Monday, April 18, 2016

Editorial: Expanding too quickly will damage Uber's brand

Oh where do I begin...

Lately, I have had a number of work trips and getting to the airport at the crack of dawn usually means I need to call an Uber since taxis are far less convenient in the LA area. Up until my most recent trip, I have always had pleasant experiences with my Ubers. The cars have been generally pretty clean, the drivers have always been courteous, and they are usually relatively safe drivers. However, this most recent experience shows what uncontrolled rapid growth can do for quality as it highlighted for me what I had heard about as complaints from others, but never experienced myself.

Upon arrival, the driver struggled to open the trunk of the vehicle they were driving because they could not reach the release lever. Then, they had to be prompted to slide the passenger seat up so that I would actually have enough room to get into the car. The back seat had visible crumbs and the entire vehicle reeked of body odor.

We get on the road and the driver spent the entire drive constantly looking down at his phone, which was kept on the passenger seat instead of mounted up on the dashboard within view. To make things worse, he kept having to pick it up in order to read the screen. Despite this, he still somehow managed to miss the directions guiding him to the appropriate freeway and as a result, took an unnecessary detour that drove up my final cost.

As if that were not bad enough, the driver constantly drove over the Botts dots, swerving within the lane because he was preoccupied with his phone and there were more than a few incidents where tailgating resulted in a near collision and a slamming on of the brakes, not that it was easy to distinguish emergency braking from his regular driving since he seemed to think the brakes were basically an on-off switch only.

Fortunately, I made it safely to my destination, albeit probably several shades paler than when I departed my home, but rather than saying anything or providing anything resembling customer service, the driver silently fumbled for the trunk release lever. In fact, he did not even acknowledge that I had exited the vehicle.

The fact that this driver was even given a chance to drive for Uber seems like it was detrimental for the brand. I realize that the drivers are contractors, but if just about anybody is allowed to drive for Uber, the long-term outcome is not a good one. I realize that Uber expects the bad apples to be weeded out by the customers, but to me, that is an unfair burden. The company's mechanism for hiring drivers should set a pretty high minimum bar for acceptability and then the worst of the best can be removed through customer feedback.

In the long run, this is probably not going to have a significant immediate impact on my use of Uber as it has a significantly favorable success to failure ratio. However, if such experiences start to become more common because Uber is rapidly growing while cutting corners along with its prices, I will happily abandon the service for one of its competitors. For me, Uber is mostly used for business purposes anyway so I am just as happy to have my company pay a competitor, even if it costs slightly more.