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This week our customer experience expert, Daryn Mason, looks at the challenges facing businesses as they adapt to new business and consumer behaviours. Today he looks at how Uber has a lesson for all organisations trying to align their goals with core customer needs.

I admit it. I’m addicted to Uber. From a customer experience perspective they tick all the boxes. Digitally elegant, low effort, personal, simple payment, with a seemingly effective feedback and rating mechanism.

Sure, I know people who have experienced problems with Uber, but no more than other taxi companies. And in terms of the competition, I’ve never liked the Black Cab monopoly (in London especially), with their anxiety-feeding ticking meter, expensive ‘short cuts’ and the grudging tip at the end.

Uber in hot water

Despite the superficially great customer experience, Uber is in trouble. They have been stripped of their licence to operate in London. (They continue to operate pending an appeal.)

You might think I’d be rushing to Uber’s defence, but I’m conflicted.  Let me explain.

Transport for London (TfL) are unhappy that Uber show little or no “corporate responsibility” for their customers (and drivers too) and say they’re “not fit and proper” to operate a taxi service. In defence, Uber reacted by accusing London of “being closed to innovative companies”.

It’s personal

Why do I have conflicting feelings?  I have a daughter who lives and works in London. Her safety and security are paramount in my mind. She also uses Uber frequently and at all times of the day and night. I need assurance that they are fully regulated and operate to the very highest standards.

Uber, Meet Maslow

In brand terms, Uber seems to fulfil the higher needs in Maslow’s seminal hierarchy of needs. The brand certainly reinforces ‘social belonging’ and ‘esteem’ for its customers, but what about the essential foundational needs required before these higher level needs are relevant.

Maslow postulated that if your safety and security needs aren’t fully met, none of the higher needs can be fully realised. And this is where Uber have entered dangerous territory.

If customers believe that their personal safety is at risk then this can fatally undermine their customer experience, which is essentially based on trust.

Let me give you a hypothetical parallel example:

What if a budget airline that offered the best prices, excellent service and prompt arrival times, cut corners on pilot training and safety procedures? How many of us would be happy to jump aboard? And if we did, how much would we enjoy the journey? Wouldn’t you expect the regulator to step in?

Happy ending?

There may be a happy ending for Uber and its 3.5 million customers and 40,000 drivers in London.  Uber’s new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi says that, it is “determined to make things right”. If he can deliver on the promise then it will be a victory for customer experience.

This is a salutary lesson for all brands, especially those disrupting traditional industries. You can’t rearrange your customers’ hierarchy of needs to suit your business goals. This fundamental concept should be baked into the culture of all consumer brands if they value their long-term survival.

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