Somewhere in the middle of the dispute between Uber and Transport for London sits the customer; Londoners who are dashing to a meeting or sitting at Liverpool Street staring at an empty departures board. The outcome of this particular battle is relevant to anyone who needs to be somewhere else.
The online petition to ‘save Uber’ has attracted 600,000 signatures and counting. It’s a powerful response to a yes/no question. But it is not a blanket endorsement of Uber’s track record. Some people are simply voting for choice, however it arrives at their pick-up point.
People are thinking ahead. Rival taxi apps Gett and MyTaxi have record levels of new customer interest. Search activity and recommendations in social networks are at an all-time high. Gett is trending in the AppStore.
If Uber works out a compromise with TfL, its next challenge is to keep hold of its customers in the face of growing competitor actvity. This creates a new question; how ‘sticky’ is Uber?
Searching For Signals Of Trust And Loyalty
To understand how customers feel about Uber and black cabs, we investigated the emotional signals expressed by the thousands of people who use them every day. We focused our analysis on the reactions of twenty thousand people in the four months leading up to TfL’s decision. People like Henry and Brett:
— Henry Joseph-Grant (@speirin) 12 July 2017
ToD & very heavy traffic/roadworks can easily push a £25 fare to £42. Black cabs are a rip off. 🖕
— Brett (@599bt) 11 July 2017
It’s expressions such as these which reveal a person’s emotion at the moment of impulse. Both Uber and black cabs have the capacity to delight or disappoint. By analysing thousands of individual expressions we can build up a picture of how people feel about Uber and black cabs as part of their daily lives. The data also serves as context for the decision to ban Uber. Do people share the concerns raised by TfL?
Emotional Footprint of Uber and Black Cabs
Fig 1 shows the emotional footprint of Uber and black cabs from 01 June up to the eve of TfL’s announcement in September. The percentage values show proportion of expressions for each emotion.
Fig 2 measures the variation in emotional expressions between Uber and black cabs. Values to the right of the vertical axis represent over-indexing against the rival service. Values to the left of the vertical axis represent under-indexing.
All values are for the period 01 June – 21 September 2017
For Uber, customers experience equal measures of joy and anger. For every good experience, there is annoyance with surge pricing or drivers failing to show up. Behind the promise of greater convenience, Uber customers are still exposed to many of the traditional taxi frustrations.
The data shows that people still enjoy taking a black cab. Delight is also a greater part of the black cab experience, stimulated by higher levels of engagement between the driver and customer. But not knowing when the meter will stop and frequent gaps in availability mean black cabs are not immune to feelings of customer anger.
The Trust Gap
The most significant difference between Uber and black cabs is in feelings of trust. The emotional footprint of Uber and black cabs resembles the typical conflict between an established market leader and a challenger brand. Yes, Uber has successfully targeted weaknesses in London’s taxi system, but it has not found an antedote to the old system’s strengths. Put simply, people trust black cabs more.
For Uber, addressing specific areas of mistrust should put out the fires with TfL. This is Uber’s priority for now.
But the more fundamental challenge for Uber is keeping customers loyal. Uber has to give people reasons to trust it. This goes beyond removing the reasons why they don’t.