An Open Letter to Uber and Travis Kalanick

11 responses.

Uber, San Francisco, California
Attn: Mr. Travis Kalanick, CEO

Dear Travis,

Congratulations.

You had the great idea to create a ride sharing app. And you put in the effort to make Uber incredibly successful. Thanks to your hard work, your company has reached a very rarified status.

Uber has become the company people love to hate.

Delete UberFirst Uber made the mistake of looking like it aligned with the president’s unpopular ban on immigration. This appeared to be against the best interests of both your customers and your employees. Then Susan Fowler demonstrated the depth of Uber’s sexist work environment. The recount of her experience working for the company has become an Internet sensation.

#delete Uber indeed.

Of course, you could always blame your bad luck on others including liberal activists and fake news writers. Except that the way Uber has handled these PR disasters could become the syllabus for a Harvard business school case study on how not to manage a crisis.

Believe me, I know what I’m talking about.

It wasn’t that long ago that my hometown, Miami, was the place people loved to hate. I know because my firm was responsible for helping shepherd the city through its biggest crisis. Those were the dark days when visitors were afraid to vacation here because of crimes against tourists and the way crime was glamorized on popular shows such as Miami Vice.

But not so many years later, having followed a very careful and well thought out crisis management plan, Miami is the hottest and hippest tourist destination in the world. More importantly to you, our shareholder value numbers are through the roof.

So I’m hoping that at least one of my readers knows you or works for you and will forward this post to your personal email address. Because as I’m about to show you, fixing your problem is not that hard. Proper crisis management requires a careful, steady, and well-experienced hand on the tiller that will guide your ship to future profits. It ain’t rocket science. But it is serious business.

Tylenol did it. Uber can too.

And please don’t believe anyone who tells you that it’s already too late and that there’s nothing you can do. Look at what happened to Tylenol in 1982. Their poisoned product killed seven people. Yet by handling their crisis properly they not only overcame the nightmare scenario’s effect on their bottom line. They returned stronger, more profitable, and claimed their position as the leading pain reliever in the market.

Let me guide you through the five simple steps you must follow to pull yourself out of this hole.

The Five Steps to Saving the Uber Brand.

  1. Confess. Get all the information in front of the public as quickly as possible. Just like obsessively toying with a painful cavity with your tongue, nothing is worse than bad information that oozes out bit by bit. It’s crucial to step up to the plate, admit all your wrong doings, and move on. If the public needs to hear bad news, they need to hear it from you. Once.
  2. Define. As my good friend, Ray Ruga constantly reminds me, you must define your issue before someone else does. Nature abhors a vacuum and the competition is just waiting for the opportunity to fill empty airspace with negative comments (Lyft anyone?). Decide on your best strategy and stick to it.
  3. Act. Fix your problem permanently and unequivocally. For Tylenol, that meant they not only removed and destroyed every single bottle of Tylenol on the shelves (not just the ones from problem areas) but they installed tamper proof caps and redundant fail safe foil wrappers on every bottle to assure consumers the product was safe. Besides demonstrating that you care, your customers can’t effectively complain about problems that no longer exist.
  4. Apologize. Apologize honestly, sincerely, and completely. “I’m sorry if you were upset” is not an apology. If your words of remorse contain “if” or “but,” chances are you’re not being as contrite as you need to be.
  5. Relate. Finally, make sure that your entire crises mitigation program appeals to your audience’s emotional side. Remember that people make decisions based on their emotions and justify those decisions with facts. Brands that forget this simple truism do so at their own peril.

But First Things First.

Of course, before you can do any of this, you must accept that you have a problem. Because as the adage goes, “when you’re in a hole and you want to get out, the first thing to do is stop digging.”

You’ve got a problem, my friend. Step one to fixing it is accepting it.

And if you need more assistance, I’m happy to help.

  11 Responses

  1. on February 27, 2017

    I guess I missed the hullabaloo. Not sure why people are deleting Uber. I haven’t tried Lyft because Uber hasn’t given me a reason to (as far as I know).

    But, I like your prescription. However, I am left to wonder how many years it took for Miami to dig itself out of a hole. I recall the news reports about crime against tourists back in the 80’s (I think). But, I didn’t move to S. Florida until ’95. Was the reputation back on track within 5 years? 10 years? Longer?

    PS I think you meant sexist not sexiest.

  2. on February 27, 2017

    Thanks, John. I did mean “sexist” and just corrected the typo (damn spell check). As for the Uber/Lyft competition, it’s a fascinating bit of marketing and oneupmanship. I recommend you track it down. You can start here: http://turkeltalks.com/trump-effect and here: http://turkeltalks.com/transcend-politics.

  3. on February 28, 2017

    Great post. …and yet Uber’s brand is still both a noun and THE verb for ride sharing. Nobody says “Let’s ‘Lyft’ to dinner…”

  4. on February 28, 2017

    Bruce: Thanks for this post. I like your five step solution, but as I read it was reminded of a question that may trump them.

    How many psychologist does it take to change a lightbulb? It takes just one, but the lightbulb needs to be ready to change.

    Anyone who would donate an obscene amount of money to a children’s hostpital in Las Vegas just to do business there, is most likely not ready for your heartfelt five step solution.

    Sorry about the rant… you struck a nerve.

  5. on February 28, 2017

    Bruce,

    Thanks for taking a look at this. Good ideas.

    You can also check out my site at http://www.NotCoolUber.com

    Best,

  6. on February 28, 2017

    Good point David. Of course they have to want to change — otherwise it’s all an exercise in futility.

  7. on February 28, 2017

    Thank you for adding to the conversation Dave. Would seem that the folks at Uber would want to tackle this issue BEFORE it picks up much traction. to David Hawes point below, we’ll see how much they want to change…

  8. on February 28, 2017

    They don’t say it yet, Mike. But amazing how quickly these things change when momentum takes over. And though it’s counterintuitive, having your brand name be the verb that describes what your sector does is not always a good thing. After all, look what happened to Windbreaker and Ketchup (nouns, actually, but you get my point). Both were trademarks that got lost because of common usage. Look at how much money Xerox and FedEx spend to keep people from using their names as verbs. If they’re not careful, Uber could suffer the same fate.

  9. on March 1, 2017

    I really enjoyed reading the Steps to improve. I have a little problem now with a simple license agreement, and your Steps will be of great help.
    As for UBER, I still call a CAB! I am not comfortable with riding in a car that I can’t identify as a real taxi. On the way to the airport for a trip to Italy, I left my bag with my Ipad in the taxi. My wife remembered the taxi #, I called the office, they found the driver and he brought my bag back before the flight departed.

  10. on March 1, 2017

    This is an outstanding article and love your five steps. I’d add one more for good measure: Urgency. And, if you wanted to keep this to five steps, just add urgency to number three, which is: Act. Again, love it. You are always brilliant. (But, then you know I’m a huge fan of yours!) Thank you Bruce!

  11. Jeff Goldstein
    on March 2, 2017

    We deleted Uber when my wife was berated over the phone by her Uber driver in sexist rant. She complained and they gave her a $10 credit.

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