Judging the judges

I’ve never consciously made an effort to understand Uber’s revenue model. After being explicitly asked for higher ratings by my drivers , I figured that ratings definitely affect how well you do as an Uber driver. A higher rating gets you more rides, more money and better passengers. The ‘better passengers’ bit, I know that’s how it is for sure, a couple of Uber drivers even showed me my own rating on the system . So on a ride, I judge the driver, but the driver judges me too.

This form of feedback was the subject of an initially casual but ultimately heated discussion with friends over the need, validity and even the fairness of such a system. Why should I, a rider, be rated lowly if I’m having a bad day or I refuse to engage in a casual conversation during my ride. On the other hand, why should the driver’s income be susceptible to rider biases or presumptions.

I see this system as a deliberate effort to maintain an ecosystem that is new and constantly evolving. A few classes at UW introduced me the concept of user experience and how it’s a critical factor in the success of business. You can no longer transport a passenger from point A and point B and expect your business to be a runaway success. Businesses need to ensure a superior user experience to differentiate themselves in a competitive market. For Uber, their users are both the drivers and the riders. The drivers are users in the sense that they use the Uber network to make money, they could very well use a different service (like Lyft) , or even a rent cars (Uber also rents cars to its drivers). So what does Uber do to retain drivers?

I’ll make a direct comparison between McDonald’s and Uber. Imagine a reality where restaurant servers are in short supply. Restaurants and fast food outlets would have to worry about employee retention. They’d have to offer more benefits, a growth plan , all in all , a better work experience. Could an unruly customer prevent this “good experience ”? Yes he could. What can restaurants do in such a situation? Probably encourage well-behaved, pleasant customers by offering discounts, goodies or look at ways to prevent unpleasant experiences altogether. How do we know who’s a ‘good’ customer? . Have servers rate the people they serve? Sounds absurd doesn’t it.

Well, long story short, Uber really has to go all out to sustain and increase its driver network and in doing so, has to take that extra bit of effort to at-least try and ensure a pleasant driver experience. Hence the 360 degree feedback. Drivers that are lowly rated will, among other things, get paired with a lowly rated rider , a disincentive for poor ratings. Because without drivers, there’d be no cars on the Uber network and without cars there’d be no Uber, at-least till self-driving are a reality.