The reality of customer support at Uber

By Timothy Collins, VP of Global Community Operations

Buzzfeed has just published its second story about Uber today, this time covering customer support. As with the first story (see our previous Medium post), we don’t think it fully reflects the facts and so we wanted to provide some additional details.

I joined Uber in January 2015 after 16 years at Amazon. At the time, our customer support was mostly handled by local city teams. That was fine when we were smaller. But as Uber grew — there are now three million trips taken every day with Uber across 69 countries — this approach became increasingly inefficient because the individual city teams could not learn from each other. There was also a lot of duplicate work.

So we decided to invest in a network of global customer support centers. To date we have seven of these centers of excellence in Chicago, Phoenix, Limerick (Ireland), Krakow (Poland), Wuhan (China), Hyderabad (India) and Manila (The Philippines). As a company that operates in many countries, investing in a global customer support network, including in the United States, is common sense — not offshoring.

Of course, building these centers of excellence takes time. And before they were up and running in the U.S., Uber relied upon a mix of employees and contractors, some of whom were employed by a company called Zerochaos. These contractors worked from home. But having people work remotely undermined our ability to improve customer service over time.

We offered these US work-from-home contractors with a good performance record employment at Uber. And where people could not move, we worked hard to find them roles at our local Uber driver support centers, which are located in 60 cities across the United States.

However, very few of these contractors actually accepted these jobs, mostly because they wanted to continue working from home. And while some of them may be unhappy about this change, having people work remotely was not in the best interests of our passengers. It is also important to bear in mind that with the expansion of our American support centers, Uber created more U.S support jobs than under the work-from-home program.

When our customer support staff work together as one team, in one place, everything is faster and more efficient. It’s easier and quicker to figure out what’s working and what’s broken, and to get that feedback to our engineers. For example, passengers told us it was hard to find drivers at airports and other crowded places. We now have on-screen instructions telling riders exactly where to go — a product feature built directly as a result of feedback from our support team.

Our new, more centralized approach is working. Response times are down and, according to our customer surveys, quality has increased by more than 10 percent. That’s because our customer support employees are deeply committed to ensuring that we serve every rider and driver really well. And when we make mistakes we work hard as a team to learn from them.

Our goal as a company is to build products that work perfectly. But there will always be times when people need to get in touch: a purse left in a car; a passenger who upset a partner; a bad driver; a bug in the system. It’s why we’ve invested millions of dollars in a global customer support network — and why we have set ambitious internal goals to ensure the team wakes up every morning thinking about how Uber can do even better.