Penguin parties and a User Experience design lesson by uber

Designing user experiences is neither magic nor rocket science and no, it does sometimes not even require extensive research methodologies or knowledge but a minor amount of common sense and a bit of empathy! Let’s have a look at how uber does it!

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My girlfriend and I recently arrived at Manchester Piccadilly Station on our way home from the airport. After a delayed arrival of the flight, a 45 min wait for a train to the centre and weather conditions, polar bears and penguins usually party to, we decided to get an uber.

As I had recently experienced some software update issues and was out of data I didn’t have a working uber app on my phone at this point, which is why my girlfriend took care of getting one. Well she at least tried to do so.

But what happened?

When penguins and polar bears feel the most comfortable then it’s usually the moment when your personal tech companion, in this case a regular iPhone 6, decides to say good bye, leaves the party and shuts itself down –and that is what her iPhone did in this very moment.

It has happened to me multiple times this winter. Your phone seems well charged, you take it out of your pockets for some moment and then without even asking with no telling, warning or debating it independently decides and literarily tells you: «F*ck you! I’m not doing this anymore! It’s too bloody cold!»

At this point we did not have a clue if our call for an uber had gotten through or not as the phone died just after we had pressed the «Request an uber» button. So we just gave it a go and waited as we had seen on ubers map beforehand that cabs were no further than 5–10min away. Time passed and it got more and more miserable outside as the polar bear, penguin bash reached its climax.

After about 10–15min and several attemps to show our iPhone some love by feeding it with some usb power to get it back on duty, which failed, we decided to go the «old school» way and waved for a regular cab that eventually drove us home.

«Well…», you might ask what this article about penguins parties and failing iPhones has got to do with user experience and uber.

There we go with point 1: uber was part of a «longer film» that night, even though not playing the role of the main actor… but off we go…

After we had arrived home we noticed an email with a receipt over the full amount for our cancelled trip with uber.

«well…», you might say now. Fair enough. Our call obviously went through, a driver responded to it, showed up and obviously cancelled the trip as he couldn’t find and / or reach us. It somehow made sense. Nevertheless we decided to give uber a quick feedback as we had also tried to get in touch with other uber drivers during our wait so that they could have checked on our status, which they unfortunately couldn’t.

Free of anger or an urge to complain we reached out to uber in order to explain the situation. We therefore went through the support and feedback area in the app — as you might have noticed… after some more usb chrarging treatements in the warmth of our flat, the iPhone made friends with us again.

Back to the support and feedback area of the app. Tapping through the different pre-defined options and suggested potentials issues one could have, went like a charm a didn’t feel as intrusive or irritating as a lot of other support sites or services do. There weren’t too many options and I could relate to one of the issues you could report in the app. So we gave uber feedback without any particular expectation but a wonder about how they would reply.

A day passed, I had not even thought about the issue and my girlfriend forwarded me a mail. Barely hours after reporting the issue we got an answer. Well, probably a typical generic bullshit «ohhhh… hellooo dear customer xy, thank you for your mail… you are sooo important to us… please be patient as we are really busy… but we are looking into the issue and… bla bla bla…» and you never hear back from them. Happened to me enough.

Well uber did respond. But did uber respond with a generic answer? You judge yourself!

Screenshot of uber’s email response

To be fair. This could be a generic answer or at least be based on a pre-scripted template. But well… what did it tell us and what did it do to our «experience» with uber even though we didn’t even get to ride with them.

Let’s have a look how uber responded and did create an «experience».

Jonathan, (or Stefan or Murat or Chan or Jose or whatever his real name is — apparently the uber agent in charge according to his signature) started off his email response by casually greeting and thanking us for our support request. A common, simple and correct way to handle a feedback. Say «thank you» without judgement first in order to acknowledge that one’s request has gotten through and noticed.

Jonathan goes on by appologizing for any trouble one we might have come across. Still not judging but empathising by expressing his regrets about the fact that we had experienced something that made us call out for support. Therefore acknowledging that our experience with uber might have fallen short for some reason and therefore backing and justifying our reaching out to him. Disclaimer. Do not confuse this statement with a confession that uber had done something wrong in this case. After apologising, Jonathan starts to really sympathising and bonding with us pointing out that he «as a fellow customer» could relate to our experience. He even empathised on this even more by adding an example about when such a situation could be most incovinient and expressed his hope at the same time that we hadn’t missed any important events. By doing this he basically reframed our experience in other words, even added on to it, demonstrating his comprehension of the incident and the happenings.

The important bit. Is there a creative solution to this issue?! Well. He could have just made us wait by stating that he would have to look into the issue in detail, get in touch with the driver and so on… But he didn’t. The contrary happened. He pro-actively offered a solution to our issue by adding uber credits in the amount of the cancellation fee to our account. A smart retention move by doing so straight away and adding that we could use this money for our next trip, implying that we should use uber again of course.

So Jonathan wasn’t done yet. He assured that he would get in touch with the corresponding partner / driver in order to feedback them and improve the service overall. He even thanked us for our feedback and appreciation for it, as we helped uber to improve their service quality. This is again a really smart move be Jonathan as he makes us as customers feel heard by valuing our opinion and implying that our feedback would go straight into the improvement of their service. They have basically just made us a part of uber by doing so and gave me satisfaction, relevance and status. I might become an uber evangelist :-).

This is the last paragraph. Jonathan states his hopes that uber will be able to provide better service next time. This statements achieves different goals. First of all Jonathan is being humble on behalf of uber once again apologising and reassuring us that they weren’t happy with what happened to us, giving us the feeling of being heard, comprehended and taken seriously again. Secondly the statement is an implicit call-to-action, telling us to try uber again and find out ourself how they have improved!

Last but not least Jonathan begs us to directly reach out to him in case we’d need more help. Therefore he still empathises on the importance of our opinion and doesn’t leave us with the impression that they just want to shut us down with some money. A clever expression he concludes with is by saying that he is «only an email away» giving us a feeling of close proximity and the possibility to reach him whenever we are in need such like a good friend we can call at any time of the day. And as a good friend does he concluded the paragraph with a friendly casual line saying «…always take care». Yeah dude! We will! And on top of course always take an uber cause it is safer than walking or regular cabs! Well played again Jonathan!

Jonathan might not look at himself and thing of himself as an Experience Designer or anything close to it. But in fact he, the bot behind his name, or the artificially intelligent template behind it designed an experience for me. A good experience. A really good experience. A much better experience than a lot of corporations and their customer services do. In the end User or Customer Experience might sound like buzzwords. In fact it is just good customer service as you would have called it 20 years ago or so.

So what is user experience again?

Well in some cases it is nothing more than treating people the way you like to be treated! Listen, be nice, empathise and do good. You do not need to be a designer wearing fancy retro glasses, a well groomed beard and a cotton lumber jack shirt. Be the person you are and treat others the way you expect to be treated.