I did, a few months ago, and was a little put out to discover that Uber drivers considered me no better a customer than 4.5 stars (out of 5). A variety of distributions are possible, but this suggests that half the drivers gave me 4, and the other half the maximum possible.
I’m not the most chatty person (in fact, my voice issues often inhibit me from speaking unless it’s absolutely necessary), so I’m not one to initiate a conversation with drivers. However, I’ve never been abusive, nor have I done anything as extreme as vomiting in an Uber. Basically, I’m your standard low-maintenance customer … up until the point when the service provider is falling short. For the most part, Uber drivers do what they are required to, so I’m seldom going to put myself in the cross hairs for a low rating by getting tetchy about bad driving.
My view is that I’m contracting the driver to ferry me across town, I’m pleasant about it, and I pay what I’m required to. In what way have I been so deficient as a customer to earn a less than perfect rating?
When I first aired my ire about this at home, it was pointed out to me that in a country where a matric pass requires just 40% for three subjects and 30% for three others, the driver must think I’m a rock star if he’s rating me 4 (i.e. 80%).
For several months, I’ve been making a special effort to be uber-friendly when getting into the car, and generally bringing a glow of good cheer into the driver’s life. My rating inched up from 4.50 to 4.51 and then 4.52. I got it to 4.54, after which it summarily dropped to 4.52 and then 4.50. WTF?
As a customer, I treat it as something of a binary issue. Either the driver has delivered a service, or he hasn’t. Almost every time, I give drivers a full five stars.
Uber has made taxis cheap, cheaper even than the Hong Kong taxis I used on regular trips between 2003 and 2009. This, we are told, is at the expense of drivers, who are forced to work insanely long hours to make enough money to get by. It’s another version of the sweatshop, although in this case, we are not conceptually removed from the sweatshop, in the same sense as buying clothes in a branded store. In fact, the rank body odour of some drivers – especially ones who have been on shift for an extended time – can turn an Uber ride into a fully-immersive sweatshop experience.
Given their marginalised place in the economy, perhaps it’s understandable that they would be less charitable in the giving of star ratings. Certainly, it seems to be apparent that, as a whole, drivers have higher ratings than their passengers.
There’s another side to this, which is that by definition the Uber workplace has no co-workers with whom to communicate during the course of a working day. All that the drivers have for company is an endless succession of transactions – people sitting themselves down in a back seat, barely looking up from their phones, making hardly any contact other than establishing that this is the correct vehicle.
Unless they are particularly grumpy individuals, one assumes that Uber drivers would appreciate a little human warmth, if only for a few minutes at a time.
Companies are always telling us how much they value our custom. However, it’s never occurred to me to establish from their staff how satisfied they were with having me as a customer, on the basis of personal interaction. If I’ve never given any thought to a notional star rating from other commercial interactions, why should I suddenly be bothered by an apparently low level of appreciation from Uber drivers?
If I were the most charming, warm and engaging person to ever use an Uber, perhaps my rating would remain to fall short of the perfect score. Maybe that phenomenon is hard-baked into the system.
However, the world could certainly do with more of us being ‘nice’ to each other, even when it’s not required, nor of immediate benefit to us. Perhaps we set the bar too low when are the customer.
Who would have thought that a technology company that has tried to make the hailing of taxis frictionless by removing/minimising human contact could have made me aware of how much effort I was putting into being nice to strangers?
Common sense from an Uber driver (although if he had been my driver for the majority of my rides, my rating would have been much higher).