After nearly a year of staying under cover, Uber finally ran another test of its self-drive car just before Christmas, setting a new tone for itself in the new year. If Uber’s digital transformation story in the entrenched taxi ecosystem has been much spoken about, the story revolving its next major step in getting autonomous cars onto the streets is of a whole new league.

Let’s rewind to the time before Uber made hiring a cab easy. The stress of walking to a main road, waiting for an empty taxi and flagging it down, ignorance of the fare until the ride ended and lack of a feedback mechanism were all addressed with just a click by Uber. It harnessed the capabilities of a smartphone and GPS technology, connected cab drivers via its network and voila, all the troubles of hiring a taxi up until 2011 seemed to vanish. Now taxis would come right up to the doorstep, customers’ voices were heard via feedback forms, which raised the bar for taxi drivers to become more customer centric in their own special ways, ride estimates and expected time of a cab’s arrival for pick-up helped customers decide the best mode of transport and, most importantly, the variety of payment options made Uber a pioneer in cab aggregation platforms, making customers feel like kings.

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Even as local cab aggregators made their way across multiple countries, Uber continued to find new ways to delight customers not just as a ride provider, but also for logistics and food delivery. Take for instance the complaint of surge pricing. This was Uber’s way to encourage cab drivers to provide service in peak traffic hours with more funds going into their kitty. As an alternative for customers, Uber introduced car pooling via its ride sharing service that helped individual customers split their travel fare with other customers travelling along the same route. And while Uber was looking at avenues for newer service offerings, behind the scenes it was ramping up its digital intelligence at a rapid pace.

Neither the Uber Eats nor the Uber Pool or even UberCARGO would work without high-order intelligent mapping systems of the real world. Uber went head on to acquire Geometrics AI Lab which was a pioneer in cognitive science and machine learning techniques. The ready platform meant barely any waiting time for Uber’s customers to enjoy better ride features.

Let’s pause and relook at Uber’s multiple service offerings:

  1. It provided a hassle-free on-demand taxi service. Uber doesn’t own a single car. All it did was addressed the basic need for a product, in this case a taxi, and provided the functional elements for consumers.
  2. Instant feedback collected from both partner drivers and consumers. This made each feel responsible as higher ratings meant benefits for both in terms of mapping consumers and drivers, as well as perks in the form of discounts for consumers and financial benefits for partner drivers. This feeling of camaraderie encourages healthy recall, thus catering to the sensual experience that feeds customer loyalty.
  3. It empowered customers to plan their travel, travel routes and enjoy a sense of safety and well-being by providing customers with details and feedback of the driver. This empowerment to choose not just a vehicle, but even the driver, enhances a sense of attachment in consumers, boosting their loyalty towards the brand.

Look at Uber’s journey till date. It did not leverage technology for the sake of technology alone. Uber identified customer experience gaps across multiple industries – cab services, public transport systems, and logistics across the F&B industry and cargo sectors – brought them all under its umbrella and included a service that bound them all together. And this is where, I strongly believe, it created a true impact in enhancing customer experience. But the story of digital disruption doesn’t end here.

Digital disruption is like a wave. You identify a problem, solve it, and simultaneously leverage your expertise to solve more problems, stitching them into a whole fabric of change. So, even as Uber was trying to tide over competition in global markets, back home in the U.S. it was busy developing its next league of transportation – autonomous cars.

After a tragic trial run early last year, Uber returned with a successful and safe test run in December 2018. And when these cars hit the roads for us consumers to travel in, that’s a disruption of some magnitude. Just imagine the drop in prices! With no driver fee to pay, Uber will become more dexterous and prices will be slashed. More automated cars on the road would ensure ample vehicle-to-vehicle communication that could reduce road accidents and make taxi riding safe. Besides, there could be a situation where people owning autonomous cars can connect to Uber’s network and allow their car to ferry people while they sit in the comfort of their offices or homes. The combination of cost-effectiveness, safety from accidents and the choice to be not just a customer, but also a service provider by hiring out one’s own vehicle on the Uber network can go on to create a brilliant web of delivering great customer experience. And this, my dear reader, is truly the new age digital disruption that can metamorphose a business, a lifestyle and customer perceptions, introducing them to change and a new world.

Disclaimer: The featured image is for representation purpose only and is not a picture of the actual Uber autonomous vehicle.

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