taken out the sim card and was now enjoying my phone, or so I thought. It was not the 1st time something like this happened to me, I was just angry at myself that I should care better for my own stuff. I obtained a fresh sim card from my carrier and put it in a replacement phone. When I listened to my voice mail, there was a call from the Marriott hotel, telling me the taxi driver had brought in my phone… Unbelievable! But true.

    Was it honesty? To a certain degree, maybe. But it was also rapport, human relationships. I had spent some time with the taxi driver, paid him reasonably well and without hassle. So it wasn't anyone's phone, it was someone's phone, my phone! It always pays to be authentic and personal, whoever we deal with.


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  • Anthony

    Great story. I just did a presentation on the importance of relationship building in any engagement. This a wonderful example. Thank you for sharing. I am passing it on to others.

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  • C.H. Low

    If you had been rude or arrogant, I am not too sure that even if she was honest that she would cared to make the EXTRA effort to return the suitcase directly to you.

    Great story that there are only benefits to being nice no matter what's your status!

  • L

    You say your discussion with her touched briefly on cultural differences. In the Afghan culture, honesty and integrity are uncompromisable. Full stop.
    Our culture is such that you had certainty your belongings would be stolen.

    Which is the developing world, I sometimes wonder?

  • L

    You say your discussion with her touched briefly on cultural differences. In the Afghan culture, honesty and integrity are uncompromisable. Full stop.
    Our culture is such that you had certainty your belongings would be stolen.

    Which is the developing world, I sometimes wonder?

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  • Niki

    What is the moral dilemma to this story?

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