The DGC Roundtable is moderated by our Fall Intern, Jamie Kurke.
Uber has been a hot brand ever since its inception but as of late, they’ve been in the news for all of the wrong reasons. With that in mind, this week’s question was:
Maryliz Ghanem, Vice President:
Uber needs fixing and they need to show the public the measures they are willing to take to protect their customers. They need to put into action strict measures and guidelines, for example: third-party background checks, suspension and review of drivers with a spotty record, and dedicated customer services. They need to show their riders that they are serious about safety and put these protections in place.
Pat Wentling, Senior Account Executive:
Uber clearly is a hot brand with an in-demand product – it’s practically become ubiquitous for traveling in New York City. The recent bad press, not to mention a satirical look from the writers at South Park, proves that Uber needs to commit to keeping their consumers safe and comfortable. The Uber team needs to publically promote a rigorous training and background check on each and every driver they employ, as well as a clear algorithm behind their pricing methods. If that means having fewer drivers in the interim, it’s worth the price of regaining consumer trust.
Lexi Hewitt, Account Coordinator:
it is hard to ignore all of the negative attention Uber receives. Uber needs to be more responsive to the bad press that they’re getting. Ignoring it is not going to make it go away, and they need to be proactive in their public relation efforts by getting ahead of negative stories. They should sympathize with their customers when they are unhappy and realize that what the media is saying about them does matter. Their business may be doing fine now, but I think that the negativity will inevitably catch up to them.
Claire Eisenberg, Senior Account Director:
- Be transparent – Many complaints from consumers are tied to being told that the ride would cost one amount and ultimately being charged astronomically more.
- Be reachable – Riders can’t seem to get through to customer service when they have a problem. This typically leads to consumers airing their grievances in much more public forums.
- Take Action – With the most recent claim that a rider was kidnapped, it’s shocking that the customer service tried to convince her otherwise. Are you kidding? Take this feedback seriously and take the appropriate legal actions.
For now, I’ll stick with cabs.
Jamie Kurke, Intern:
Uber has been in hot water, it seems, since their dawn of time. Unless they conduct a serious overhaul, one of these times will be the last straw for their customers. I already have friends deleting the app and complaining about bad service or being afraid—especially when using UberX. While they do have a great business model, my advice would be to stop the expansion for now and focus on their existing customer base. A heartfelt apology from a high up exec and the promise of some driver training and more extensive screening would probably be the best way to gain back rider trust. It would certainly put me more at ease about requesting a black car instead of hailing a Yellow Cab.
What’s the reward for getting up early for my first SXSW Salon? A free mimosa and a pair of bright orange sunglasses. Oh, and GEEKSTA PARADISE: The Ballers of Uber, Airbnb + Github. First up, Dave McClure (of 500 Startups) sat on the stage with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and the overarching theme of their chat was innovating in the face of strict legislation.
Many startups are born of the desire to solve a problem and Uber is no different – the company coins itself as the future of transportation. They’re currently active in 28 cities and although they’re a darling of the tech startup scene they’re not so popular with local governments and cabbies, having been accused of illegal taxicab operation.
Kalanick cites the city’s resistance to embracing Uber as protecting an incumbent industry through anti-competitive measures. To launch Uber in Austin, the drivers have to charge 20 times the taxi rate. In Denver, the cars wouldn’t be allowed to operate downtown or charge by distance and Uber would have to own all the cars that provide the transportation – an unsustainable model.
Kalanick was asked about Side Car which is regularly heralded as one of Uber’s low cost competitors and the message was the same: Side Car is Uber, but with unlicensed drivers. It keeps the cost down, but there’s certainly more controversy and the long-term sustainability is questionable. While he stated that there has to be a low cost Uber, it is at the mercy of the law.
The philosophy of open source is the opposite innovation-crippling red tape and we’re hearing more and more about entrepreneurs having to engage a two pronged approach of being creative within legislative parameters, and lobbying to extend or even remove those parameters. Member numbers give weight to this lobbying, as does strategic PR that places your issue firmly on the public agenda.
It’s nice to see the content extend outside downtown Austin with a livestream feed. You can catch the replay at The Lean Startup SXSW site or sift through the Salon’s Twitter hashtag for key takeaways.