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Uber Case Analysis
Uber is a taxi service that connects users with independent car drivers by just a push of a button on an app (Exhibit 1) (Uber, 2017).Uber is known for its accessible anytime and low cost to luxury services (Uber, 2017). Uber’s’ value to its drivers is that it promotes additional source of income, flexible working hours, and those who can earn money for doing their hobby. It focuses on customers who do not own a car, like to travel in style, and prefer a cost-efficient cab. Uber’s primary competitors in the United States are Lyft, traditional taxi drivers, public transportation and car owners. It earns revenue by taking 20% commission on each ride, while the rest goes to the driver. Uber has shown continuous growth, with net revenue of approximately $5.97 billion in 2016. However, they have also been incurring huge losses over the past couple of years, and had losses of $3 billion at the end of 2016 (Exhibit 2). Lyft, Uber’s’ main competitor, has had a dramatic increase in growth in the past years, while Uber’s’ growth has stagnated (Exhibit 3). Investors have been pressuring the CEO to go towards an IPO because it will be an easier way to raise cash trading in the financial market. The CEO has been delaying an IPO launch because Uber is trying to smooth out all bumps as a private company before going public. Currently, Uber raises its capital through venture capital firms and it is valued at $69 billion (Abboud, 2017).
One of Uber’s key marketing strategy for acquiring new customers is through word of mouth, which allows the company to spend virtually no money on advertisement. 95% of Uber drivers have heard about the company from another Uber riders and for every 7 Uber rides, word of mouth generates one new customer. The word of mouth strategy and the referral program allowed Uber to rise in popularity in many cities around North America and internationally. At the end of 2016, Uber was successful in expanding to approximately 81 countries and 581 cities worldwide. However, in the span of just two months, three major incidents are now resulting in the company to be viewed in a negative light. These events have been damaging people’s perception of Uber and its brand image through social media and word of mouth, the same platforms that helped Uber gain popularity in the first place.
President Trump signed an executive order of banning refugees from seven predominantly Muslim nations, which created outrage and chaos in airports. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance showed their support for detained refugees by avoiding John F. Kennedy International Airport between 6p.m. to 7 p.m. on 28th January. Instead of standing with the Taxi drivers, Uber decided to eliminate their surge prices around the JFK region caused considerable outrage on Twitter and caused an increase of search of this topic on Google (Exhibit 4). Uber’s surge pricing is a company practice of temporary raising prices of rides because of the high demand and insufficient supply of drivers. Customers and competitors perceived this decision either as profiting off the situation and/or supporting the President’s travel ban because lowered price allowed Uber to capture higher sales.
Uber quickly responded by stating that they were not in support of the President’s executive order nor were they trying to profit from the situation. Uber’s spokesperson has said that the decision to turn-off their surge prices was due to increased demand during the protest. The Uber CEO also spoke out against the executive order through Facebook to mitigate the storm of outraged consumers. However, this did not work, which eventually resulted to Uber CEO’s resignation from his position on the President’s’ Economic Advisory Council. Social media activists created #DeleteUber that went viral, which was tweeted 222,000 times and caused 200,000 Uber riders to delete their accounts by having screenshots of themselves deleting the app and posting it through twitter (Exhibit 5). On the other hand, Lyft responded by donating $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is a civil rights group that is fighting the executive order in the US courts.
This negative news reporting caused Lyft to increase its market share from 16.5% to 20.9% in the ride-hailing industry and the spending on Lyft by consumers spiked by 30% (Exhibit 6).The #DeleteUber caused 7% increase of users for Lyft, where more than half were previous Uber users before JFK incident(Exhibit 7). Furthermore, 81% of the users that joined Lyft deleted Uber permanently (Hinchlife, 2017). Following Lyft’s announcement of donating $1 million to the American Civil Liberalities, it increased riders by 30%, whereas Uber had a 10% decrease in users at around the same time frame (Bhattarai, 2017). Additionally, this public relations nightmare encouraged and gave growth to new competitors in the New York City region, such as Juno. Juno has had a dramatic spike in growth at the end of January 2017, which could potentially make it a future competitor (Exhibit 8). In addition, Uber’s rank in all app downloads went down that day, which is valued at a $40 million loss. Lyft has surpassed Uber as the top downloaded app during the time of travel ban news report (Exhibit 9) (Williams, 2017).
