Last week, Uber’s President of Ridesharing, Jeff Jones, sent out an important update to Uber drivers across the country. Uber has professed that 2017 will be ‘the year of the driver’ and Jones was hired five months ago to spearhead those efforts.
According to Jones’ letter, he’s been spending time listening to drivers, answering customer support questions and helping drivers at Greenlight Hubs. When I first read the letter, my initial impression was ‘so what?’. I’ve heard this spiel from Uber before, and nothing Jones said in his letter is news to me or drivers in general. What was even more worrisome, though, was what he didn’t bring up in his letter.
So let’s take a look at Jeff’s letter and see what he missed. The quoted sections below are from Jeff’s letter to drivers:
When things don’t go as planned, we want to get your questions answered as quickly as possible. I’ve continued to drive myself, and I know that our support can sometimes seem like a brick wall. We have a long way to go, but we’re making progress. We’re improving the training of our support agents to get rid of canned and irrelevant emails, and we’re revamping our network of Greenlight Hubs to provide tailored, in-person support that meets your needs.
Although Uber’s virtual support is a nightmare, it hasn’t improved much in the past three years either. The experience is literally the same as it was when I first started, and one of the most popular articles on my site is still all about the top ways to contact Uber.
To be fair, customer support is a tough competency to handle and most businesses do this poorly. But even if the agents aren’t well-trained, there’s no excuse for not having real time help where drivers can at least attempt to get their issues resolved. I can’t tell you how many new drivers are shocked to find out that Uber has no phone number you can call and the only way to get in contact with them is through the help tab of the driver app.
One bright spot has been the addition of Greenlight Hubs since these stations are typically manned by more knowledgeable Uber employees. I usually recommend drivers go see Uber in person for the more complex problems since those are nearly impossible to get resolved over e-mail.
I’m also very focused on making sure the way we communicate with you is always helpful and clear. As a first step, that means communicating less: no more bombarding you with aggressive text messages or confusing emails. Last month, we reduced the number of messages sent by 30%—and we want every message to be more relevant, easier to understand and more respectful in its tone.
I think clear and concise communication is important, but it’s nowhere near the top of my list. And while a 30% reduction in the number of messages sent to drivers might get you a pat on the back during a board meeting, it doesn’t do much for drivers.
An Improved Driver App
Our tech teams have been working hard to improve the app by eliminating bugs and adding new features. The Driver Destinations feature, where you can set your destination twice a day, is used so often that it accounts for 5% of all the Uber trips in the world! And our Instant Pay option continues to be super popular, with drivers cashing out more than $45 million instantly every week. More is coming soon: we have been improving our in-app navigation and will continue to introduce more changes based on what we are hearing from you.
I think the Uber driver app is actually pretty reliable. Of course, there are a few things I’d like to see improved, but most of the problems I hear about with the driver app could potentially be solved by better customer service. It’s rare that the Uber app crashes so more often than not, it’s a you issue – a phone line would enable drivers to call in and troubleshoot these issues. There’s nothing worse than having your phone crash when you’re trying to accept a ride and, if you’re the only driver experiencing the problem, it’d be good to know that since then you would know it’s a problem with your phone, for example.
I’m glad Jeff brought up Driver Destinations and Instant Pay because those two features have a clear value proposition for drivers: they make us more money and get us our money faster! Drivers could care less about new features like compliments but features like Driver Destinations can have a big impact on a driver’s bottom line.
Here are some more features that would make drivers more money. I really think this is the biggest area of opportunity for Uber since the destination feature is an example of something that is a win-win for all parties.
This is a topic important to everyone, but without one simple answer. With hundreds of thousands of drivers in the US, each person has a point of view on this topic! What everyone has in common is wanting to reliably stay busy when they choose to drive. That’s why we’re doing more to attract riders with new offers and expanded marketing campaigns. We’re also working to make sure you have a clear understanding of how much you’re actually taking home. We’re starting with a redesign of the Earnings tab in the driver app to make it easier to understand how your pay is calculated.
I literally lol’d when I read this part: “With hundreds of thousands of drivers in the US, each person has a point of view on this topic”. Actually, I’m pretty sure we all have the same point of view on this topic: we want more money.
I think it’s human nature to always want more or think that you should earn more money but it seems like more money is the top complaint I hear from drivers and almost all of the top articles on the blog have to do with making more money as a driver. Earnings should have been the first thing mentioned in this letter and not the last.
Jeff does bring up a good point about drivers staying busy though. Along the lines of earning more, it often feels like there are just too many drivers on the road. But I don’t think the problem is marketing to get more passengers – it’s figuring out a way to limit the number of drivers so that it’s more in line with demand.
One of the biggest criticisms I hear is that referring new drivers is saturating the driver pool and making it tougher for existing drivers to make money. Whether that’s actually the case or not, the optics are bad. Drivers are out there working hard to make $15/hour, yet new drivers are being enticed with $500 sign-up bonuses. If you’re an existing driver, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “why doesn’t Uber just pay us more so we don’t quit and then they won’t need more new drivers?”
One glaring omission from Jones’ letter was the word tipping. If Jeff really spent the past five months talking to drivers, I’m convinced he would have heard tipping brought up many many times. Uber drivers are reporting earnings around $15.68 per hour before expenses. If most drivers are in the $10-$12/hr range after paying for things like gas, depreciation, maintenance and taxes, even a $1 or $2 tip could be a huge boon to their bottom line. And the nice thing about a tipping option is that it really is a compromise for drivers and Uber.
Here’s the most liked comment on Jeff Jones’ Facebook post.
Even though drivers would love higher rates, that would really clash with many of Uber’s longer term business initiatives and strategies. But doesn’t adding a tipping option seem like the perfect compromise? Uber can effectively pay drivers more while keeping prices low for the riders who don’t want to tip and they’d build a ton of good will with drivers.
What About UberPool?
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that drivers want to make more money, but I was disheartened to see no mention of UberPOOL in Jeff’s letter. UberPOOL isn’t even live in every city yet, but 56.5% of the 1,100 drivers we surveyed in January were not happy with their UberPOOL experience.
— Harry Campbell (@TheRideShareGuy) February 11, 2017
And in primary UberPOOL markets like Los Angeles and San Francisco, the percentages of unsatisfied drivers are even higher at 74% and 61% respectively.
I’ve been doing this for a while so I’ve heard narratives like this from Uber before. And in the past, they failed to deliver. I have to give them some credit though, since 2016 was one of the first years in recent memory where they actually instituted some of the driver-friendly features we’ve been requesting for years (better late than never!). But for all the hype they’ve built with Jones’ hiring and this being the year of the rideshare driver, Uber is setting the bar pretty high.
I would love to see Uber deliver a better experience for drivers, but if they can’t even identify the top issues drivers are facing today, how can we expect Uber to fix them?
Drivers, what did you think about Jeff Jones’ letter? And what issues would you like to see Uber resolve in 2017? Leave a comment below or e-mail me at harry(at)therideshareguy.com.
-Harry @ RSG
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