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Uber is overhauling its driver support systems in a bid to decrease turnover

Drivers can expect quicker fare fixes and protection from bad ratings for things that are out of their control.

  • Uber has been on a campaign to retain its drivers and recruit new ones.
  • The ride-sharing company is adding an in-app tipping feature.
  • The company is paying drivers more for the time they wait for passengers.
Uber driver looking for new passengers in Washington, D.C.
Jonathan Newton | The Washington Post | Getty Images
Uber driver looking for new passengers in Washington, D.C.

Uber wants to respond better to drivers' complaints. It has been on a campaign to retain its drivers and recruit new ones, and last month, the company started by rolling out an in-app tipping feature in addition to things like paying drivers for the time they wait for passengers after two minutes.

This time, the company is focusing on its driver support system — which the company concedes was built to get bigger, not efficiently respond to drivers' issues. To rectify that, Uber has overhauled the more than 100 policies the company's support agents use to respond to driver concerns and is rolling out a number of new driver support features.

The company says the polices are now "driver friendly," according to an email the company sent on Tuesday.

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In the past, if a rider was charged extra, for instance, because a driver needed to take a longer route to avoid things like construction or traffic, the fare for both the driver and rider would be reduced. Now, the company will simply reduce the rider's fare while paying the driver the same amount, since it's something that's out of the driver's control.

As of today, drivers can also expect three new policy changes: A quicker review of licenses and other documents when registering to drive, protection of their ratings against things they can't control like being given wrong directions by the in-app navigation, and the ability to adjust fares for trips through the app.

Over the next few months, the company will also start paying drivers for returning lost items to riders and providing around-the-clock phone support as well as the ability to schedule in-person appointments at driver support centers called Greenlight hubs through the app.

The company, last valued at $69 billion, began what it's calling its 180 Days of Change after months of public scandal which ultimately culminated in the ouster of CEO Travis Kalanick. Leading up to his forced resignation, a video of Kalanick berating an Uber driver surfaced — heightening the already brewing tension between Uber corporate and the independent contractors providing its service.

So, Uber is in the midst of overhauling its image in the hope of regaining the trust of its riders and drivers. But the focus here is largely centered on alleviating driver issues.

Internally, employees are more encouraged to drive for Uber — to get a better idea of product issues or necessary fixes. In fact, Rachel Holt, the company's head of the U.S and Canada business who has also been driving for Uber from time to time, has been primarily focused on fixing the driver support issues and creating a better value proposition for drivers as a whole.

While part of the goal is to retain the drivers the company has today, Uber is also focusing on finding creative ways to tap into new pools of people who may not have considered driving before. The company believes that improving the overall driving experience, in addition to providing drivers more value for their time, could also be a more enduring means of attracting them away from other platforms.

The "chapters" of this 180 Days of Change are being rolled out in order of priority. Customer support was one of the first phases because it's among the few touchpoints a customer — on the supply or demand side — has with Uber.

In the early days, Uber's customer support operations were largely manned by city teams. But as the company scaled, Uber had to find a more efficient way to respond to both run-of-the-mill issues as well as more serious incidents. So Uber began hiring remote contractors, eventually outsourcing a portion of that work to places like the Philippines and India. Simultaneously, Uber began hiring full-time workers to work out of what it calls Centers of Excellence, which are scattered throughout the U.S. and other countries.

But as the customer support operation was outsourced and systems were put in place to increase efficiency, riders and drivers were often left wanting. Sources previously told me that incidents would fall through the cracks as a result of the importance placed on quickly answering complaints as opposed to sufficiently answering them.

The company admits that the customer support infrastructure became too separate from its overall operations. To that end, Holt has been leading the effort to ensure that this typically final touchpoint between drivers and the company is run properly and is prioritized.

Though the company has seen a slew of bad press in the past, this year was the first time Uber saw a consequent impact on its business. That started with the #DeleteUber campaign at the beginning of the year that was sparked by claims that the company was attempting to profit off the backs of taxi drivers protesting President Donald Trump's travel ban by turning off surge pricing. The result was more than 400,000 account deletions which in turn caused Lyft to rise for the first time to the top of the list of most-downloaded apps.

The caveat here is this is typically the number of new accounts Uber sees in a week in the U.S. But that wasn't the end of it.

As months went by and the company saw the limitations of its internal cultural issues play out in public following the account of former Uber engineer Susan Fowler's year of sexism and sexual harassment, the ride-hail company's marketshare continued to take a hit. According to data obtained by the Financial Times, Uber's share of the U.S. ride-hail market went from 84 percent to 77 percent.

The business is continuing to grow, but in a market like the U.S. where Uber has achieved massive scale, tapping into new pools of drivers becomes more difficult. Retention, therefore, is more important than ever.

By Johana Bhuiyan, Recode.net.

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