With a career spanning 15 years and encompassing myriad roles within the taxi industry, there’s not much Silver Top Taxi Service's Compliance Manager Sumit Arora doesn’t know about the business. He tells VicTaxi about his passion for service and commitment to a job he sees as the most intriguing in the world.
When Sumit Arora started driving a taxi in 2001, he planned for it to be a part-time job to help him get through his university studies. What he didn’t bargain for was being so fascinated by the world from behind the wheel, it would become not only his career but his passion.
Today, as compliance manager for Silvertop Taxis, he is responsible for complaint management for the company, as well as reviewing feedback of operating procedures, driver discipline, assisting government agencies and developing tools to improve the industry’s engagement with the public. That’s an impressive job description by any standards – particularly considering how he started.
“It was always going to be something casual,” he says of his taxi work.
“But such intrigue exists in this industry that it just literally consumed me.
“I love it; I absolutely love the ups and downs of this game and the many faces of this industry.”
Born in New Delhi, India, Sumit was 19 years old when he moved to Melbourne to begin his studies.
“I was studying in the hospitality stream at university, but I think it took my participation as a taxi driver to realise my true passion was to provide customer service, whether it be hospitality or whether it be through taxi services.
“My true passion was always about ensuring the client I’m dealing with is happy to see me. That’s what it’s all about.”
But it wasn’t just Sumit’s dedication to providing great service that made him perfectly suited to a successful career in the taxi industry. It was matched by a fascination with what was going on behind the scenes.
“Most people don’t realise the volume of work that goes on behind the scenes, in what turns out to be, as customers view it, a normal taxi trip,” he says.
“There’s so much involved that people don’t realise; and those multiple personnel playing multiple roles, enabling this industry to perform as it does, just intrigued me. Slowly but surely my interest grew and here I am today doing this.”
Today, Sumit is one of those people behind the scenes. His job requires, he says, a genuine desire to understand people’s needs and, at times, a great deal of patience – qualities he has in spades, thanks to the range of positions he has undertaken in the industry.
After about seven years of driving taxis – mornings, night, Silver Service and wheelchair-assisted – he joined the Silvertop taxi call centre as a telephonist.
From there he moved through the ranks to radio operator, then in a supervisory role where he was managing wheelchair bookings and training staff in radio operations, before moving to the compliance department in 2012. One of the most important aspects to remember, Sumit says, is that human interaction is at the heart of the taxi industry.
“I try to humanise the complaint or concern as much as I can because one thing we often forget in the middle of all these regulations and acts and industry requirements and all these numbers and data that are written on paper, is that at the end of the day it is human interaction that truly takes place in every taxi trip,” he says.
“Who knows what one human being’s mood is compared to another; what mood did the customer get into the taxi with, or what mood did the customer find their driver in when they hopped in the taxi?
“It’s important to humanise that, although without discounting adherence to regulations.”
Sumit explains the process of responding to complaints from the public against drivers is extensive and varies greatly, depending on the nature of the concern. After an initial assessment, Sumit and his team will determine whether a face-to-face interview with the driver is necessary. Then, documentary evidence such as people’s conversations, drivers’ communications with the radio room, receipts and GPS tracking information is collected. Sumit has developed on online feedback management tool that enables complaints to be streamlined and managed online for the entire process.
Before any action is taken, Sumit says it’s important to also “look at the other side of the coin” and get the driver’s point of view before determining whether a breach has occurred.
“You have to be careful not to offend anyone, but at the same time you have to be very mindful you do get your point across,” he says.
“It requires a great deal of patience, of manoeuvring of vocabulary, and also a genuine understanding.”
Driver discipline, a subsidiary of complaints management, can also vary greatly depending on the nature of the concern. While some consequences are non-negotiably harsh in line with regulations and public safety, others can take the form of a discussion.
“Feedback could be to just help them understand how to better deal with that situation next time, or send them back to training if need be,” Sumit says.
“There are different ways to get around different people; different drivers learn differently. When we say ‘driver discipline’ it can come across pretty harsh. So the way I like to put it is ‘driver and operator counselling’.”
Driver communication improvement is another vital area Sumit is passionate about, which is why he has developed a Facebook group for drivers, launched in October last year. The group acts as a platform for Silvertop to listen to drivers’ concerns, update drivers about events, changes to network policies, regulations, reforms and industry news. Drivers can log in easily to the group through their own Facebook account.
“Our expectation of this group is for it to facilitate driver and operator engagement,” Sumit says.
“Every driver, while they’re sitting at a rank or having a break, can look at it in the palm of their hands. It provides them with a platform to engage with each other as well as with the company.”
With communication and service as the touchstones of Sumit’s work ethic, he is unsurprisingly positive about the future of the industry he loves, even in its current climate of unprecedented change.
“I think we’re in for the long haul and the state of the industry will be good,” he says.
“I love this industry and I’m going to continue to love it. Yes, there are challenges from the ride-sharing services. Yet, if we stick to our basics and provide the level of service we traditionally have been known to provide, our customers are loyal and caring enough they will not think of another option.
“We, as an industry, need to stick together to get through these challenges. United we stand, divided we fall; we must remember that all the time.”
And of course, there’s the human factor to consider. Sumit explains it’s worth remembering that despite the numerous bodies earning money from the industry – the networks, Taxi Services Commission, road authorities, mechanics, drivers, to name a few – there is only one way money is coming in.
“That’s through the consumer,” he says.
“So let’s give that consumer the respect he or she deserves.”