In June 2009 a company was created that would forever alter a market that had been mostly unchanged and unchallenged for nearly a century. The environment was ripe for this company to come into being. On one side of the equation it provided a means for people to make a living, or earn a few more dollars on their own terms and in their own time. On the other side it directly addressed entrenched customer dissatisfaction and provided a service that the market desperately wanted.
That company is Uber and seven years on it has grown to the point where it has operations across the world and is valued at over US$60 billion.
Putting the technology, venture capital and media stories to one side, what is central about Uber’s rise to global dominance is that it is an extremely customer-centric organisation. Across the globe the taxi industry is renowned for delivering a poor quality service. Uber stepped in to address the need for better service - safe travel at a fair price from a person you can trust. Everything Uber does revolves around this. It is a company that will live or die on the back of customer trust.
Uber has taken on a powerful adversary in the taxi industry. It is an industry that has been protected and regulated for a long time. The unexpected and unregulated competition that Uber represents has provoked debate all over the world. Lobbying from bodies representing the taxi industry has seen Uber’s legality being called into question. But it seems the new form of transport is here to stay.
It is easy to assume that it is technology that caused the disruption that the taxi industry is now dealing with. The truth is technology has only been what it always is; an enabler. The real disruption comes from the creation of a new market, for customers. If an industry’s operating environment produces routinely dissatisfied customers then it is ripe for significant change.
My own contrasting experience of service I’ve received from both taxis and Uber made it clear to me why a company like Uber emerged. I moved to Australia in 2001 and caught a taxi from the airport to the apartment I was renting in Melbourne’s CBD. Once I arrived, I exited the taxi, paid the fare and started to think about my new life in a new country. Almost immediately I realised that I had left a bag full of camera gear in the cab. I started to chase the cab which was pulling away. Further up the street the cab pulled over and I saw the driver look at the bag in the back of the cab. Recognising the contents of the bag, the cabbie then sped away as fast as he could. I was later told that kind of event was a regular occurrence.
In contrast I recently caught an Uber home from an event and accidentally left a rugby ball I had won at the event in the car. Later that day the Uber driver called me to say he was driving over to my home to drop the ball off. He had no reason to do so other than protecting his reputation and the reputation of Uber. Of course when he did drop the ball off I went out of my way to give him a very positive review. It’s service like this that people remember. Reputation is built on trust and a focus on the customer relationship.
Technology has given people more choice than there has ever been before. This choice has created an environment where excelling at delivering an outstanding and integrated customer experience is the new battleground for differentiation. The market now demands that businesses create an integrated and personalised approach to customer experience.
So think very hard about the industry you work in. Is there any part of it that uses control to maximise profitability at the consumer’s expense? If so, then there’s a very good chance someone is already working on replacing that control with a market based on digital technology, transparency and delivering benefits to the consumer.
Mark Cameron is a founder of digital innovation and customer experience consultancy W3 Digital.