Sexual Harassment Incident
Following the decision for Uber to turn-off surge prices, a former engineer, Susan Fowler spoke out about her experience of sexual harassment and neglect by the HR department at Uber through her blog (Exhibit 10, 11). Susan’s blog was shared on Twitter 22,000 times, which encouraged more Uber users to delete the app. Marian Baldauf, former Uber user, said “When I read the woman’s blog it was just so deeply offensive and so wrong in so many ways that I just couldn’t do it anymore, so I switched to Lyft. I’ve taken two rides since and they’ve been wonderful”.
CEO quickly responded that the company has hired US Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the claims of sexism, sexual harassment, and Ubers’ culture. CEO also made a statement through its website that “Uber’s number one priority is creating a just workplace”. A report has shown that women accounted for 15.1% of Uber engineers, product management, and scientist teams, which is lower than Google, Twitter, and Facebook. The CEO asked for Amir Singhal, Senior Vice President of Engineering, to resign due to not disclosing his sexual harassment allegations at Google.The VP of Product and Growth Ed Baker also resigned due to allegations of sexual harassment at Uber. The timing of these new revelations gave consumers more added incentive to delete the app.
According to the blog post by Susan, when she started working with Uber, women accounted for 25% of the workforce. When she resigned the number went down to as low as 6% (Thomas, 2017). Fowler’s blog boosted Lyft’s market share to increase to 21.3% and it was consistent in all the four top markets in the US (Exhibit 12) (Jones, 2017). The #DeleteUber campaign during this time again exploded and caused more Uber users to delete their app. In the meantime, Lyft launched their services to 50 more cities during this time (Moscaritolo, 2017).
Video: CEO v.s. Uber Driver
The CEO was caught on camera shouting and being insensitive to an Uber driver Fawzi Kamal. Kamal, who has been with the company since 2011, confronted the CEO at the end of the ride in San Francisco for lowering prices for Uber’s luxury high end chauffeur service (Exhibit 11, 13). The CEO was caught on camera saying “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own s—”. The CEO was forced to issue an apology to staff members and said that “it’s clear this video reflects me and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up”. The CEO explained and responded by claiming to attend a leadership seminar and it’s reported that he will hire an executive to work alongside himself.
This news report adds to the bad relationship Uber has with its own drivers leading to low driver loyalty towards Uber (Exhibit 14). Many drivers continue to be with Uber for the simple fact that Uber subsidizes their pay in many areas. However, Uber’s goal is to lower its prices to beat the competitors, which leads to a reduction in drivers’ salary. An Uber driver from California has said “I think a lot of drivers feel that Uber always looked out for themselves first and foremost and relegated drivers to a second tier”. 400,000 drivers have currently left Uber to go to its competitors. Competitors have marketed to drivers about their better compensation and tip app. However, drivers have explained that they do get more business with Uber due to its reach. Uber drivers’ compensation is around $15.97 per hour compared to the $13 but it does not account for gasoline, insurance, and the cost of the vehicle (Kuo, 2016) (Exhibit 15). Market research was conducted and it showed that most drivers will pick Lyft over Uber due to its tip app. The Rideshare Guy blog conducted survey that showed that 75.8% of Lyft drivers have said that they were satisfied with their experience with Lyft, while 49.4% Uber drivers are satisfied. Lyft drivers earn $1.82 more per hour than Uber drivers.The issue that caused this was due to the lowering of prices of Uber products, while the average trip lengths are 10.2 minutes per trip for Uber drivers (Exhibit 16 ).
Uber is a profit oriented business that, unfortunately, has made revenue generation its main goal rather than satisfaction of its customers. Uber has not realized that having a traditional approach to revenue gaining inevitably hurts a business nowadays rather than helps it. Uber is not taking into consideration other equally important factors, such as corporate social responsibility, that makes a business successful in a world that has become so small, that with just a click of a button, any negative review of a business revolves globally, defaming a business if it has profited unethically and unfairly. As of now, Uber has been highly criticized for three incidents in a period of just two months.
