Designing a delightful experience – lessons from driver Mr. Kuo

Throughout my life and career I notice things, little lessons that present themselves in obscure ways. From my complete failures that stare me in the face, to my victories, to finding lessons in everyday life – and these are the things I enjoy writing about on Verse. Today I want to tell you a story about an experience that I had in Taiwan. It will fall under the lessons in everyday life category - something that can be applied to our work and careers as designers. And it’s a story about a driver named Mr Kuo. He was our personal driver in Taipei for a day – we hired him to take us to Jiufien a beautiful mining town that inspired certain scenes from Spirited Away. One of my favourite movies. Here’s what this old once prosperous mining town looks like: cue *Spirited Away soundtrack*

So we had planned to visit this place and our Airbnb host had arranged Mr. Kuo as our private driver. 

This was our expectation of the service.

1. Drive us from Taipei to Jiufen. And from Jiufen back to Taipei. We had booked Mr. Kuo for 8 hours. 
That was the utility of our experience and we expected nothing more. We just needed a driver to get us from A to B. Requirements are to get us there safely and in a timely manner. That was it. 

A pretty simple task right? Driving from one spot and then back. But like all experiences there are little nuances that can turn an experience from something utility driven (getting from place to place) into something truly delightful and memorable. That’s how you build rapport with an audience, how to build great brand equity and how to build that word of mouth promotion(Strong NPS). Mr. Kuo managed to make a utility task delightful. Before we’d even gotten into the car, he was on time. Greeted us with a smile. Opened the car doors for us (these little things matter) We told him we wanted to go to Jiufen. He could’ve just taken us directly there and called it a day. Instead he took out a homemade handbook of other great landmarks that were along the way. We agreed with his suggestions. 

And he took us to each of those locations. When we’d get back into the car he’d have bottled water waiting for us just in case we were thirsty. When my wife had to sit in the car and feed our son, as the rest of us were quickly sight seeing and breathing in the wonderful landscape, Mr. Kuo was receptive enough to leave the engine on, keep the AC going and asked if she wanted music on. That’s the human touch and consideration for others. The same can not be said about cab drivers in Australia. So instead of just going to Jiufen (that was all that was asked of him). We got to see stunning waterfalls, some islands, visited a beautiful hiking trail and national park and then got to fly giant Chinese lanterns in the night sky.  After our long and arduous hike Mr. Kuo had more chilled bottled water – but he also gave us an unexpected but delicious taiwanese treat, chilled mango jelly. That was the tipping point, like who the fuck does that? And to top it off the mango was fucking delicious. Oh and did I mention the fresh pineapples? None of these extras mattered unless he did his base job well.  And I can tell you he delivered on that as well.  As soon as we messaged him from the hike he picked us up within a minute.  How is that even humanly possible? 

To top it off when we went to Jiufen there was a spot we couldn’t find. When we got back to the car we told him about it. Then he gave us instructions and then he thought ‘fuck it I’m getting out of this car’ and took us directly there by foot up several flights of stairs mind you. He was a personal driver not a guide! In the end we had an amazing time and tipped him extra 700 NT. And we had booked him again for another trip. We were all raving about the legendary driver Mr. Kuo.  

So what can we learn from this experience? Whether conscious or not Mr. Kuo had designed a wonderful user/customer experience that was repeatable, based on the thousands of trips he’d been on as a driver. He understood his passengers and customers well. What we’d gotten and experienced, was something that Mr. Kuo had designed. 

This was our expectation of the service.

  1. Drive us from Taipei to Jiufen. And from Jiufen back to Taipei. We had booked Mr. Kuo for 8 hours. 

Instead this was the designed experience that Mr. Kuo delivered

  1. He was on time and almost instantly available when we needed him

  2. He paid attention to the details, opening the door for us, leaving A/C on even when we were parked and my wife was feeding our son, leaving music on etc.

  3. He took us to locations we didn’t even consider or even think of (also amazing spots might I add) We visited a national park, waterfalls and got to float lanterns at night. (As good as Jiufen might I add) 

  4. He took us to Jiufen our original mission

  5. He got out of his car to take us to a specific location in Jiufen, this was way beyond his job description.

  6. He had a micro usb a cable handy when our pocket wifi ran out of battery. (Lifesaver)

  7. He supplied water, fresh pineapple, mango jelly and other snacks. A brilliant touch as we were thirsty as hell after that hike and in the humid weather. Totally unexpected. 

  8. He was personable and funny. Nothing beats true human connection.  

  9. Got us back to Taipei safely.

  10. Made the trip an adventure by speeding us to the lantern place(they were closing up). He read his audience well and we appreciated his epic driving. 

Mr. Kuo reminds me of Alan Watts work as play mentality. You could see he took pride in what he did. The road and this service was his perfectly composed symphony. 

Mr Kuo. went above and beyond the utility experience. But also above and beyond what his job description was. So what are the lessons we can learn from Mr Kuo? 

  1. You delight people by exceeding people’s base expectations. If you over promise and under deliver people will be frustrated. If you under promise and over deliver people will be delighted. Go the extra mile when thinking about the details that make up a utility experience and build upon that to make it delightful. 

  2. When working with or for others go beyond your job description and what is required of you. This is how you can create value for yourself and for others as a designer. When you go above and beyond some one will notice and you will be rewarded for it. Be patient and keep being the postman or postwoman. Keep delivering and good things will come. This is a key reason to how I and others built a 6 figure income. 

  3. Even if it seems mundane, like driving, or designing a boring site. If you put in your best effort, the results can be just as extraordinary as if you’d landed a dream project. Create magic in the mundane. 

In the end are you willing to design experiences that will delight? Are you willing to go above and beyond what your job description requires of you? Because when you do that’s when true magic happens. Let’s all take a page out of Mr. Kuo’s book and approach our work and careers with that kind of finesse and mentality.