Addressing Loopholes in Uber’s Driver-Hiring Policies and the Corresponding Reputational Crisis
COMM 301: Public Relations – Written: December 5, 2014 – © All Rights Reserved
I. DESCRIBING THE CHALLENGE
Name and Location
Founded in 2009 by Travis Kalanick and Garret Champ, Uber is headquartered in San Francisco, California. Uber: Derived from the German word über meaning over, the english definition of “uber” is being a superlative example of its kind or class (Merriam Webster, 2014). Perhaps Uber is establishing itself as the best ridesharing service of its time amongst competitors. Uber locations span across 45 countries, 5 continents, and more than 200 cities. Since Uber is a private company, they aren’t obligated to release financials (MarketLine, 2014). But nonetheless, analysts projected Uber’s value at $18 billion, with revenues of $2 billion in 2013 (Business Insider, 2014). On December 4, 2014, Uber’s valuation increased to $40 billion (Business Insider, 2014).
Core Business Area
In terms of leadership, Travis Kalanick also serves as Uber’s current CEO. Uber positions themselves as: “Getting more: Time, Value, and Convenience—You can have it all.” All in all, Uber is an app that provides consumers with “on-demand” transportation service. In short, Uber specializes in two services: ridesharing and vehicle for hire. The current climate of the ridesharing service industry is highly competitive as Uber is pushing the innovation envelope and challenging assumptions of the current conventional taxi-ride business model. Also, Uber bridges three technological advances into the core aspect of their business, which is of stark contrast to their competitors: GPS navigations, smartphones, and social networks (Wikipedia, 2014). Uber’s collaborators help them maintain their competitive position and comparative advantages.
Particular Product of Feature
The particular products that will be featured in the PR plan are the Uber App and Uber cars. The Uber app is available on Apple’s App Store, Microsoft’s Google Play and Microsoft’s Windows Store.
Restating the Problem
Nevertheless, it’s important to mention that although Uber is innovative and highly supported, they are facing multiple challenges—both regulatory and social. Consumers and the media have shed light on Uber’s driver hiring policy because it appears to be less monitored, making Uber vulnerable to more lawsuits and negative brand reputation.
Intention of Challenge
The main problem here is that Uber drivers are unvetted and have been assaulting Uber customers in multiple locations. The current challenge is to address Uber’s loopholes in its driver hiring policy and improve the reputation crisis surrounding this issue. The challenge is twofold: to address a crisis and then to inform customers of the recent improvements made.
II. IDENTIFYING OBJECTIVES
A recent statement from Uber stated that they promptly respond to driver and customer disputes:
“ In situations where disputes occur between drivers and clients, we act swiftly to provide all parties with the information and support they need to pursue their legal rights to the fullest extent of the law.”
However, the media exposed personal, internal emails from Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, that exposes his disimpassioned demeanor towards addressing the problem. Kalanick wrote that the media is the blame for assuming that Uber is “somehow liable for these incidents that aren’t even real in the first place” (Valleywag Gawker, 2013) (See Exhibit A).
These statements indicate that Uber’s CEO is unmotivated and considers driver assault cases something that Uber has no control over. However, this type of approach to handling such a problem spearheads more public outcry and negatively impacts Uber’s consumer loyalty. At this time, Uber needs to make driver-hiring policy procedures more rigorous and inform customers and the media of what actions they are taking. The strongest defense Uber can have during this crisis is an honest acceptance that the current driver-hiring policy needs improvement and that they are dedicated to improving it in an effort to ensure consumer safety. On December 5, 2014, Uber released a statement that they would be smarter and more humble in the future in regards to some of their previous business practices (Business Insider, 2014). Overall, Uber customers are the primary stakeholders outside of investors and partners. In order to improve the reputational crisis and decrease driver assault cases, Uber needs to establish the following goals over the next quarter:
- Increase positive media coverage of driver experiences by at least 30-50% conducting surveys via phone, online, and at events
- Conduct 6-8 internal or external audits of current driver hiring policies to find loopholes and to implement improvements
- Plan a PR campaign Inform the public of the current changes, improvements, and motivations, on at least 5-10 different media platforms
III. AUDIENCE IDENTIFICATION
In terms of customers, Uber’s target audience is diverse—people who are are willing and able to embrace technology in order to arrive at their destination. In this since, Uber’s primary target audience represents most demographics, excluding senior citizens or others who may not be tech savvy.
