Uber’s Attempt to Replace Managers with Customer Reviews isn’t Working

In emergent companies like Uber, AirBnB and other app-based or online-dominant businesses, the majority of the people who provide the company’s services are “freelance” – Uber’s drivers are not treated as employees, for example, but rather as freelancers who are currently working alongside the company.

Similarly, AirBnB cites itself as a site that simply allows independent property owners to get in touch with customers, and none of the property owners who actually provide the service are employed by the company itself.

However, if the people who provide the service aren’t employed by the company, and are independent contractors instead, how are they managed so the companies can deliver consistently high quality results to customers? The answer in this industry is in having customer ratings as the management system.

“Contractors” for Uber who are highly rated by customers remain with the company, low-rated drivers do not. The plan is to use customer experience as a basis for management, and replace supervisors with the knowledge that the customer will inform on their driver at the end of the service. However, as could be predicted, it’s not that simple.

First off, the average customers will have wildly varying standards and criteria for good service from one another. Gathering assessment data from them is guaranteed to be almost useless, as they will contradict one another and not give an accurate handle on the contractor. Studies in the past have shown no crossover between TripAdvisor restaurant ratings and distribution of Michelin stars, showing that professional food critics and the teeming masses have quite different standards – the same is true when assessing Uber rides.

Secondly, few ratings, particularly the short-form assessments used by customers on apps, provide any actionable information. The surveys reduce complex interactions to simple yes or no questions, providing individual drivers no real feedback on what they may have done right or wrong, and therefore little chance to improve. Receiving specific feedback is critical to improving – and that is something Uber cut themselves off from.

In a similar vein, we can address the biggest problem: a rating cannot help coach and motivate an employee. The ratings may be able to help distinguish effective staff, but their unreliability and inaccuracy suggests otherwise. They may be able to provide enough information to help staff improve the multitude of factors that influence a customer’s experience, whatever their brevity and superficiality may suggest. They absolutely cannot replace the ability of one human being to motivate, coach and reassure another.

An Uber driver who is providing poor service will not be encouraged to improve by a smartphone screen informing them of their poor ratings. They might be by another human who knows them, and knows how to manage them.