In the sharing economy, the customer experience defines a company’s brand. A brand is not just the brand identity and assets that the company creates. It is the feeling that users are left with after interacting with the brand. That interaction encompasses everything from using the product platform to the meeting of the provider and buyer.
In this post, I cover seven key must-haves for any marketplace in any industry. These are the basics of creating the ultimate gig economy experience. I use ridesharing (primarily Uber) to discuss how the must-haves can be manifested in the marketplace.
All marketplace apps need to be easy to use. They must be easy to navigate. They should anticipate the needs of both the provider and the buyer. However, the encounter that the two parties have when the service is delivered also defines the brand. Experience matters.
Consider Uber. The company calls itself a technology platform. The tech platform is integral to delivering the customer experience. But, Uber does not rely solely on tech to define the brand experience. The company uses policies and procedures to ensure that the driver and the buyer have a consistent experience with each ride. That experience defines the Uber brand.
Create a customer-focused platform
To create a customer-focused platform, an organization must first understand the customer. In a peer-to-peer marketplace, this entails understanding the provider and the buyer. Businesses operating under this model must thoroughly study both. For Uber, that is the driver and rider. It’s host and guest for Airbnb. Grubhub has three customers to consider: deliverer, eater and restaurant.
Researching customers will help determine the optimal onboarding process for each. It will inform what criteria is needed to vet providers. It will help determine marketing messages that resonate with providers and end users. And, it will help the tech team prioritize features of the app. The customer experience begins with the interaction with the platform. It does not end there. It ends when the service is completed by the provider and delivered to the end user. The entire cycle should be mapped from start to finish.
A user-friendly product is foundational for most tech founders. It is their comfortable starting point. One tech investor told me that he looks for good people with good ideas because “anyone can do the tech.” The programming to build tech is commoditized. The vision, creativity and execution to create an experience is not. As we will discuss, some of the components that support the brand experience are not even delivered by the technology.
Develop unintrusive processes
I will never forget my first Uber ride. It was a short ride in San Francisco. I was traveling for business. I’d downloaded the app before arriving to the city. I arrived at the Oakland International Airport and took the BART into the city. I did not know how to get to the conference I was headed to using public transportation, so I opened my app and I called an Uber.
The awe of my first Uber experience happened when I arrived at the conference location. It was a day trip, so I had no luggage. When I arrived at my location, I said thanks to the driver, jumped out of the car and walked into the conference center. There was no cash exchange. No fumbling for a credit card. I just went about my business and the driver went on about his. It was an awesome experience. Quite unlike any taxi ride I had ever taken.
Uber delivered a seamless experience. I was delighted!
Uber has removed every friction of the traditional taxicab experience. It has enabled my ridesharing experience with a common device I hold in my hand every day. The company tells me when I can expect my driver to arrive. I can see where my driver is. Neither I nor the driver need to handle cash or credit card payments. For the driver, Uber offers rental cars and additional liability insurance. Drivers use the app to easily find riders. Riders use the app to track drivers. Ridesharing companies have built their apps in such a way that drivers and riders need to do little more than turn on their app to drive or ride. The process is not disruptive to our normal routine.
Use automation and predictive analysis
Rideshare drivers must pass a background check, including criminal history and driving history. This is one of several repeatable processes that Uber uses to onboard new drivers. The company has automated the process for each, to minimize cost and produce a consistent experience for drivers.
Uber tells the driver where and when to drive to maximize personal revenue. It does this by analyzing historic and real-time traffic patterns. Predictive analysis helps the company anticipate changes in traffic and market demand. This data can be used to help deliver a better customer experience.
Be safe and build trust
Uber does not just provide technology that enables ridesharing. It delivers a brand experience that gives end users confidence in the safety and security of its services. To do this, the company establishes conditions that determine which drivers can use its technology.Uber delivers a brand experience that gives end users confidence in the safety and security of its services. Click To Tweet
Drivers must carry auto insurance. They must pass background checks, as noted above. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, both drivers and riders must wear a mask. Riders are also no longer allowed to take the front passenger seat. These requirements arise out of the desire to create an experience that keeps both parties coming back. They are a critical component of the brand experience.
Safety is a primary concern of Uber drivers and riders. Riders can view the driver’s name, license and vehicle type, before their driver arrives. This allows them to verify that they are getting into the right vehicle. Ridesharing companies have added 911 access within their app for easily accessible distress calling. Riders may now share their route with friends and family. Companies also now have zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policies to reinforce the customer experience.
The delivery of a safe experience is essential for any service marketplace.
In its latest annual filing, Lyft notes that it was the first to provide several on-demand ridesharing features in the industry, including the first to
- Offer instant payouts to drivers
- Add in-app tipping
- Offer additional insurance for drivers, and
- Commercialize an autonomous driving offering
Yet, Lyft remains a distant number two to its primary competitor in the U.S. Unfortunately for Lyft, this means that first-to-market with these features has not been a key point of differentiation. Each of these features was easily copied by competitors. What does seem to be a sustainable point of differentiation is convenience. Here, I am defining convenience as availability in the market. That is, how easy it is for buyers (riders) to find providers (drivers).
Uber’s market share dominance has translated to the company’s name becoming synonymous with ridesharing. In the same way that we “google” when we search online, we “uber” when we use a rideshare. As in, “I’m going to uber to the concert.” Being convenient has helped elevate the Uber brand experience.
If you are unable to find a provider for your end user, the end user will turn to alternative choices. When it comes to the gig economy, regardless of category, a bigger network of providers is better.
Share social proof
Uber uses social proof to expand the trustworthiness of its driver-rider network. Both parties can rate their experience with each other on the platform. Uber drivers, Airbnb hosts, Urban Sitter caregivers, and Postmates deliverers are apt to be on their best behavior just knowing that they can be rated.
Social proof reinforces the trustworthiness of not just the ridesharing company, but also the individual driver. In addition to signaling to new buyers that a provider is professional, it allows the company to determine whether a provider needs to be reassessed. Consistently strong—or weak—social proof is indicative of the provider’s performance and can be used to build a stronger network of providers.
Offer transparent pricing
Uber uses pricing to deliver the customer experience. The company uses upfront pricing, in which the buyer says can see an estimated price before service begins, to set an expectation. Gig economy companies like Fiverr and Upwork allow their providers to set their own prices. This happens, in part, because of the variety of projects presented to providers. Uber delivers a consistent service that can be priced on factors like time and distance using predictive analysis.
The company delivers a singular service in its ridesharing vertical that makes pricing rides easy. It does not relinquish pricing to its drivers. End users can expect consistent pricing from driver to driver. While Uber does use surge pricing, even surge pricing is available upfront. When surge pricing is on, demand tilts toward the rider side. The higher pricing encourages more drivers to turn their app on which can reduce rider wait times. This delivers a strong brand outcome for buyer and provider and a predictable experience for both.
If your gig economy company does not control pricing, you can control how pricing is presented to the customer. Transparent pricing generally delivers the best customer experience, as no one likes surprises when it comes to bills.
Uber protects its brand by managing the customer experience for its ridesharing app. Driver background checks, cashless payments, masks during a pandemic, social proof and pricing that reduces wait times work together to deliver a positive brand experience. These factors do not enable the delivery of the tech. They enable the delivery of an experience. And the experience is what matters most.