Segments and Groups
By gender, Uber’s target audience represents both men and women. In terms of age range, Uber tends to target ages 18-35 years of age. All racial groups are represented within Uber’s customers, especially because the Uber app is utilized in the major cities and most cities are fairly diverse in terms of race. In terms of habits and interests, only people with smart phones, credit cards, the knowledge and comfort level of using smartphones are able to actually use the Uber app. In reference to lifestyle, Uber services are only available in metropolitan cities or heavily populated areas. Quite naturally, their customers dwell in metropolitan cities or dwell in heavily populated cities. In terms of personality, Uber’s target audience can be described as affluent, tech savvy users.
Culture and Presentation of Facts
In terms of culture, Uber’s target audience accepts and appreciates facts presented in both a straightforward and humorous manner. They are definitely attentive to clean and minimalistic presentation of information and pictures. They also respond well to messages that are simple and concrete—2 elements of the S.U.C.C.E.S.S. principles. They are a fusion of both active and passive audiences. The passive audience is represented by the users who just want to download the app, look at the website, follow Uber on social media, and use the service. Whereas, the active audience may actually complete multiple surveys and post online reviews about their discontent with the service.
What Customers Want to Know about the Product
Mainly, Uber customers want to know what the Uber app is capable of, the benefits of the app, and what they need to do in order to receive those benefits (See Exhibit B).
Motivation to Make Purchases
Uber customers are motivated to make purchases that add convenience to their everyday personal and business lifestyle. They want to feel as though convenience is right in their pocket or purse (on their phone) just with the click of pushing a button that tells them where the closest Uber driver is.
Uber is a private company, so finding this information is limited. But nonetheless, the target audience is affluent and tech savvy and may appeal to working professionals in the fields of communication, PR, designing, marketing, entrepreneurship, information technology, engineering, or sustainable management. Typically, these professionals are also employed by contractors, the government, and businesses. In this sense, the levels of income could range between $30,000-$120,000 (Forbes, 2012). I would say that they have disposable income since most people who live in the city pay higher prices for amenities and services.
Platforms of Reach
Interactive media is best for reaching Uber consumers. They appreciate social media: twitter, facebook, and instagram, along with blogs, interactive websites, and video-sharing platforms like YouTube.
IV. STRATEGIES AND TACTICS
The following strategies align with the three previous objectives presented in Section II.
Objective: Increase positive media coverage of driver experiences by 30-50%
- 1st strategy: To increase the positive feedback from customers regarding their Uber driving experience through feedbacks surveys.
Objective: Conduct 6-8 internal and external audits of current driver hiring policies to find loopholes
- 2nd Strategy: To address the loopholes in current driver-hiring policies by working with internal and external auditing companies to find the inefficiencies in the current process.
Objective: Inform the public of the current changes, improvements, and motivations
- 3rd strategy: Raise awareness of the recent improvements regarding strengthening the current driver-hiring procedures.
The following tactics are paired with each strategy.
Strategy: Increase the positive feedback from customers regarding their Uber driving experience
- Embed feedback surveys on the Uber app, Uber website, and Uber email newsletter.
- Frame the message as: “We care about your experiences. Take 5 minutes to tell us how you feel about your recent Uber ride.”
- Highlight pull quotes from positive feedback submission on twitter, facebook, instagram, and the Uber website.
Strategy: Address the loopholes in current driver-hiring policies by working with internal and external auditing companies to find the information gaps in the current process
- Hire internal auditors from Uber and external auditors to revise and strengthen the current driver-hiring procedure.
- Conduct thorough criminal background checks on all drivers.
*After researching, some journalist found that some Uber drivers who assaulted passengers were convicted of crimes
- Assess the costs and benefits of hiring internal and external auditors.
