Uber Reputation Update

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By A. Bunch

A lot going on at Uber again. Most of it centers on their reputation. As someone who’s followed Uber closely since they entered the Portland, OR market (about Fall 2014), I have viewed how they do business for better or worse. If we digest some of their recent coverage you’d think they are second only to Monsanto when it comes to evil reputation, but there are always two sides to the story. So let’s take a quick, neutral look at the most recent developments.

Uber picked their new CEO recently and the response was stern caution. David Martin, for example, asked the question in a recent article titled, “How can Dara Khosrowshahi repair the Uber brand? Turn inward and listen.

The article recommends that Khosrowshahi start immediately to change the corporate culture of Uber from making money by ruthless innovation to make transportation a better thing.

In a recent survey of consumer attitudes, consultancy cg42 found that since the recent spate of scandals began the proportion of consumers with negative views of the company has jumped from 9% to 27%. A full 26% of Uber’s existing customers said they are looking for an alternative (Lyft, anyone?). Meanwhile, 32% of prospective customers now said they did not want to use Uber, up from 13%.

Uber began trying to repair their brand by using TV ads, starting in the UK. Martin was adamant that it wouldn’t work and he was right. London has now declared Uber not “fit and proper” to do business in their city.  ). To be fair, London has always been uptight when it came to taxis. They require drivers to pass a knowledge of their insane street maps that are only slightly harder than med school finals and in exchange allow the cab companies to charge a little more than a doctor visit. Well, I guess a lot more since medical is free the UK.

Either way, that’s a blow because the TFL is potentially affecting 40,000 drivers and 3.5 million users According to Uber. It’s likely that the decision is an attempt to get Uber to clean up its act, since the TFL isn’t pulling their ticket, just letting it expire. The decision can be appealed and that’s Uber’s opportunity to show contrition.

How will Uber change their reputation? What Martin suggests Khosrowshahi do to fix the Uber brand crisis is turn inside his own company and talk to employees and drivers. In his earlier article, Martin wrote that your culture is your brand and I tend to agree. You can’t treat your drivers and employees as disposable and expect to start being seen as nice by riders and government officials. Everything is connected now. Your sins are front page gossip and much like that kid in grade school, captain pee pants, I mean Kevin Piedmont, can tell you, a single incident can be hard to live down.

After a few weeks on the job Khosrowshahi its clear that I’m not the only one who reads David Martin. Khosrowshahi has already met with drivers during a recent event of their 180 days of change, now he’s even going to drive for a day or two, that’s according to an email sent out to drivers dated September 22nd. I predict that driving will be an eye opener.

For one thing, their technology doesn’t work as well as they think it does. It’s not awful, and if you’re a programmer or business exec you probably love to see something that’s mostly reliable and bug free, but not unlike a life raft that mostly holds air small problems can bring a lot of stress.

But buggy software isn’t the problem in itself, it’s the attitude behind not getting it fixed. To be fair, Uber routinely updates and improves its technical platform, but they don’t change things that they don’t see are wrong. For example, the law requires businesses to allow service animals. Uber translates this to mean that Uber drivers must allow service animals in their vehicles. Drivers can’t ask if the animal is a service animal or just a pet, well they can ask but not for paperwork or proof. So if a rider wants to lie they can transport any animal in anyone’s car. Uber has half a dozen programs worldwide but not a pet friendly option. If your kid is allergic to cat hair, you simply can’t drive for Uber.

Hey if you don’t have 20/20 vision you can’t fly fighter planes for the air force. What’s the big deal? The big deal is that they can fix it with another ap. They haven’t, presumably because drivers are disposable. Whether that’s their attitude or not that’s how drivers perceive it.

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When all is said and done, it’s likely that Uber can improve how it operates and with those changes it can change its reputation. We’ll all just have to wait and see.

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