by Shara Teague
It seemed to be going so well for Uber when they emerged in 2012; firstly reaching London and the rest of the UK soon after. With a profit of £60 billion, they are the leaders of the pack in the transport industry mowing down rivals Addison Lee and of course the huge black cab culture.
But just what has been going on with Uber in recent months? The media appear less favourable, reporting on some pretty big allegations!
I once raved about the taxi service when first moving to Leeds because of how cheap journeys were, how convenient it was to order a car via the app and not having to worry about rushing to a cash point. Yet in Leeds there have been recent protests by drivers over the lower rates to boost passenger numbers which will consequently make drivers work longer hours, causing Leeds City Council to take action. A disabled man in Leeds was recently refused the Uber service because his wheel chair would not fit in the driver’s car. This is just a teaser of the number of serious allegations made my customers.
In relevance to Uber’s rapid growth, they should of had a comprehensive strategy in place against a potential crisis. In a world of conflicting consumer opinion amplified by social media; we all know how quickly things can go pear shaped. ‘It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute’
The rare pieces of negative news only brought more publicity to the brand offering a positive spin. For example, in June 2014 we witnessed the first demonstration in London held by rival black cab drivers. Between 4,000 – 10,000 drivers protested the UberX movement (the cheaper alternative) grid locking routes throughout Westminster; downloads of the app on that day jumped 850%. In 2015 the number of Uber drivers amounted to 25,000 overtaking the black cab driver population, meaning dominance of the brand was still at the forefront.
However, in the beginning of 2017 alone, catastrophic events have taken place such as…
- CEO Travis Kalanick caught arguing with an employee over fares and pay
- Sexual harassment allegations by a previous female employee, Susan Fowler wrote a blog post in regards to her time at Uber.
- Googles parent company Alphabet suing Uber over theft on ideas to do with self-driving car technology.
How many more allegations and bad press can UBER take and are they already in a fully-fledged crisis?
In relevance to PR, in order to be fully prepared for what is to come for Uber, they need a top well thought through strategic communications plan. The bad publicity will only start to or if it hasn’t already, impact consumer views and lower employee engagement; which for them could easily end the employee essential business.
Top tips when in CRISIS..
- Be aware of Social Media – the speed of communications between your audience and their smart phone in providing their own opinion and sharing for even more people to see. Respond to the negative content quickly.
- Anticipate a crisis – putting a strategy in place, training your spokesperson/s and brainstorming ideas to combat the bad.
- Apologise – and do not lie. In terms of Uber Kalanick only apologised when the video was leaked, weeks after the original event happened. He did eventually take responsibility and publically announced he needed guidance with his leadership style.
- Learn from your mistakes – focus on the future –be more transparent. In Ubers case I would focus on the positive growth of the brand and maintaining a better presence in the media.
- Internal communication- This is particularly important with Uber as employees are key. On reading a Guardian post by Sam Knight ‘ How Uber Conquered London’ an UBER employee Ruman Miah mentions the app function of customers rating their finished trip. According to Miah drivers receiving 4.5 stars or less in three consecutive weeks makes for a trip to the office for a ‘quality session’. It makes for a constant worry of receiving a low rating and Miah had previously refused to report a violent customer because of the repercussions for himself as a driver. Frequently I have Uber drivers say ‘ don’t forget to rate me five stars’ and to me this fear of poor ratings puts unnecessary pressure on drivers.
You can read the full article on employees’ experience at Uber.