Re-imagining Customer Journeys, the Uber way


This article was originally published on Forbes India Blogs and has been lightly edited.

For us in India, in the good old days, buying a “Lambretta” scooter or getting yourself a land-line connection meant making a booking and then waiting in a long queue patiently for weeks, sometimes months. The 30 something population in India today wouldn’t even be able to comprehend that. Across almost any industry, the opening up of the economy in the 90s, the emergence of the ‘Great Indian middle class’ with its higher disposable incomes, and the IT revolution and explosion of jobs have all resulted in a consumerist shift and have in fact rewritten the equation between buyers and sellers.

More recently, the phenomenal penetration of personal devices and always-on connectivity has dramatically changed online habits; and with that, the online buying habits of customers have seen an almost revolutionary change. Whether it is insurance or consumer durables, competition is stiff and every seller is now chasing the buyer, promising better value and experience.

Customer Journey Mapping is a great mechanism that can help sellers differentiate themselves from competition and has very crucial underpinnings, especially when setting off on a Digital Transformation programme. Customer Journey Mapping puts the customer at the centre of all the changes a seller is planning.

Here to There From There to Here
Living in Mumbai, I’ve depended on public transport for several years. I’ve had a respectably fair share of the local trains in the metropolis. I’ve been in and out of the good old black-and-yellow taxis on an almost daily basis and have had nothing to complain about them. In fact, I loved them. I still do, and for more reasons than the quintessential charm they represent.

But if you are like me, then your first ride on a Meru or an EasyCab must have been a new experience and a welcome change. Clean new roomy cars, friendly uniformed cabbies, air conditioning, transparent fares and printed bills are all welcome changes. Yet, much later, when I discovered Uber in 2013 it pushed my taxi experience to a whole new level.

Whether you are a customer experiencing the consumerist delight of newfangled on-the-go convenience, or a business feeling the uneasy hot breath coming down the nape of the neck from smarter tech-savvy competitors, digital disruption is a clear and present phenomenon and it is happening in India already.

The radio taxi market in India, for example, has been quick to understand the implications of what Uber is doing for its customers. Most Indian radio cab service providers have since stepped up their game to match the Uber experience. Today, Meru, Ola and TaxiForSure (recently acquired by Ola) all have excellent apps for smartphones that are dramatically changing the way Indians move around in major cities. Like many other city-dwelling Indians, I now have apps for all three rides on my phone besides Uber. I simply love the convenience of these apps and while I have my favourites I have the freedom to pick one over the other right off my phone based on real-time availability of cabs.

The taxi market is a classic example of digital disruption. But the shift to a digital model isn’t unique to the taxi market, of course. In many similar ways, almost every known business is experiencing or is on the verge of experiencing, such disruption in some way or the other.

Uber is easily one of the most quoted examples on how the digital revolution is changing our lives and our business models, and there is a reason for that. Uber’s model nails it as one of the most important aspects of the digital transformation idea—that of the customer journey and the power of re-imagining it.

A few years ago if you were tasked to imagine a better taxi service, chances are you would have thought about just the core of the cab service: grand cars, luxurious interiors, friendly chauffeurs, pleasant smells, good air conditioning, good music, reasonable rates and so on. But Uber went much beyond that—they re-imagined it so comprehensively that it had the potential to disrupt the entire industry globally.

Traditionally, most business models have had the tendency to focus only on the core service, almost like saying “once you come to us, we will serve you better than anyone else can”. In other words, the battle was usually between your business and your competitor—either you were trying to match what your competition offers or you are trying to improve over it. And that was fine till recently—but isn’t anymore.

That is really what Uber jumped on: Taking a fresh lateral look at the entire experience of a taxi ride from the customers point of view, rather than just improve over what was currently available for customers in the market.

If you really think about it, the whole idea of a taxi ride actually starts not when you settle in the cab and shut the door, but from the moment you decide to ride a taxi. And it ends not just on reaching your destination, but when you make the payment for the ride.

In other words, while they built their customer engagement model, Uber saw the journey of a potential customer to be spread across three phases:

1. Hail a cab: Across the world, the most painful phase of taxi rides really is hailing one. It could be from the sidewalk in New York City or over the phone to the radio cab service or the concierge. Regardless, it is a big pain and is fraught with a sense of anxious suspense.

2. Ride the cab: The actual ride is mostly not the real problem. Think about it. How often have you really had strong opinions or issues with the actual ride? It is rarely our biggest issue.

3. Pay the cab: World-over, payment is another common pain—the credit card reader in the cab seldom works. Cash isn’t always a great payment option. Even if it were inevitable, you would need to have the right change. And then there is this matter about tips – no matter how much you tip or how little – someone in the cab (either you or the cabbie) isn’t entirely happy about it. You know this feeling – paying for the ride is a nuisance often.

Cleverly, by addressing all three phases, Uber managed to create a superior experience along the entire engagement journey, right from the moment you think ‘I’ll cab it’, till you get off at your destination and shut the cab door.

Map that Journey
Customer journey mapping is a crucial first step, but what makes that deliver true value from digital initiatives is when a well accepted and established journey is creatively and effectively re-imagined.

Enterprises across several industries including banking, retail, and manufacturing, are beginning to see the value in making the customer journey a superior experience—these initiatives cover a wave of emerging technology paradigms better known as SMAC (Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud).

Banks are looking at what is called the Omni-channel experience for example, which provides their customers a common seamless experience regardless of what channel the customer is interacting though—mobile, IVR or over a desktop browser.

It is essential to re-imagine the real journey
The digital transformation idea is different from most conventional technology initiatives we have undertaken in the past. The proposition lies in winning over the customer, not just in elbowing out a competitor. The customer and her experience with you become the focal point and addressing that comprehensively could become your most powerful differentiator.

More important than a great product or a service, therefore, is the experience and the journey that the customer undertakes with you. And this can be the key to your success from a digital transformation initiative. And that is success, not because you pulled off a great technology implementation but because you have put in place a comprehensive approach to delight a customer, trigger a sense of loyalty and probably even get her to spread the word, spawning off more loyal customers.

Now that is true success from a digital transformation programme.

This is part of a series of posts addressing critical aspects that make Business Technology initiatives successful. The series will cover topics relating to Digital transformation, Business Process Management, Customer Service, Change, Culture, etc.

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