Taking advantage of taxicab and taxi drivers that were striking for the “Muslim Travel Ban” is one of the most unethical financial decision that Uber took, which led to a global uproar. 200,000 Uber apps were deleted within five days when #deleteUber was created on social media. Analyzing this, the very first thing it is doing wrong, is over emphasising on revenue generation. Before the decision of not surging up the prices, Uber did not realize the backfire it would face from the millennials, its main target audience, who, around 61%, want to contribute for the betterment of the world. Hence, when Uber took advantage of the taxi drivers, who are predominantly from Muslim countries, its target audience was furious, as Uber’s view and its actions did not align with the perspective of the millennials. As shown in Exhibit 2, 2016 revenue increased by 14.58% from first quarter to second quarter, and there was a massive rise of 53.55% in the third quarter. By taking the average, the last quarter increase would be about (14.58 + 53.55)/2 = 34%, which is around $2278 million. Adding all the revenue, the sum net revenue for the year of 2016 would be approximately $6038 million. The number of active users in 2016 was 15.8 million as shown in (Exhibit 17),and hence the average revenue generation from one active user per year is 6038m/15.8m = $382.15. This can lead to the conclusion that because of the deletion of Uber App after this incident, there was a loss of 200000*382.15 = -$76.43 million. Even though they might have earned quite a lot of revenue by not surging up the prices for that one hour, they have, at the end, suffered a huge loss from their action.Because 81% of the 10% Uber users deleted the app permanently, this has caused high customer attrition rate who will ask their friends and family to delete the app as well. This will further harm the brand image and improve the chances of Uber’s competitors, like Lyft, to capture the customers. Moreover, its pricing strategy was extremely wrong during such a delicate situation. Uber’s decision of not surging up the prices was perceived as purely a decision of financial gain by most people. Others also thought of Uber supporting the Travel Ban mainly because of this pricing strategy. This will further increase the number of people perceiving Uber as only revenue generators, further defaming the company. Because of the vast reach of social media, good and bad information is always streaming into social networking sites.In case of Uber, this negative information has affected consumers’ perceptions and has deteriorated brand reputation built during Uber’s years of operation, until and unless Uber changes its perception and aligns its values with the values of its target customers.
There are, however, other reasons that led Uber to take this poor decision in the first place, and that is lack of corporate social responsibility. Uber has been trying to expand to as many countries as possible. Though extremely hard, it has been very successful in expanding its business, thereby operating in 81 countries worldwide. However, seeing that it started as a business in 2009, it just took Uber less than ten years to expand this much, which can lead to the conclusion that Uber might have over expanded. Instead of creating brand equity and finding creative ways to satisfy its customers, employees and the community as a whole, Uber has focused mainly on expansion rather than making strategic decisions for itself. Also, because there are excessive legal, advertisement and operational fees every time a company operates in a new country, most of Uber’s revenue goes towards these costs, and hence it does not have any money for taking social initiatives that might resonate with its target audience. Its lack of money for corporate social responsibility after these expansion costs is a huge reason for taking such poor decisions that counteracts the brand image it intends to make for itself. Its lack of taking any social initiatives firstly contradicts millennials’ views of helping the world be a better place, and it also makes it harder for people to believe that what they did was unintentional and there was no greed for financial gain. Its image of being constantly perceived as a revenue generator does not help Uber in this crisis since this goes against Uber’s value proposition.
