22 September 2017 12:21:35 IST

Why Uber should walk the talk

The company should be more about consumer experience and less about advertising

Let me quickly tell you that I like Uber. I wish I could say ‘I love Uber’, but I am just a selfish consumer, warts and all. I liked Uber because it is so much cheaper than the Airport taxi that people in Bangalore are used to.

I didn’t need to count my change for the toll, nor did I have to fret and fume when the driver didn’t have the difference amount at 11.30 pm, when I was tired, angry and sleepy. I liked Uber too as the cars were newer than Ola’s, and drivers seemed less surly. Ola drivers, whom I bumped into, usually launched into a diatribe about the company and its policies — or the lack thereof.

Of course, these were the hey days of cab drivers when some made ₹80,000 or more a month, even as cab companies bent over backwards to get drivers on board and incentivised them as though there was no tomorrow. Why should I have worried that these cab companies were losing money left, right and centre, as long as I was getting pampered?

All goods things end

Of course, the Utopian days could not last — and indeed, it did not. Today, there are more cabs, poorer service, unhappier drivers and consequently, dissatisfied consumers. It is not only the users but the drivers too who reminisce about those ‘good old days’ that may never come back.

To counter the simmering discontent, Uber, which is certainly giving Ola a run for its money in India, is doing what many multinational brands do in our country — use mass media advertising. So here’s the new Uber ad, which some of you may have seen.

We can’t pay you, so we’ll praise you

As you can clearly see, the ad is a tribute to the Uber driver, of how sensitive, considerate and caring he is in the way he drives the car, in how he handles himself and even how he handles your vegetables!

Sadly, service brands seem to forget that ‘service’ is all about delivering expectations — and all this commercial does is fuel them. Despite my preference for Uber, I am getting annoyed by drivers who are constantly on the phone.

They are so busy complaining about the complexities of incentives to other drivers that they scarcely pay attention to the passenger — this is hardly what is being portrayed in the commercial! But in the same breath, I need to tell you that I find drivers in smaller towns like Vizag a lot more courteous and considerate than in the larger cities like Bangalore.

What are the moments of truth in cab travel?

All of us are familiar with the five moments of truth that Jan Carlzon spoke about in airline travel which are:

~ Making a reservation

~ Getting Tickets

~ Boarding

~ Flying

~ Retrieving Baggage

What are the ‘moments of truth’ in a cab ride? How often have we been annoyed by the driver cancelling the trip and you getting charged for it? How often have we met surly, rude or badly turned-out drivers who are unmindful of everything you say?Yes, Uber does have a system where both passengers and drivers can rate each other.

But can something more than advertising be done? Can we have mystery passengers who rate drivers objectively and give feedback to the company on the actual state of consumer service and the on ground — or in the cab, if you will — experience? Incentives could also be considered for softer factors like customer experience and delight, not so much on the number of trips or mileage that is clocked during the day.

Blinding flash of the obvious

Very often, companies forget that customer service is boring — it is doing things right, repetitively, time after time. In Uber’s case, the complexity is that the experience is being delivered by drivers and even if you call them partners, they have their own agenda which can often be at odds with the company’s objectives.

I am sure Uber realises the value of drivers and also knows that things aren’t hunky dory between the two, given the company’s focus on profitability. So the easiest way to make drivers happy is by releasing television commercials like these. The trickier part, however, is training, building their motivation and demonstrating to the drivers that they truly are partners and not mere actors in a TV commercial.

I know it is easy for people like me to do back seat driving from an Uber cab even as I check my Facebook notifications. But on the plus side, I am a regular customer who constantly refers the brand. I may be critical, but I sure do mean well.