Uber was a Silicon Valley fairy tale. A truly innovative idea changing forever the cab industry that existed for thousands of years in one form or another. Uber disrupted the cab industry in an impossible way. Without owning a single cab, it became the world’s second largest cab service (technically ride sharing service) operating in more than 500 cities of the world.
During the course of its growth, Uber remained away from any major controversy. There were some reports of poor behavior and assaults by the drivers but Uber, as a company, remained mostly out of bad news. Apparently, it is no more.
First, considering itself to be too big a name, it clashed with service regulators in more than one cities over licensing issues. Sanity prevailed quickly and negotiations started to get the necessary approval, licenses and insurance policies.
Then there was the controversy about Uber undermining the operations of other competitors like Lyft and others by using independently hired “Contractors” to lure drivers from other competitors to join Uber.
It even clashed with its own drivers—or “Independent contractors”, who had to sue Uber on various contractual grounds.
Most of these controversies involved “independent contractors” working for Uber. Uber, its management and employees mostly remained out of controversies.
But recently, Uber got involved in three major controversies.
- Uber announced removing of surge prices around New York’s JFK Airport area when local cab drivers were striking against Trump administration’s travel ban decision. The #deleteUber hashtag became the most trending hashtag on Twitter marking anger against Uber. Uber did a PR effort for managing the crisis but it was too little, too late.
- A female engineer,, quit Uber and claimed on her blog that she was sexually harassed by her supervisor while her reporting of the harassment was not taken seriously, rather suppressed by Uber management. The allegations were later confirmed by New York Time’s Mike Issac who gave a detail of history of sexual harassment at Uber.
- Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick was caught on camera arguing with one Uber driver who was complaining about the fare mechanism. The driver recorded the whole episode on his dash cam and uploaded it on YouTube.
There’s even talk of Uber winding up its business in some cities, which should be a learning point and lesson for other tech companies not careful enough about their ethical practices.
Above everything else, this is a Public Relations crisis. Uber should realise that people are no more going to forgive its mistakes. It should come clean and face the public and media to counter the controversies. In the case of DeleteUber, it did come forward but in an unprofessional manner. There is a dire need of a professional PR strategy for improving its public image. It should hire a better PR team, if it already has one as obviously it is not delivering.
- Uber should not take sides in political controversies. People are sensitive about this stuff and it is too bad for its image. Why to lose business on something it cannot change?
- Uber should make stronger anti-harassment policies and implement those with zero-tolerance. No one should be exempt.
- The tariff and fee structure should be improved. Drivers should not feel losing while Uber is growing.
- Uber CEO Travis Kalanick should stop being the face of Uber, at least for some time. He is simply not fit for the job. Public Relations should be left to the PR professionals. A dynamic PR manager should become the face of Uber.