Susan J. Fowler’s blog about sexism, gender disparity, and sexual harassment was another crisis that Uber had to face. The worst part, however, was that Uber had made no attempts to help her; instead they were threatening to fire her for her complaints to HR. After this incident, there was a third increase in searches on Google Trends (Exhibit 11), which resulted in more #deleteUber tweets. With 25% women working in Uber when she joined, only 6% were left after one year when she decided to quit. This doesn’t just show the unprofessional environment for its employees, but also the unfair treatment of women in 2017, a time when companies are trying strenuously to eradicate the discriminatory practices. The uproar against the blog was hard for Uber, though not at all surprising. Even though Uber has expanded enormously, it has not taken proper measures to keep a professional environment for its employees. In today’s competitive environment, a company this big should provide a proper HR facility to its employees; where their concerns can be heard and willing to take proper action be taken if any problem arises. Instead, it seems like no proper guidelines about how to behave in a workplace are given to its employees. Even if employees are told about them, no strict action is taken against those who break the rules. Hence, it motivates people like the manager to continue their unethical and illegal behaviour as the HR is doing nothing to show its employees the consequences of their actions. For a workplace of only 6% women, no new woman would want to even apply to such an organization, especially after reading this blog that is available for everyone to see worldwide. It won’t just defame Uber in America, but all around the world for practicing such sexist acts against women. Even the existing small percentage of women working there would also end up leaving, even for lower pay if they are given a comfortable environment to work in and more opportunities. Having only 3% engineers who are women is also quite disturbing as there is a huge gender disparity, leading to a discouragement of both men and women to work there. As a result, they may lose the chance of working with some of the best talent, who may end up going to work for Uber’s competitors. Moreover, not giving a promotion to employees when they are fully worthy of it, and then lying about it for manager’s personal gain of looking good as he has more female engineers working for him, shows political instability within the Uber environment, which can be demoralizing for all its employees, resulting in loss of motivation, reduced efficiency, and effectiveness. This can also highly increase the chances of lawsuits filed against them, which will not be helpful for Uber’s already weak situation. Uber is also highly likely to lose the lawsuits as many of its employees have records of what they did, just like Susan had. This will also lead to huge costs, which Uber cannot afford, with what so much going on. Furthermore, management’s failure to provide clear and concise goals will also lead to confusion among employees and a loss of commitment, not just to the task but to Uber as well. This event, hence, can also lead to the conclusion that Uber, as a team, is not working together towards improving the brand image and its brand equity; due to this, they end up making independent decisions that are not suitable for the whole company.
Although keeping customers and internal employees satisfied is a pinnacle for any business success, ensuring external employee happiness has also never been a priority for Uber. In fact, Uber failed to realize that happy drivers would mean efficient employees, better work cultures that translate to happier customers. Mistreatment of its drivers and the video going viral (Exhibit 11) are some of the factors that led to the deterioration of its brand over years as the loss of drivers led to slower growth rate compared to its competitors Lyft (Exhibit 3). Hence, these negative reviews and mistreatment of drivers can be a threat for Uber by affecting future driver’s ability to drive for Uber and instead drive for competitors, which can hurt the company’s brand equity (no one wants to be involved with immoral company) as the drivers are the main channel for bringing sales and connecting with users. Due to this, Uber lost $1.27 billion in first half of 2016. Keeping employees satisfied is important but Uber losing 400,000 drivers mean more cost of hiring new replacement drivers, which can be time consuming and will inevitably increase Uber’s expenses.
This loss was due to drivers being unsatisfied because compared to the competitors like Lyft uber drivers did not have a tip app and as a result they were required to work long extensive hours each week to make up for it due to most Uber users not having cash on hand. For instance, in order for a driver now to make $50,000, the breakeven point for the drivers to drive to reach this point is 60.21 trips each week (exhibit 15). This can put a lot of stress on the drivers and provides drivers with fewer opportunities to grow within Uber, which results in frustration for drivers. As a result, Uber’s weakness of not compensating the drivers to keep them satisfied is another reason for leaving Uber as they can get much higher pay through working with Uber’s competitors which means higher turnover rate. For Uber the opportunity to get back on a steady growth lies in their ability to further prevent losing their drivers because without drivers Uber would cease to exist in future.If consumers and drivers were to continue to share their frustrating experience with Uber, these bad information streaming in social media networks can affect the perception that people feel about the brands which can deteriorate its brand for long period of time (Exhibit 5). Through CSR, firms can build their reputation, competitiveness; drive innovation and thus leading to sustainable profits, which Uber failed to do so. By not building employee (internal & external) and customer loyalty lead to less attraction of new investors because Uber does not have a good visibility of their sustainability and do not show transparency in their decisions that will create sustainable development of society.
