Starting today, when you give your Uber driver a five-star rating, your app will ask you to provide them a little extra feedback. It’s not mandatory, but if you choose, you can give them a sticker that says something like “Awesome DJ!” or “Great car!” or “Above and beyond!” Or you can tap a prompt at the bottom of the screen and leave your driver a more personalized thank-you note. Drivers will see these stickers and notes in the feedback section of their app, which will tally all the accolades they receive.
Uber calls the feature Compliments, and sees it as the beginning of what could ultimately be a powerful culture shift within its organization. The company has always worked hard to make its product appealing to riders. But drivers? If you’ve followed the protests and lawsuits and fights over employment benefits, you know that Uber’s drivers have not always felt all that well taken care of.
And that’s a problem on a whole bunch of levels. It’s incredibly important for Uber that its platform be appealing to drivers. That’s obvious, right? Without drivers, there is no Uber. So for the past few months, Uber has been working to make the experience in the car more pleasant, not just for the rider, but for the driver. “What we’re trying to do is rebalance that scale,” says Amritha Prasad, Uber’s product design lead.
The feedback system was a logical place to start. “It’s the thing all drivers ask me all the time—I want feedback, I want feedback,” says Mike Truong, a senior product manager at Uber. The five-star rating system—which distills everything about the service a driver does or does not provide into a number—has always been inadequate in this regard. So much so, in fact, that, a few months ago, Uber briefly considered ditching it entirely. But none of the proposed alternatives really stuck. The designers on Truong’s team created mockups of an emoji-based system. No dice. They tried a thumbs-up, thumbs-down, thumbs-sideways thing. That didn’t work, either. Everyone just gave a thumbs-up, making it look like everything was great, even when it wasn’t. Ultimately, they landed back on the five-star rating as the right way to end a ride.
What Uber really needed was a way for riders to provide more nuanced feedback—not just for bad, mediocre, and good rides, but for great, outstanding, and exceptional ones. Uber’s spent a lot of time working on what users can and should do when something goes wrong on a ride. But recently the team’s focus has shifted a bit. They feel like it’s working, like Uber is good at doing the basic thing it does, to a basic standard of quality. So they started asking: How can we celebrate the drivers who are doing especially well? The ones who have gum and water, who play the best music, who have the coolest cars. How can Uber help them identify the things their riders most appreciate, and make them feel better about their extra effort?
One thing all drivers want, says Nundu Janakiram, the product manager who oversees everything about the Uber driver experience, is feedback. They want to know how they’re doing; how they can do better; how they can make more money; what the best practices are. “You can be your own boss” with Uber, he says, “but that doesn’t mean you don’t want an advisor.”
There’s been a space in the Uber app for riders to “leave optional feedback” for some time. Those notes go to drivers, which Truong says is a source of great pride for them. But “optional feedback” too often meant support requests, or brief, nonspecific missives like “Thanks!” and “Great job!” The team wanted to find a way to make that space more visible and the feedback more actionable. Again, they tried emoji, along with a Mad-Libs-esque reaction field (“I loved how you ___ and it was great when you ___!”). Finally, they decided to go with stickers. Lots and lots of stickers.
Stickers are more specific than emoji. They’re also quicker and easier to dole out than a written response, which makes riders more likely to actually use them. That’s good feedback for drivers, and it’s good feedback for Uber. “If we can better understand what makes a five-star experience, we can better create the environment for those five-star experiences,” Janakiram says.
It feels a bit like Uber has, as a company, come around only recently to the idea that making drivers happy is just as important as taking care of riders. Recent months have brought a flurry of new ways to make driving for Uber both more doable and more lucrative. For example, Janakiram says Driver Destinations, the new-ish feature that lets drivers choose where they’re headed and try to find a fare going the same way, is the most beloved thing the company’s launched in a long time. And he says it can go further. “If the driver tells Uber ‘It’s 8am right now, and I need to pick up the kids from soccer practice at 4pm,’ how do we use that data to make them as much money as possible, and get them where they need to go?” Answering that question, Janakiram says, is a long-term goal for Uber, and a critical one.
Plus, Janakirim believes asking both sides to take a moment to be grateful and appreciative goes a long way. He encourages everyone on his team to get out and drive for Uber as much as possible (if you’re riding around San Francisco at any given time, there’s a chance your driver is actually an Uber exec). It’s the only way to really understand how the app works in practice, he says, to see whether the system is fast and seamless and helpful enough. He’s learned first-hand how good it feels to be complimented for a job well done. Now he’s hoping it’ll make more drivers feel good more often, which will make them want to drive even more. It doesn’t solve everything, and there’s still a long road ahead for the company in sorting out how to make sure Uber is a valuable and safe space for all parties involved. But it’s something.
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