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Uber customer 'disservice with a click'

Jul 16 2017 15:42
Mandi Smallhorne*

MY FAMILY member was coming back around 09:30 last Monday from the Grahamstown National Arts Festival on the bus (yes, he’s an adventurous soul), and I couldn’t pick him up from Park Station as I was due in Bryanston at 10:00 for a meeting.

He’s one of those eccentrics who scorn an android phone, so the plan was I would order an Uber for him, as we’ve done before.

The bus, of course, was delayed (just what you don’t want after a long night of skop-skiet-en-donder movies, or, on this particular bus, non-stop religious messages), so I checked my phone constantly throughout my meeting, but zilch messages arrived.

As I walked to my car, three messages that had been sent about 15 minutes apart landed en bloc: “On the outskirts of Joburg now”; “Unloading luggage”; and then, forlornly, “I’m marooned.”

The last thing I wanted was for him to be marooned on the streets outside Park Station, so I hurriedly ordered an Uber. As soon as the driver’s name came up, I pressed contact, so I could explain exactly where the passenger was waiting.

Nyet. An American-accented woman explained to me, three times in a row, that “we cannot connect you to the driver as this number is not associated with the account” (it’s been the same number since I downloaded the Uber app).

I could see that the pick-up point they’d given was nowhere near where the would-be passenger was waiting, and that he’d never make it to the designated meeting place in time, even if he picked up his skirts and really ran for it. And I couldn’t explain matters to him, either; when I phoned, the signal was so bad he couldn’t hear me.

After much hoarse screaming, a little bit of banging my head against my steering wheel and some welcome assistance from a Park Station employee, we managed to understand each other sufficiently: I’d cancel my next meeting and fly down to Rosebank Gautrain Station and meet him there. Phew. Sorted.

Yes, except: Uber then charged me R25 for a cancelled trip. But I had never cancelled the trip, not at any point.

Have you ever made an attempt to connect with Uber customer service? The email address on the invoice is non-responsive, that’s par for the course, so I sent a message via Twitter. But you have to know the right Twitter account: not Uber itself, Uber Support.

Some time later, they responded: “Oh no! Please send us a note at http://t.uber.com/cancellationcharge … and we'll be happy to look into this for you”. Go to that link, and you find yourself filling in a form, which, of course, does not provide the exact option that would explain my story.

No wonder, in a recent overseas survey, only “46 percent said they were very satisfied with Uber’s customer service”. I still await the outcome, but I can tell you now, I will not be satisfied with just a R25 refund: I want to be able to tell Uber what happened, so it can learn from the experience and up its game in future.

WHY was I unable to contact the driver? Just sort that glitch out, and none of the time-wasting frustration of Monday morning would have happened.

The very next day, I tried to complete an online visa application by retrieving my application form (which you’re assured you can do at any time). The application process is supposed to be simple and time-saving and an example of all that tech can do for you.

Except I couldn’t retrieve the form, not at all. I then spent a frustrating hour and a half trying to figure out how to get an actual person on the line at the visa helpline (press one, press three, press two, to return to the original menu press nine; you find yourself humming “Round, like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel, never ending or beginning, like an ever-spinning reel…”

The consulate’s phone number accesses a similar endless loop. In the end, a Francophone African at the Tshwane embassy, an actual person, gave me the advice I needed.

I love technology – when it works. But when it doesn’t… has anybody done some number-crunching to figure out just how much time is wasted in experiences like this? I lost 45 minutes on the phone and driving on Monday, never mind the cancelled meeting which inconvenienced three other people besides me, and I spent an hour and a half dealing with the visa application.

Before the end of this week, I’ll have to deal with a medical scheme’s ‘customer service’ (block out at least an hour for that) and with my server, to sort out the odd fact that, all of a sudden and for no identifiable reason, my phone is only downloading junk emails and ignoring anything of value (at least another hour). For a freelancer, the loss of five hours a week dealing with ‘customer service’ is a significant cost.

I challenge you to do the same exercise. For a month, jot down the time you spend messing with the endless loops of customer service calls or trying to contact a live person to hear your complaint or query. Add it up, assign a per-hour cost: that is the cost that companies are laying off on us, the customers. It’s a cost they should bear, not us.

Then meet me at the barricades!

* Mandi Smallhorne is a versatile journalist and editor. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter.


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mandi smallhorne  |  opinion

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