Owning The Experience

Everyone loves convenience and everyone loves efficiency: that’s why you’ve seen on-demand services that leverage the impulsivity of consumers with exact geolocation and logistics become such a large growth sector. Nothing groundbreaking there, right?

But one of the weird things that happens to a company when they start to play in this space is that you start to lose control of the experience. There has been about a million articles about Uber and the differentiation between employees and independent contractors, so while I don’t necessarily belabor that point, it’s important to note how that differentiation affects customer service and perception .

Let’s use this as an example:

I run a small Thai restaurant in the East Village called Nik’s Larb Hut. I’m on Seamless, but since my delivery staff are fully paid employees of my restaurant, I need to be intelligent about how they’re resourced and therefore, I set a relatively small delivery radius because I need to make sure they’re able to deliver at least three orders per hour by bike.

But since my larb is so good and because we lucked into a mention in an Eater article, we’re now getting a lot of requests by phone for deliveries outside of our radius. It doesn’t make economic sense for us to expand our radius, so we begin to mention to interested callers that there are a host of companies that can provide this delivery service, such as Postmates and Caviar.

This works out well for us until a rainy Saturday, where Postmates gets swamped with orders as everyone seems to be staying in for the night. We get the food into the hands of the couriers without much issue – we control this experience and we’re experts at it, since it’s no different than having a busy night inside of the restaurant – but once the couriers receive it, complications from the weather as well as the volume of requests severely delay the delivery of the food. To make matters worse, some couriers begin to double and triple concurrent deliveries, trying to make a higher return off of the demand-based surge pricing. The delays frustrate the customers as well as negatively impact the quality of the delicious larb; as such, we start to receive a plethora of complaints over the phone and eventually posted on Yelp and Foursquare.

See what happened there? Once the food left out hands, the experience left our control, even though in the mind of the consumer, it never did. Even if the Postmates courier was at fault, the blame and negative impact gets assigned the restaurant, damaging our brand.

Now, I don’t know enough specifically about Postmates to know whether or not this sort of situation can be avoided, but it’s certainly a dangerous thing for an industry like food, where things like Yelp reviews have a very tangible impact on business. Uber can say all they want about their drivers aren’t employees, but the more news articles there are about drivers harassing passengers and/or driving unsafely, the worse it’s going to be – and there’s no effective way of managing it.

The biggest lesson here for the zero CEOs and/or startup people who are reading my blog is that it’s very critical to understand the full gamut of experience from creation to delivery, and recognize that you ultimately are responsible for anything with your name on it, even if it gets handed off.

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