When I talked about how much I loved Uber a couple of months ago, there was some expected snickering about being a spoilt brat and some questions too. “Paying Rs 200 for a 2 km ride is just not justified” said someone particularly affronted by the cost of my cab rides. Someone else asked why I couldn’t use the services of someone like Ola Cabs.
Ola Cabs disrupted the nexus of auto-rickshaws and made the taxi more ubiquitous, whilst maintaining an experience that was mostly on par with that of the rickshaws they had just attempted to displace. I’m biased - I’ve had poor experiences with Ola Cabs before.
You can read a storifyed version of my tweets about some previous Ola Cabs related woes here. (Thanks, @i_vp.)
Another time, as recently as September 2013, they increased their fare (from Rs 200 to Rs 250, if I remember right. I could be wrong) but decided not to inform anyone about the change. I booked a cab using the App - nothing about the fare change, got into the cab - still nothing about the fare change and then when I reached the destination, boom! “Madam, the fare has increased today itself.” Surely that was no act of god?
All of this notwithstanding, I decided I’d give them yet another try. I had a dental appointment at 7.30 pm and used the iPhone app to book a cab for 6.30 pm. At 5.30 pm, I received an SMS telling me Jayarama Setty was on his way. (I’m unable to recall if the App showed the driver’s route and current position.)
A few minutes later, Mr Setty called up citing excuses about being “far away” from my location. Given my past experience, I immediately knew this translated into the driver cancelling on me. This is what happened next:
That set off a round of musical chairs of booking and cancellation with 4 drivers before Ola finally gave up. “We deeply regret our inability to serve you,” they SMSed. Somewhere in between this game of musical chairs, I booked an Uber. It arrived 10 minutes later and I reached in-time for my dental appointment.
Ola Cabs is a youngish startup that is trying to do something different - making cabs as commonplace as rickshaws. I love supporting startups by being a customer whenever/wherever I can. But it’s so hard to do that when the startup/product doesn’t love you back.
In this poor experience department, looks like i’m not alone. Here is a review on Quora that captures exactly what a transaction gone wrong with Ola looks like:
Their services have degraded to a very very sad level!!!
Their drivers don’t pick up calls and then Ola Cabs informs me that my cab is delayed by 1.5 hrs; while I am left stranded at the CST Railway Station.
The company has rude customer service representatives who rather than apologising, blame you back for not taking their calls while I am travelling and facing network issues. They have no solution to offer and blatantly accept a cancellation.
The only memorable experience I’ve had with Ola Cabs is the one time they took responsibility after a cabbie lied about the fare. When I got in to the cab, the driver said his phone wasn’t working and hence, wouldn’t be able to start the meter.
I was ok with that. Google Maps will tell me the distance. Ola Cabs has details about fare calculations easily available. I reached Toit and the driver claimed the fare was Rs 200. I paid the fare and made my way to Toit.
Once there, I looked up what the actual fare should have been and it was Rs 150. I called up their customer care to let them know what had just happened. Ola Cabs apologised, promised to look into this particular cabbie and added a credit of Rs 50. I was pleasantly surprised.
Empower the Customers, Make them Partners
In an article on The Next Web, here’s what Ola Cabs CEO Bhavish Aggarwal had to say:
As a local company, it has a “strong understanding of the market that is second to none.”
While Uber is focusing only on a niche segment, even in such a space, a Western solution cannot solve local problems like unplanned roads, traffic snarls and unavailability of precise address information — aspects which are an everyday reality while commuting in India.
We are building localized solutions at scale, not compromising on quality and the end to end experience, for the Indian problems.
Aggarwal tells TNW that Olacabs is also looking to improve its technology — all of which is aimed at helping its cars reach customers on time and solve problems for drivers. One of the interesting things it’s doing is to detect potholes.
I’m not sure how Ola plans to solve “local problems like unplanned roads, traffic snarls and unavailability of precise address information” unless it plans to compete/collaborate with BBMP/local municipal bodies but I wish they would put the focus back on the customer.
Uber puts the onus of a good experience on both the driver and the customer.
- Drivers can rate customers and customers, drivers
- There is a cancellation fee of Rs 150 if the customer cancels a trip 5 minutes after booking.
It wouldn’t hurt Ola if they empowered customers to own the experience by making them equitable partners in ensuring the entire (or)deal is more pleasant as well. Because right now the impression Ola Cabs gives is that the service provider is king and the customer is at the mercy of this sometimes not-so-benevolent king.
1. Show customers you value them through action, not just lip service
My first brush with Ola was about two years ago when they’d just begun operations. Ola’s drivers cancelled on me 6 times in a matter of few minutes at 9.30 PM. I was looking forward to attending a colleague’s farewell but didn’t make it. Anand Subramaniam from Ola called a few days later, apologised and offered a Rs 250 credit to allow me to try their services one more time. Guess what? The credit never came.
Remember the time when FashionAndYou would cancel orders and then call up sounding like those disclaimers at the end of a mutual fund ad “We are adding a Rs 250 apology voucher to your account?” Don’t dilute the value of the service you offer by trying to buy your customers’ loyalty with silly apology vouchers, free rides. Incentives will only take you so far. You need your customers’ trust and respect.
If you screw up, genuinely apologise. Try and fix the situation. Go the extra mile to show that you care. (Even if you don’t genuinely care because hey, VC money!)
Be friendly. Warmth and a genuine voice that empathises with a customer will create a positive impact. Allow customers to be grateful for your existence.
2. Convert your Customers into Partners
You grow when customers use your service. They are your best advocates and most vocal critics. Engage with them, don’t just collect their data - find out why they use your service or are disgruntled or aren’t coming back after one ride.
Celebrate customers who genuinely love your service, reach out to those who share feedback that you’ve implemented. Make customers the centre of your story, you’ll soon have partners in growth.
- For those who book their rides via Apps, collect customer feedback within the app and make it central to the end-of-trip interaction. Most customers won’t talk about a good to excellent experience, unless it’s an exceptionally great one. But customers do complain and rant when the experience is bad. Channel that feedback to improve the core product for the drivers and customers.
Right now, the Ola Cabs’ iPhone App doesn’t allow me to rate any ride I’ve taken.
- The driver claiming the app isn’t working? That was not the first time it had happened to me or anyone amongst my friends. Why not allow the customers to take ownership?
Allow the customer to begin and end the trip via their Ola Cabs Apps. Track cases where customers are beginning/ending trips. Map the drivers too. Are there repeat cases? Are there particular times/days when this is happening?
3. Show Up
When I book a cab - using the app or over the phone - all I want is for the cab to turn up. (Without additional male friends of the driver, a la Taxi for Sure, of course. Story for another day.)
You have kickass technology that allows you to map the cabs and their locations, you know which cabs are free, you can deploy more cabs if necessary and charge customers for the extra costs you’d be incurring. You can map customers to cabs that are within a certain radius from the customer, you can let the customer know there are no cabs available nearby. You can show the customer where the cabs are. You can charge a higher fee when no cars are available nearby (say, within a 5-10 km radius) and a cab has to be hauled from 20 km away. You can pass this fare to the driver, you can keep both the customer and driver happy.
You can build a reputation for always showing up. For always delivering. For setting expectations. For being open. For being transparent.
Interestingly, Ola Cabs’ Sr Product Manager Usha has added an answer on Quora about converting customers to evangelists.
If they could convert those 3 points into actions, I’d be singing paeans to them right now.