In conclusion, Uber needs to communicate a better image to the customers. They need to modify their value proposition, and emphasize on making social change instead of just focusing on low cost and easy access (Exhibit 18). They need to understand that social media is a very important aspect in the lives of the millennials, and they should use it to their advantage by spreading a better image of themselves. Their actions are not going to be tolerated by their core customers if its value proposition does not resonate with them. Being professional in the workplace, having a strategic management that focuses on making strategic decisions that are going to help Uber generate money not only in the short run, but in the longer run as well, and focusing on satisfying their employees and customers is going to make Uber successful in this era. Uber hence needs to seriously rebrand itself if it wants to survive in this market.
Firstly, Uber needs to have a public apology for their actions in the last few months before Uber rebrands on social and live press conference. In each of the three incidents discussed in analysis, never once did Uber directly apologize to the public for its mistakes. Nowadays, the general public places an extremely high value upon clarity and transparency, and hence coming clean and admitting that they have spent numerously on less important aspects when they should have tried to launch social initiatives is one step closer to rebranding itself. Also, Uber needs to explain how it is initiating changes to make up for mistakes so that it will not happen again in the future. This should stop outrage and reduce harm done to the company as a result of widespread of negative publicity.
Secondly, Uber needs to replace the current CEO, Travis Kalanick. Uber can make him a part of the board of directors with most voting shares instead of keeping him as the face of Uber. This is because the CEO is directly or indirectly responsible in all three incidents. The public will very likely hold the CEO responsible for all three incidents or associate him with negative publicity since he is the face of the company. Thus, rebranding changes would not be as effective if Kalanick remains the CEO. Hence, replacing him is vital if Uber wants to make changes and want the public re-evaluate Uber based on the changes made. The new CEO should be a woman that has experience running a business, is a women’s’ activist, has experience with CSR, and has helped with rebranding. Giving an important position to female would suggest gender equality which will offset the negative effects caused by Susan’s sexism blog. A CEO with these qualifications would be able make better decisions for Uber to get it through this difficult time.
Thirdly, involving Uber drivers in the decision making process by hosting a Company Town Hall meeting for all Uber drivers in each city per quarter to discuss Uber agendas, driver concerns, and new opportunities. This can improve Uber’s’ turnover because more Uber drivers will understand the business decisions of the company. This meeting will also address concerns of drivers because over the years they have felt that their concerns are not being met and taken into consideration. They can do this by sending surveys and questionnaires via email related to any decision that might directly affect the drivers. Also, emails can be sent after every meeting regarding the conversation so that even those drivers who were not able to attend will have a better idea of what is happening in Uber.
Moreover, Uber should create a loyalty program that encourages more drivers to stay with Uber, thereby reducing turnover. This loyalty program will judge the drivers under two criterion; number of rides and drivers’ ratings. The driver will be considered more valuable when the number of rides are high and they get consistent high ratings. There will be three levels; bronze, silver, and gold. If the driver reaches 2000 rides in one year with consistent high ratings, s/he will earn a bronze medal, which provides incentive of a $50 gift card to their favorite retail store or 3 free meals at a restaurant of their choosing. If the driver reaches 2800 rides in one year with high ratings, they will earn a silver medal where Uber provides them with a $100 gift card and 6 free meals at any restaurant of their choosing. If an Uber driver reaches 3500 rides in one year and be in the top 50 rated drivers in their city, they will have earned a Gold medal. This gold medal will give the Uber driver free gym membership (to show that Uber cares for their drivers’ health), $100 gift card, and will give them 90% of the rides hare money than the 80% for the Silver and Bronze. The Gold drivers will also be recognized in the Company’s Town Hall meeting as a recognition of their hard work and loyalty to the company. Because this program is a goal oriented approach, it will give Uber drivers more motivation to stay, as they are recognized in the decision making process and are given benefits. This will hence inevitably change the perception of the company.
Also, encourage Uber drivers to have a video camera in their cars because it will bring more safety for the drivers and allow Uber to adjust their ratings due to false claims by customers because there will be proof that the driver was not at fault. Uber management should also look over the data of the rating of drivers to make sure that discrepancies are found to show that drivers’ ratings are important for the company. Uber should also start a tip feature because most of the customers do not carry cash with them as it is done through the Uber app. Therefore, creating a feature where the drivers can earn tips can provide them a way of earning more money which will further motivate them to stay with Uber.
