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Never take your customers for granted

Keep "why" before "what". Keep "getting the product right" before "scale". Keep "value creation" before "fund-raising". Keep "customer-interest" before "self-interest".

Never take your customers for granted

Tuesday April 18, 2017,

9 min Read

I give many lectures in India on product management and my favorite topics are - "why before what", "getting the product right before scaling up", "customer-interest before self-interest" and "focus on value creation". I also talk about why we won't be able to create world-class companies such as Amazon, Google, LinkedIn, Zappos, Facebook, Google, etc. because most Indian "product" companies tend to do the following -

* Keep "what" before "why".

* Keep "scale" before "getting the product right".

* Keep "fund-raising" before "value creation".

* Keep "self-interest" before "customer-interest".


This article is for budding product managers on "how to NOT create customer experiences". I am going to use the recent Uber India & PayTM integration to explain some of my points. Please note that I have nothing against PayTM or Uber India. Just that there are so many fundamental flaws with the customer experience of Uber India and PayTM integration that it is easy for me to use it as an example. Secondly, I use their products very often, so I tend to evaluate them more than others. If there is interest, I am happy to advise both these companies on how to improve their customer experience. I will soon be doing couple more articles taking specific parts of the PayTM & Uber customer experience and how they could improve it.

Case in Point - PayTM and Uber India made a drastic change to their experience in the first half of January 2017 where the minimum required balance in PayTM to book Uber was increased to Rs. 350 and PayTM started keeping Rs.350 on hold the moment you booked Uber. This is how a great company would roll out such a massive change, especially when it has more than a million customers.

Step 1. Understand if the change is good for our customers especially when integrating with a 3rd party.

Step 2. Even if it is inevitable, ensure that you tell your customers about it honestly and make sure that the 3rd party also tells its customers about it.

Step 3. Explain why the change is being made and be brutally honest about it.

Step 4. Explain what the change is and what you did to minimize the impact.

Step 5. Roll out the change and at every step of the customer experience, let people know proactively why and what change was made.

Now, let's look at the sequence of the events in case of Uber/PayTM integration. It is a perfect case study for "how it shouldn't have been done".

Step 1. Roll out the change (mid-January 2017) -

I noticed this change of keeping Rs.350 on hold around January 22 for the first time. Here is the overview of my interaction with Uber customer service for the next 5-6 days and after that I gave up.

Deepak - You deducted 350 from my account 3 times over the last week. It has come back twice but not the third time.This is a BIG bug. Fix it asap and return my Rs. 350 asap.

Uber Support - Can you please provide me the screenshot of that transaction. From there I'll be able to look into this matter appropriately. Looking forward your response.

Deepak - Hello??? There is no screenshot.. My PayTM is connected with my Uber account. Over the last 7-8 days, whenever my uber trip started, 350 got deducted from my PayTM account. It came back couple of times but it didn't come back once. It all started happening when you changed the minimum in Uber from 200 to 350. You can't pull out money from my PayTM account without my permission. Return my money asap otherwise you have to face the consequences.

Uber Support - Unfortunately, what you're describing is an issue with your Paytm account itself and we would not be able to help as Paytm is a third party service provider. Please contact Paytm support at [email protected] and they should be able to help out.

Step 2. If there is a large scale uproar, lie blatantly that it is awesome and explain what the change is. (April 6, 2017)

After only a "few" complaints, there was a response via the following blog item on April 6 which only describes what the change is. You will have to go to Yahoo or Bing to see the cached version of the page on April 6. Notice that this blog post was written only after about 3 months of introducing the change and look at the title - "Uber introduces a new feature on Paytm for a smoother payment experience". I am sure that if PayTM/Uber asked their users, all of us would tell them how smooth the current experience is. :-)

Step 3. If there is an even bigger uproar, add stupid reasons and explain why the change was made. (April 11, 2017)

Few days later, someone must have said that may be we should also tell our customers why the changes were made. Few questions were added to the above blog post on April 11. The answers are so funny that I thought I will add my commentary wearing the hat of their customers. :-)


Q. Why did Uber introduce this feature?

Original Answer - There were few users who were misusing the system by using the money from the wallet during the ride to get a free ride. This feature now curbs such misuse and help genuine customers in a smoother payment experience

My addition - Uber doesn't have any data scientists, so they don't know who has been using their service for how long and they can't guess who are the "few" potential culprits. Even though it was only "few" users who were misusing the system and we could have done it in a way that only a few other users were affected, we both decided to roll out this "amazing change" for everyone for every single trip that they took.

Q. What happens to my wallet balance when money is on-hold?

Original Answer - Your wallet balance is deducted when you book a ride and money is kept on hold in a special account and is released to Uber once the ride is completed

My addition - Please note that we will delete the "on-hold" entries from your Passbook like magic. This will ensure that you can never reconcile if your on-hold money ever came back actually.

Q. What happens if I cancel the ride after booking?

Original Answer - On-hold amount is released in the event of cancelation

My addition - Sometimes it takes 2-3 minutes. Sometimes it comes back after couple of hours. Sometimes never. But no problem.. Don't bother to contact our customer service. Just put another 350 in your wallet and you are good to order another Uber.

Q. I have finished my ride but money is still on hold. Why?

Original Answer - Sometimes, you may see money not getting immediately released even after the journey is complete. This could happen due to some intermittent server issues.

My addition - Really sorry but no problem.. Don't bother to contact our customer service. Just put another 350 in your wallet and you are good to order another Uber.

Q. My journey cost is less than Rs.350 then why is Uber holding higher amount?

Original Answer - Rs.350 is a minimum requirement to book a ride with Uber

My addition - We tried very hard to make it 1350 but Uber didn't agree. We are still working on it and will try our best to release this amazing feature soon.

Q. My hold amount was Rs.750 but I had to cut short my journey and my fare came to Rs.400. What happens now?

Original Answer- In such cases, Rs.400 will be taken by Uber and Rs.350 will be credited back to your Paytm Wallet

My addition - Another thing, if Uber tells you that the upfront fare was 750 but eventually asks us to give them 859, we will give it to them without even bothering to ask for your permission. We won't even inform you that what you paid was more than your upfront fare. We trust Uber way more than we trust you. You haven't done anything to prove to us that you are trustworthy.

Q. I have some issues with the fare charged. Who will help me?

Original Answer - For all ride and fare related queries, we suggest you reach out to Uber through their App

My addition - You don't want to deal with our customer service. Do you??

Few additional questions added by me. :-)

Q. Why didn't your product managers or engineering team come up with a better solution to deal with "few" culprits?

Answer - Most of them have been moved to the advertising group and they are extremely busy acquiring new users.

Q. Do you know that Uber drivers have been telling Uber passengers that they all should be moving to cash because of this new smoother payment experience?

Answer - How can we know that? And why do we care?

Q. Don't you think this makes the Uber experience of PayTM customers worse than the Cash customers?

Answer - Oops.. Didn't think about that. I guess we need to move even more folks to the advertising group. We need to acquire faster to account for the ones we lose.

No company should ever take their customers for granted. You may have the first mover advantage. You may have created the market. You may be the leader today but it is just a matter of time that someone with a better customer experience comes and wipes you out completely. We all have seen it happening in phones, social networking, search, and many other categories. Respect the customer and you have a better shot a success.

I will soon be doing couple more articles taking specific parts of the PayTM & Uber customer experience and how they could improve it.