On-Demand: It’s About the People, People.

Brian O'Malley
Mar 8, 2016 · 6 min read
Photo: Patrik Nygren

A Look Backwards

Iconic brands like the Four Seasons, Nordstrom and Virgin Airlines were built on the principle that handling these ‘exceptions’ is the key to building insanely loyal customers. The staff at the Ritz-Carlton, for example, uses the motto: “We are Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” The motivating principle is that service isn’t something that tears people down, but builds them up. Staff members view service as a source of pride and camaraderie.

Differentiating with Service

The ridesharing market in the US is primarily dominated by Uber and Lyft, trying to duke it out on price. Uber announced price cuts in more than 100 US and Canadian cities earlier this month for the third year in a row. A week later Lyft followed its lead. According to Bloomberg, Uber’s rates never rose again in a third of cities affected last year — in the long-term, a war on price is unsustainable, especially if you’re Lyft.

Design for the Exception

While some users might be willing to pay more, the reality is that great service can be delivered without a price increase or margin hit. The key is designing apps to handle the exception without pushing customers to email or social media. As an engineer, exceptions are often thought of as ‘bugs.’ If something went wrong, someone must be to blame — the expectation is that customers are incompetent. However, to the customer, the exception is what’s remembered and where services need to shine. By treating workers and customers (especially the more experienced ones) as intelligent agents, the system can improve with time. People want to feel heard AND they want to contribute to making the system better. An invested audience is a loyal one.

People plus Technology

Humans possess the flexibility and initiative to make magic happen, even in the smallest of ways, given autonomy and freedom. As a teenager, I used to work by the pool at the Phoenician Resort — ranked #3 in North America at the time (who’s counting though). If it was a child’s birthday, I could bring her an ice cream sundae. Even as an extremely low-level employee, there was the latitude to ‘err’ on the side of the customer.

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Stories and perspectives from Accel's global community of entrepreneurs and investors.

Brian O'Malley

Written by

Partner @ForerunnerVC; Seed / Series A investor in online / mobile marketplaces & commerce. Proud husband & father of 2 boys.

@Accel

@Accel

Stories and perspectives from Accel's global community of entrepreneurs and investors.