Furthermore, it should change its HR team, and hire individuals who have proper knowledge and experience in maintaining a safe and motivational environment for its employees. A good HR team that is approachable, respectful, just, motivated, and innovative will slowly but inevitably win back the confidence of its employees, who can then be more motivated and efficient, and work towards rebuilding the perception of Uber as well. The new HR team should carefully select diverse talented employees who can fit in and be successful in the new work environment of Uber.
Additionally, training should be provided to the new employees, with a separate conference about sexual harassment in the workplace; which talks about what sexual harassment is, what to do and whom to go to, what must be done and the consequences of harassment. Showing that in the beginning will ensure that new employees know how important safety of its employees is to Uber. A guidebook should be provided to every new employee so that everyone has a written copy about the rules of Uber’s culture. There should also be brochures on the boards, on which clear guidelines should be provided for anyone who faces harassment. A safe and just environment will hence not just motivate men to apply, but also gain back the trust of women. Uber will be able to then increase the number of women employees in its company.
On top of that, it should build a whistleblowing department where anyone can report legal or ethical concerns while being anonymous. Simultaneously, whistleblowing should not just be legal, but should be encouraged within Uber, so that employees are motivated to speak against unjust actions and Uber can maintain a company where it internalizes fair and just policies for everyone. Moreover, there should be evaluations of employees as well as managers every six months. Managers should evaluate their subordinates but the employees should also get a chance to evaluate the managers so that managers’ skills and effectiveness can be measured, and proper feedback as well as training be provided if they lack certain skills as a manager, which will help them grow within the business. When it comes to the employees, feedback should be provided, and follow-ups should be mandatory for employees to help them acquire greater skills and help them grow for more growth opportunities within the workplace.
Moreover, the value proposition and the colors of the brand logo need to be changed to mark major changes that are about to occur. As mentioned in the analysis, Uber needs to modify value proposition to emphasize social changes and show that Uber cares about society too. Uber’s current value proposition is too mechanical and lacks emotional component to it, which leads to the perception of Uber being a revenue generator. Uber’s logo should be changed to purple as it represents nobility, royalty, peace, pride and dignity; all of which should represent Uber. Value proposition that focuses on social initiatives should be written and posted clearly on their website for easy access to everyone. With the right colors and the right messages, consumers’ willingness to give Uber a second chance will rise and Uber can be successful in re-branding itself.
Lastly, what Uber must do is think up of a creative way to help better the society. Hence, in our opinion, Uber should set $200,000 apart and sponsor refugee families from different countries. Because it takes on average $30,000 to sponsor a family of four, targeting for five families this year is more than enough. Uber should then have a separate team that helps them settle in, and help them with the driving licenses so that they can work for Uber to generate income. This will slowly minimize people’s perception of Uber as a revenue generator and expander, and people will start thinking of them as a company that wants social change. Pictures of the refugees and their stories should be the first thing that people should see when they open their website. Because word of mouth was the main source of advertisement before, they can change that to making visual ads for YouTube advertisement that cannot be skipped, where stories of refugees and how Uber helped them is emphasized. The campaign name should be catchy, for e.g. “We Change, They Change, Life Changes,” which will force people to see how Uber is striving to change. In the longer run, however, they can also start a women empowerment initiative in third world countries which will further improve their image.
These are some of the mandatory changes that Uber must do to survive within this competitive market. However, it needs to realize that being innovative is just not enough nowadays as that does not set you apart from the competitors; a company needs to take social initiatives, be ethical, and focus on CSR to have a competitive advantage. Hence, Uber needs to realize that while these are the answers to the current problems, it needs to internalize these solutions within its environment and take continuous social actions in the longer run, to help make a difference.
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Exhibit 11:Google Trend Sexual Harrasment & Uber CEO Scandal
Exhibit 13: Uber CEO Scandal Image and Conversation
Exhibit B: SWOT Analysis
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