What Uber can teach us about good public relations

CEO of Microsoft, Bill Gates, once said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” The multibillion-dollar transportation network Uber has definitely tapped into this fact.

Director of marketing at ITN International Benjamin Wilson is a loyal Uber customer. With his job taking him to Dubai one week and Chicago the next, he loves that Uber gives him safe, reliable and speedy transportation everywhere he goes.

Uber and Wilson did have a slight hiccup in their relationship.

Benjamin Wilson claims to have used Uber over 10 times while on a business trip to Paris in September 2016. (Photo Credit: Benjamin Wilson)

Benjamin Wilson claims to have used Uber over 10 times while on a business trip to Paris in September 2016. (Photo Credit: Benjamin Wilson)

The situation

In October 2016, while on a business trip in San Francisco, Wilson used Uber’s service to get a ride to dinner one night.

This entire ride was terrifying, with the driver going far beyond the speed limit and seeming unaware of any cars around them. Wilson asked the driver if they could slow down, however, they continued at a similar pace until arriving at the restaurant.

By the end of the ride Wilson recounts, “I was just so happy to be able to get out of that car.”

Upon arriving, Wilson immediately went on to the Uber app to rate his driver, as all customers can do after each ride. He gave his driver a poor rating and passionately explained what was wrong with his experience.

“I was most disappointed because I always trusted Uber to get me safely to where I needed to go,” Wilson says, “and on this specific ride, I was doubting whether or not that was going to happen.”

Uber’s response

Less than 24 hours after Wilson’s review, the company replied with a brief, yet effective response.

Uber offered Wilson four free rides and assured him that his driver would be appropriately dealt with. Uber also shared sincere regret for the situation and thanked Wilson for being such a loyal customer.

Lastly, Uber urged Wilson to continue to share his experiences after each ride, because customer feedback is at the very core of its company.

Wilson was satisfied with this response and grateful that Uber responded with real solutions to his problem.

“I appreciated that the company truly seemed to care about my opinion,” he says, “even though I’m only one out of millions of customers.”

What Uber did right

Dissatisfied customers who complain are retained almost as much as customers who are satisfied with a service, implying that company’s should seek out complaints in order to retain unhappy customers. (Photo Credit: Michael J. Swenson)

Dissatisfied customers who complain are retained almost as much as customers who are satisfied with a service, implying that company’s should seek out complaints in order to retain unhappy customers. (Photo Credit: Michael J. Swenson)

What Uber did right in this situation is embedded in the company itself, its rating system and desire for customer feedback.

Uber’s rating system gives every customer, and driver, the opportunity to give feedback on their experiences with the service.

In this specific situation, Uber’s rating system made it easy for Wilson to share his frustrations without him having to search for contact information.

Uber also emphasized in its email to Wilson that it would like him to continue to give feedback.

These two components show that Uber has done its research on customer satisfaction.

Statistics show that of the 30 percent of dissatisfied customers that a company will have, 20 percent will complain. Of those who complain, 90 percent will be retained, as oppose to a mere 22 percent retention rate of dissatisfied customers who do not complain.

The bottom line: You want unhappy customers to complain.

Uber has leveraged this fact, and did so specifically with Wilson, in order to retain customers. It knows that it is better to have a loud angry customer, than a silent one.

An article on Uber’s successful customer relations shares that “customer satisfaction is at the heart of its business.”

And at the heart of customer satisfaction, is public relations.

Uber can teach public relations professionals a good lesson on customer satisfaction through its welcoming of critique and complaints.

As PR professionals, we should not seek to silence dissatisfied publics, but rather enable them to share their opinions. There should also always be an easy way for customers to give feedback, similar to Uber’s rating system.

Creating this open communication channel will subsequently give PR professionals an opportunity to sway public opinion and retain publics that may have otherwise gone astray.

Reflecting on his experience Wilson shares, “Every customers appreciates when they have a voice in companies who they give their money to … Uber has done a good job in realizing this.”

Christina is a public relations major with a passion for branding and fashion. When she’s not finishing every assignment weeks ahead of time, she enjoys watching Tasty videos, catching up on Bob’s Burgers and finding things for more than 50% off at Nordstrom Rack.
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