Lessons from the cab story – The Brand perils of changing rules of the game rapidly
The last few days have seen major coverage in the media on the rape incident in Delhi. While one must condemn the incident and the repeated impunity with which these incidents keep happening , what was striking in this case is that it happened in what is perceived as a safe place – a cab hired from a well known company with all the technology tools and funds at its disposal. And that opens up concerns for what process and back end audits other rapidly expanding services evolve to keep pace with rapid online scaling up in different industries.
Being a relatively known player in India till recently the new entrants have tried to change the first rule of the game with the technology and by reaching out to the smartphone enabled generation who want control at the fingertips and the freedom to choose the best service providers. They started with higher end cabs to cater to a new segment and get them used to the service and convenience . So far so good.
The second rule change was to quickly move from the higher end cabs to the more affordable and smaller ones and trying to play the low price game to wean away other users. Did they leave the higher end users high and dry as they moved into the commodity space?
They are even trying to cannibalise the auto market which never had much of a reputation anyway with one operator even starting a dial an auto scheme and other launching the cheapest car as part of the service. All that is fair in a competitive market and where the organized cab penetration is so low right now. But they also caught the ire of the other cab and auto operators and were becoming a target for being lobbied against. Their disruptive marketing was hurting others and the others were not going to lie low for long.
And then came the third rule change which is what has hit below the belt right now. In the quest for rapid fire expansion into new locations, new segments and larger fleets, expansion of the driver pool was the major bottleneck, what with all cab companies trying to wean away and poach them with goodies, bonuses, online payment transfers, affordable cars , driver owned cars etc.
This is where I feel they are tripping up. I see more dirty cabs around on the road, most drivers come from small villages and many do not know the routes in the city or the way to your place , nor can they properly communicate with many of the passengers in a common language given the cosmopolitan mix in our society.
But the biggest and most unacceptable compromise could be in the driver selection process and other back end processes under the pressures of rapidly expanding at an unreasonable pace.
Technology cannot compensate for the quality of the human interface that actually completes the brand experience. And one wonders how much of this mad paced expansion is driven by the founders who may have been hungry for growth and making big bucks soon. And how much by the investors who so often just brush aside founder concerns and literally call the shots on how quick the scale up has to happen to quickly build valuations . Nothing wrong with building valuations and cashing out but certainly it should not come at the expense of safety, reliability, credibility and trust that are the keystones of an enduring brand.
I hope there will be lessons learnt from these incidents, given the typical tendency to first create fires and then build rapid response teams to douse them, till the next fire pops by. At the end the responsibility and the buck stops with the leadership teams that allow these compromises to happen.