Is Uber the next Ryanair?

Ryanair has really felt the pain. After years of growth, the feedback from its client base was that customers could just not take any more. The response was initially rejection, but then acceptance that there was a problem, and that Ryanair needed to change. The result. Did they actually act like the alcoholic who finally stood up and admitted there was a problem? Yes. Are they any better today? To an extent. But at least they tried.

Surely brands have learned from the Ryanair lesson and no longer treat their clients like cattle. Based on tonight’s experiences – apparently not. So, onto Uber.

As a customer, I can only describe one side of a two sided situation. But here I am. If Uber had a Gold members club, I think I may actually be knocking on the doors of platinum status. 4-5 nights each week (at the very least) I use Uber for a 20-45 minute journey from central to NW London. I know the route. I can tell the drivers exactly where to change direction if there is a traffic jam. I have even used an app to change the music selection. Not to say that there are not foibles. Twice in the last month I have had to complain about drivers that either don’t understand the satnav or actively change direction to get a bigger fare. However, as far as Uber is concerned, I do think it is generally Uberific!

That was until tonight.

For those that do not know, Uber recently introduced uberPOOL – the cool new way to save money on fares by agreeing to split the ride with someone else that is heading towards the same destination. So, being curious about how the system worked and how the experience felt, at 10pm tonight I pressed the button to see what happened. Unfortunately I wish I had not.

Firstly, there was the question of how many seats I needed. I have eaten a few pies recently but still only need one seat so duly made the correct selection. I then waited. And waited. Then finally received confirmation that a car was on the way. One minute later I received a message saying that Uber apologises but the taxi had to cancel. So I tried again. I then waited, and waited and then waited some more until I gave up and tied to press cancel. Unfortunately, the app told me I was actively cancelling but then froze. I waited, then waited and then tried to press the back button on my phone. The app then told me that it was searching again but I now had  requested two seats. Had I mysteriously eaten a large amount of pies in the last 3 minutes unknowingly? I thought not and so decided to cancel again. It froze. Again. I continued to press and finally I was told I was free.

At this point I decided that black cabs were the way home. Experiment tested. Outcome = failure. Uber had tried, but my experience unfortunately meant that I would be going back to normal life.

So, why rant online only 60 minutes later. Well, the reason was that on arriving home I received an email from Uber stating that I had been charged £2 for cancelling a recent uberPOOL trip because my driver was already en route to my location. S/he had not arrived, nor was waiting, but was en route. I paid £2 for someone to drive.

Now – call me old fashioned, but honestly. Imagine you go to a restaurant every day for the past year. The owner greets you on arrival by name, knows where you live and chats about your family. One day the owner decides to introduce a new menu. You try it but the food tastes really bad. What do you think the owner should do? Apologise and give you a discount or tell you that you need to pay an extra fee because they spent time buying the ingredients and learning the recipe?

How can companies in today’s market think that they have a right to charge someone for not accepting a service, particularly when that service was so bad in the first place that they should be offering discounts, not a penalty. The difference between the restaurant owner and Uber is that one sees the individual as a person, the other sees them as a number. Yet, with Big Data, companies (particularly platforms like Uber) should be able to offer a more human-centred service. Do I care about the £2? No. Do I care about the principle of being ripped off? Absolutely.

The greatest attribute to being in a customer-led society is that the individual finally has a voice that could potentially be heard. I would be interested in hearing from Uber. I would be interested in finding out whether they care, or whether they go on the attack. I am not a special customer. Nor are you. But together we are the ones that make or break companies. We are living in a society where the rules are changing. Interestingly, Uber has been cited as one of those new age businesses that actually understand this and are breaking new ground as a result. Yet tonight, Uber was my Ryanair (apologies Ryanair as I think you may now be better than this). Not a great accolade really.