Innovate or Die! What every company should learn from UBER

By Blog, Innovation

I was standing in front of the New Orleans convention center after an amazing speech.  There were thousands of people leaving the SAGE 2015 Summit and a convoy of taxis were lined up to greet them.  To say that it was hot and humid as hell itself would be a gross underestimation of the outdoor conditions.  The crowd of smokers standing near the exits filling the already congested air with puffs of nicotine didn’t make the heat any easier to endure.

And yet a surprising trend emerged.

For every one, awaiting taxi, hailed by the convention center valet, two Uber drivers picked up passengers willing to wait the extra time and pay the slightly higher fare.

In a world of instant gratification addiction where faster means fasterer service, the emerging trend of people willing to wait to have better service should be one that scares the hell out of taxi services: If you don’t innovate, you will die.

For the consumer, taxi service has not changed much since I was a child.  You call the taxi dispatch operator for a taxi (unless you are in Manhattan because that number does not seem to exist there); and you wait.  You have no idea how much the trip will cost, how soon the driver will appear, who the driver is, or how long it will take to get to your destination.  Even further, you are unsure of the condition of the vehicle that you will ride in or if you will actually make it safely to your destination.

On one summer trip in Ohio, the taxi had no air-conditioning which means the driver left the windows open.  My hair looked like that of a french poodle with a bad blow-out; perfect for the stage. 

There was so much trash in the car that I had put a bag on my lap for the duration of the ride.  Further, the gas gauge did not work and we were about 40 miles from our destination.

To add insult to injury, the car ran out of gas about 2 blocks from a gas station and 5 minutes into our trip.  Yes!  I had to help push the taxi to the pump.  For the remainder of the ride the embarrassed driver talked loudly on his phone, texted at stop lights, and listened to loud heavy metal music during the interim.

Granted, that was the worst taxi experience ever and I have had better.  But nothing that compares to an Uber experience.

It was 3:15 am in DC.  I and 4 of my friends had been talking, laughing, and walking on the Mall at Lincoln Memorial for 2 hours.  I whipped out my phone (with about 2% battery left) and hailed an Uber.  The driver, Saleem, would arrive in 6 minutes from the west in a Black Chevy Tahoe.  Our trip from street corner to hotel would be about 11 minutes and cost around $40.

I knew all of this before I spent a single penny.  Only seconds after selecting Saleem for my ride, my phone rang.

“Hi Saleem!  This is Dawnna.”  I spoke as fast as I could.  “I only have 2% battery.  There are 4 of us on the corner of 14th and Constitution.  I am wearing a black t-shirt and jeans.  One guy is in a Tux.  As crazy as this sounds… no – no one is drunk.  Do you know where we are going?”

Saleem chuckled. “Yes Dawnna.  Stay safe.  I am coming from the West and will pick you up on the Southwest corner.  Make sure you give me your phone when you get in the car so I can charge it.  Does anyone else have a phone?”

“Yes”, I responded quizzically.

“Great!  Give me their number just in case.  I will be there in less than 5 minutes.  When you hang up close Uber so the GPS does not kill your battery.”

Within 5 minutes Saleem was there.  He greeted me and said, “You must be Dawnna.  Can I charge your phone for you?”  I passed him my phone as everyone piled in the car.  We chatted about our exploits at the mall and laughed with Saleem on the way to our hotel.

The fare was $36, but the experience was priceless.

This wasn’t my first Uber ride and definitely not my last. I have had some poor Uber experiences (ok 2 out of 100).  And both times 50% of my ride was refunded.

I am also aware there is a lot of “back end” stuff going on with Uber and Taxi Services.  But here is the number one thing to remember:

The customer only cares about the experience – the customer experience.  People want faster or easier or cheaper and most importantly better.  They will deal with slower and more expensive if they get better.  In this case Uber delivers a better experience with more information.  An informed customer feels empowered to make informed decisions.

When the taxi service learns to separate the politics from the customer and works on creating a better experience for the customer, they will find innovation swinging in their direction and the outlook for their future to be brighter… if it’s not too late.



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