UberAnalgesicSome time ago the term “pain points” entered marketers’ dictionary. It refers to elements in current products or services that annoy customers – something like packaging that is too hard to open. Some people use pain points as the synonym to “customer needs,” what, in my opinion, is not the same thing. To me, pain points are subtler and do not keep consumers from using the current service or product, until something that removes those pains arrive.

At least in Brazil, the success of Uber is attributed mostly to lower prices than regular taxi services, what is not the whole story. True: rates are lower or even much lower. A month ago, I went to catch a taxi at Sao Paulo’s International Airport, but it would have cost me R$ 230 (US$ 70). I went up a flight of stairs to the ticketing area, hopped on an Uber and paid R$ 80 (R$ 24).

I became a big fan of Uber and had been questioning myself what pain points it has solved in my customer experience when compared to taxis. Here’s my conclusion:

Uncertainty

A significant pain Uber has removed is the uncertainty factor, which covers four aspects. First, availability: we have all been through the situation in which you desperately must arrive somewhere at a given time. You try to hail a cab on the street but no luck. You walk to a taxi stop but again no luck. You call for a cab service and are put on hold. Anxiety follows uncertainty – which hurts the customer experience.

The time of arrival of the taxi you just called is another source of uncertainty. You are on the way to the airport, you requested a taxi service, and they said it should arrive in about 20 minutes. After 30 minutes you call again, and they reassure it is on the way, perhaps ten more minutes. And so on and so forth. Should you hail a taxi instead? Again, major anxiety settles in.

Time & route: the cab you called for finally arrives. You’ve got less than an hour to get to the airport now, and it is uncertain how long it will take – the driver tells you to relax, he has more than 40 years driving around Sao Paulo and knows shortcuts that are jam-proof. He drives for a few minutes and comes to a full stop: major traffic jam. You reach for your clonazepam tablets.

Now, imagine this taxicab didn’t work with a fixed price. You couldn’t have known how much you would pay, and the slow-moving traffic makes the taximeter keep clicking while you inch forward.  You check for your wallet and realize you won’t have enough reais. You have dollars, and when you arrive at the airport, the driver is kind enough to take your dollars, with a one-to-one exchange rate. You are late and got no time for discussion. You give the driver US$ 100 instead of R$ 100.

Suspicion: Scam

You have just been scammed, which is – everyone agrees – an unpleasant customer experience. The doubt about whether the driver will try to scam you kills the customer experience. Is the driver going to take the longest route? Will they circle every block to keep the taximeter running? Years ago, in Buenos Aires, I gave something like a $ 50 bill to a driver. He argued I had given him a $5 instead, and I wasn’t sure: it was dark, I was speaking to colleagues while paying and distracted. I paid the rest of the fare: another $3 or $4. Later my suspicion was confirmed, I was scammed. It shouldn’t be a surprise though after all Argentina’s best soccer player ever once scored with his hand. Or God’s hand as he says.

Inconvenience: Paying & Giving Directions

The previous pain point gave an example of the inconvenience in paying for the ride. There are others, though. Whether the driver will have change (he won’t), whether there will be network connection for your credit card payment (there won’t). The taxi parks on the curb, hold traffic, cars behind honk their horns while you try to find your money. Now you need a receipt, driver reaches for the receipt pad, but his pen doesn’t work. You lend your pen, get the receipt – and the driver keeps your Montblanc.

Another thing I always hated was giving taxi drivers directions. “Now turn left,” “now right – no, the other right.” I just think there is something liberating in staying quiet during the ride, arriving at the destination and just saying “have a nice day” and leave.

Rejection

Perhaps rejection is more of a psychological element, but still valid. You hail a cab, and it doesn’t stop. You hail others, and they don’t stop either. One of them stops a block later, for another customer. You ask yourself: “what is wrong with me?”. In Panama it can be even worse: a driver may stop for you and ask where you’re going. You say: “Albrook Mall.” He says Que pena, es que ahora no tengo ganas de manejar hasta allá.” (Sorry, but now I don’t feel like driving there now).

Frustration

After a lousy taxi experience, you are mad, but the driver doesn’t care; they know they will never see you again, and you got nobody to complain to. If there is someone, you know it is useless, and nothing will be done.

The Analgesic Effect of Uber

The Uber business model made those pains go away. There is little uncertainty: you know whether you will have a car and when it is arriving. Actually, you can see it arriving. You know how much you are going to pay upfront, and you have the choice to give directions or follow their Waze (which is not the real Waze, but that’s another story). There is no incentive for drivers to cheat. The payment is seamless. If you don’t like something, you give the driver fewer stars – enough people do that, and they are out. Uber hasn’t solved the rejection issue – I have been turned down by drivers a few times, but fewer than the last time I tried to hail a cab.

In addressing the pain points in the customers’ journey, Uber is more Vicodin than Tylenol. Did I also mention Uber costs less?

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