My Uber ride that didn’t go right

Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

I believe being a good Product Manager flows from being a good observer of your surroundings —what problem did I experience/ witness? What pain is this product relieving? Can there be a better solution to this?

This week, let’s talk about my Uber car ride that didn’t go right.

SITUATION:

Every night since the last week, I’ve been taking an Uber ride from my sister’s place to my Airbnb in New York. As you can see from the black line (route taken by the uber) in the below image, it’s a short ride that takes approximately 7 minutes.

On 4th Jan 2022, I did the same routine — open the Uber app, enter the pick-up and drop locations, and confirm the payment method (and then quickly gorge on desserts as I waited for the driver to arrive). Once the driver arrived, I verified the car’s number plate and the driver’s identity before getting in. Considering the ride would last for ~7 minutes like any other day, I hopped on to a short call with a friend and zoned out from the trip. Only when it had been ~12 minutes and I was nowhere close to my Airbnb neighborhood, I looked outside and also checked the driver’s map on the car dashboard.

I concluded we were on the wrong route since we were on a highway (the route doesn’t encounter one) and kept continuing on it. I asked my driver to park the car and after a discussion (panic and confusion ridden) with her that lasted for many minutes, I realized that Uber’s map was directing the driver to her next pickup and my ride had ended (after an apparently successful drop) in the system. If you compare the below image with the first one, you’ll realize how the pickup and drop position on 4th Jan almost overlap. The trip, as you would’ve gathered by now, ended almost as soon as it started.

ANALYSIS:

Looks like the driver accidentally marked the ride as complete as soon as we started. While this caused inconvenience and didn’t meet my end goal (take me from point A to point B), this won’t be the problem I focus on. I reckon the frequency of such an occurrence is low.

However, there’s another problem that stands out.

I had received the following notifications from Uber (which I had clearly missed amidst the sea of notifications that my phone drowns in daily):

  1. You have successfully completed your ride (the standard message)
  2. Your ride ended earlier than expected. Is everything alright? (RideCheck feature release — Feb 2021)

I believe the second notification is something that warrants not just a passive declaration and question, but an action as well. I’ll start by sharing the WHY first and then HOW I believe this can be done:

WHY this matters?

👉🏻You there, I’m here for you. Love, Uber: Brand image has a significant influence on a consumer’s behavior. Uber’s brand image has been aligned with that of a reliable and safe brand. My behavior was thus a positive one and didn’t involve me tracking the progress of my ride like a hawk. Imagine if this would’ve happened when you were on your way to an unfamiliar destination.

Thus, a regular notification when Uber observes an abnormal behavior is not in alignment with what the brand stands for. Safety isn’t something that should be incorporated as a reaction to incidents or feedback. It should be proactively bundled with the main deliverable.

👉🏻I’ll book an Uber for you: Circa 2017, Uber launched a feature that lets you book a ride for someone else. As per a PM at Uber, “What we’ve learned through research is that at a macro level, people want an easy way to request a ride for a loved one. This was, in particular, a big request for riders internationally, whose loved ones maybe don’t have smartphones or good connectivity, with also a specific emphasis on seniors”.

Imagine a friend booked this ride for me. He shared the details and also called me to ensure I got into the right car. He then kept his mobile aside to watch Spiderman: Homecoming🎬. He may or may not have kept his notifications on ring. Even if he would’ve heard the notification (ride ended earlier than expected), he could’ve very well decided to check it later (I wouldn’t blame him — we live in a notification overload world). Without any intervention, I would’ve ended up reaching an unknown place.

The repercussions of this happening with someone at an odd hour in an unfamiliar neighborhood, especially with someone who isn’t tech-savvy or doesn’t have a smartphone to book a ride/ share a pin to their location for you to book another ride, are high.

Thus, just a regular notification when Uber observes an abnormal behavior is limiting in action and comes across as the bare minimum especially considering this feature’s aim of easing the travel requirement of a loved one.

HOW can this be addressed?

💡 SOLUTION A:

Trigger a call to the user (the passenger/ the one who booked the ride) in case of an abnormal behavior.