Strategy: Raise awareness of the recent improvements regarding strengthening the current driver-hiring procedure
- Create a page on the Uber website called “Uber Improvements” with the message “Your Feedback, Our Action” that highlights:
- Statistics of the percentage increase in positive feedback over the last 3 months
- Number of days the Uber support team devoted to revising procedures
- Number of hours the Uber support team spent revising driving hiring procedures
- The new improvements to the driver-hiring policy
- Promote these statistics on social media: twitter, instagram, facebook
- Submit press releases to media outlets on the improvements
- Have CEO, Travis Kalanick write “Letter from the CEO” articles on Huffington Post about how he is leading Uber to taking a proactive approach towards ensuring customer safety and strengthening driver-hiring procedures
- Strategically poke fun of their mishaps in relation to the old driver-hiring policy to garner attention and regain consumer trust
V. TIMELINE AND CALENDAR
Month 1: Increasing Positive Customer Feedback
December 14-January 31, 2015
- Prepare to launch “Uber Improvement” page on Jan 1, 2015 for the new year
- Create list of 50 questions that will be used in feedback surveys
- Have Uber support team vote on the top 20 questions that will be used in the survey
- Write the 3-5 sentence paragraph for getting customers to complete the survey
- Embed and install the survey on the Uber app after customer pays for service
- Do beta-testing of the survey app to ensure that it is working properly
- Embed survey on the Uber website
- Conduct survey search through measurement of audience awareness
- Start sharing positive feedback quotes on social media in the 3rd week of January
- Put the best positive feedback quotes on Uber website and blog posts
- Respond to negative comments where customers complain on social media
Month 2: Strengthening Current Driver-Hiring Procedures
February 1-February 28, 2015
- Decide which internal auditors will revise current driver-hiring policy
- Plan to have external auditors audit the work of Uber’s internal auditors to find strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats
- Research companies to conduct external auditing of driver-hiring procedure
- Assess costs of hiring external auditors
- Decide which external audit company will be the best considering price and quality of data
- Compose confidentiality agreement for external auditors to sign
- Hire external auditors and plan for them to conduct full audit from February 14th-28th
- Implement criminal background checks within Uber driver-hiring policy
Month 3: Raising Awareness of Recent Improvements
March 1-March 31, 2015
- Draft website content for “Uber Improvement” page
- Gather all the statistics that will be inserted on the “Uber Improvement” page
- Promote statistics on twitter at least once a week via infographic and blog posts
- Write 5-10 press releases to media companies and Uber partners and release them in the 2nd week of March
- Write 3 “Letters from the CEO: Travis Kalanick” to be posted on Huffingtonpost.com
- Conduct interviews with popular journalists to share new changes
VI. CREATING AN EVALUATION
Objective: Increase positive media coverage of driver experiences by 30-50%
- Message exposure—What percentage of our customers actually completed the survey after riding with an Uber driver?
- Acceptance of the message—Did customers answer the questions in the survey like we expected or did they diverge? Did customers raise other concerns we were unaware of? Are the survey questions giving us the data we need?
- Attitude change—Has customer perception shifted at all?
- Change in overt behavior—On a scale from 1 to 10, how motivated do customers seem in our approach? Have negative media reviews increased?
Objective: Conduct 6-8 internal or external audits of current driver hiring policies to find loopholes
- Message exposure—What shortcomings (SWOT) did internal and external auditors find from the audit and how are we going to improve them?
- Accurate dissemination of the message—Are we framing our driver-hiring procedures in a way that shows we value customer safety?
- Acceptance of the message—Are we receiving more applications from qualified drivers with less criminal pasts?
- Attitude change—Have the number of driver assault cases decreased in the last 2-3 months?
- Change in overt behavior—What is the media saying about our improvement? Have drivers shared online that the hiring procedures have changed on review websites?
Objective: Inform the public of the current changes, improvements, and motivations
- Message exposure—How many people on social media are noticing improvements and voicing it publically? How many internet visitors have visited the “Uber improvement” page?
- Accurate dissemination of the message—What comments are the public posting on our infographics and tweets about our new changes and improvements? Are they confused by any language?
- Acceptance of the message—Have the number of positive reviews on social media increased? How is the public responding to “Letters from the CEO” on Huffingtonpost?
- Attitude change—Has consumer perceptions on review websites and social media shifted? How have our partners and the media responded to our press releases?
- Change in overt behavior—Have Uber app downloads and driver applications increased?
Only time will tell if Uber really upholds being “smarter and more humble” in regards to their past business practices, as mentioned in Section II. In this statement, Uber didn’t specify what controversial business practices they intend to improve. But nevertheless, hopefully they consider reducing the amount of Uber driver assault cases a priority.
TBI: To be inserted
MarketLine Database. “Company Profile: Uber Technologies, Inc.” Market Line. 12 May 2014. Web. 13 Oct. 2014. Retrieved from: http://advantage.marketline.com.proxyau.wrlc.org/
“Real-Time Ridesharing.” Wikipedia.com n.d. Web. 01 Oct. 2014. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real-time_ridesharing
Shontell, Alyson. “Uber Raises $1.2 Billion At A $41 Billion Valuation, Vows To Become ‘Smarter And More Humble.” Business Insider. 4 December 2014. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/uber-just-raised-12-billion-2014-12
Smith, Jacquelyne. “The Cities Where People Earn The Biggest and Smallest Paychecks.” Forbes. 29 November 2012. Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2012/11/29/the-cities-where-people-earn-the-biggest-and-smallest-paychecks/
Tiku, Natasha. “Uber CEO on Driver “Assault”: It’s Not Real and We’re Not Responsible.” Gawker.com. 19 September 2013. Retrieved December 1, 2014 from: http://valleywag.gawker.com/uber-ceo-on-driver-assault-its-not-real-and-were-n-1323533057
“Uber.” MerriamWebster.com. 5 Oct. 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/%C3%BCber-