To understand this better, let’s take a step back and understand Uber’s tech stack with a focus on abnormality detection. Uber has an in-house anomaly detection tool (Argos) that examines incoming metrics and compares them to predictive models based on historical data. (I speculate that using Argos or a similar tool, the Uber Safety Products team learned that my ride ended earlier than expected). Post this, Uber’s μMonitor tool enables engineers to view this information and take action on it. A solution where such information (abnormality regarding ongoing rides and customer safety v.s. say, abnormality regarding Uber’s bookings in Seattle going abnormally low) could immediately go to an automatic reachout team, would be of great value.

This solution could be as simple as a robocall that asks the user to press X if he (Uber has the passenger details and can even state the name) is safe or press Y if he is in danger and needs urgent support. In case of the latter, the trip details can also be auto-shared with registered safety contacts. The credit card industry is a good one to take inspiration from (their approach towards fraudulent behavior/abnormal activities is one of the most advanced today).

💡SOLUTION B:

Make the Uber safety notification stand out. For the unaware, the notification bar’s look and feel are controlled by the operating system on which the app is running (Android and IoS). Thus almost all notifications (except for their content of course) look the same. It is this uniformity that results in crucial notifications getting buried under a sea of notifications.

An example of a notification that stands out is that of Google maps. Circa 2016 (version 9.23), Google maps changed its notification to green to make it look different from all the other notifications. As can be seen in the below image, this notification is also sticky meaning it can be dismissed only manually (expand the notification and click on “Exit Navigation”). Examples of other apps whose notifications stand out in a similar way are Youtube Music and BlackPlayer. While you could argue that the former is a Google product and is integrated into the OS, BlackPlayer is a much lesser-known (non Google-owned) music app.

Uber can redesign their notification system such that its SAFETY related notification pertaining to an ongoing ride is prioritized and can be dismissed only after manual intervention. Such a notification should be able to bypass even the ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode and should tap into other sensory alert methods such as an alternate device vibration and loud notification (like an alarm).

💡 SOLUTION C:

Introduce an in-car audio and visual alert stating the current status. It would help the driver know how far they are from their pickup point as well as let the passenger and driver know how far they are from the destination. Example — “Hi (driver name), you are on your way to pick (user name) and will reach their location in (X) minutes”. When the user is in the car, the message would be — “Hi (user name). You will be reaching your destination in (X) minutes”. The visual alert could be in the form of a marquee that goes along the top of the windshield, an in-built dashboard display and/or on a screen attached to the head rest of the front seats.

This solution is low priority since it would need significant investment before it can be taken to market (hardware requirement, languages, time period i.e. X definition). Secondly, while it may be difficult to miss this audio and visual alert (unlike a notification), it doesn’t fully address the safety issue highlighted above.

💡 SOLUTION D:

Integrate Uber with commonly used mobile applications to display the ride status via a small bar at the bottom of the app screen. Top of my mind, these could be entertainment (OTT, reading), social media (social media, messenger) or music apps (in this case, the ride status could be an audio one that gets triggered when the trip isn’t progressing as anticipated). The Uber bar would include the status of the ride, important notifications (when abnormal behavior is detected), and the distance and time left. It would be non-intrusive to the customer’s experience with the other app and would still let them still track the ride without having to check the app constantly. This way, one wouldn’t miss out on important notifications and be aware of their ride/ one they booked for someone else.

A key question to be addressed here would be the motivation of the others apps and products to integrate/partner with Uber. Also, the above apps segments are just suggestive and do not cover the full list of apps that an Uber user may use. Thus, this solution, requires a lot more research e.g. business and tech stack synergies, before it can be considered feasible.

Putting it all together

Uber has generally been at the forefront of introducing safety measures. However, like any product, there is always a scope for improvement. My ride was one instance of an abnormal scenario. The above solutions could also be applicable in other scenarios such as— “the ride is straying away from the recommended route for a longer than anticipated duration/radius” and “the ride is taking much longer than expected”.

After making certain assumptions regarding the implementation journey of the above solutions, I conducted a preliminary feasibility check as well as an impact vs effort analysis. Solution B would rank the highest on my priority list. Solution A would be a close second (mainly because a call may not go through when the phone is on DND/silent) and the other two solutions would rank at the bottom due to a low feasibility score.

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Observe | Take good notes | Ideate https://www.linkedin.com/in/karnikasharma/

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Karnika Sharma

Karnika Sharma

Observe | Take good notes | Ideate https://www.linkedin.com/in/karnikasharma/

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