Posted: November 5, 2014, 7:51 p.m.
by Amber Patterson.
Uber burst on the scene in 2010 in San Francisco, California, as the brain child of Garret Camp and Travis Kalanick. It has been a crazy ride ever since. The two entrepreneurs simply wanted to tackle the taxi cab problem in San Francisco and, both having backgrounds in the tech industry, did it the best way they knew how — create an app.
The Uber app launched on January 5, 2010, on the streets of San Francisco. Uber is basically a modern-day taxi service that also functions as a referral service for drivers. The app is available for Android, iOS and Windows phones.
The beauty of Uber is that it takes the guessing games out of waiting for a ride and makes payment paperless by processing all payments through the app. It charges the passenger’s credit card included in his profile, and the company takes a cut for itself, usually ranging from 5 to 20 percent, and directly deposits the remaining money into the driver’s account. Paper money never exchanges hands. Uber offers consumers a safe way to enjoy the nightlife of their city without having to choose a designated driver.
Unfortunately, Uber has hit bumpy roads concerning its image. Since the company has become so popular, Uber has expanded nationally and internationally, which has brought multiple public relations mishaps.
First, since the expansion and growth of Uber, it has been heavily criticized for its “surge pricing,” which usually happens around the holidays. Uber charges customers a higher rate for rides during holidays like New Year’s Eve and Halloween. This practice has earned it an “F” from the Better Business Bureau and more than 100 complaints from customers who claim they were not actively informed of the change in pricing. Uber failed to respond to the complaints, only adding more fuel to the fire.
Recently, the public relations team at Uber was caught engaging in unethical practices concerning a story written in the LA Times. On Monday the LA Times published an essay that provided a critical, first-person account of Uber’s treatment of its drivers and dirty business practices to stay above competition. A day later the newspaper received a letter praising Uber and was signed by one of its top-rated drivers. Of course, the LA Times followed up on the essay and discovered the driver who supposedly wrote the letter did not even read the article. He was contacted by an Uber representative who interviewed him and turned his life story into the letter.
Uber’s method of dealing with controversy has gone against what most of us have been taught in public relations. It simply ignores the problem or tries to fix it by planting stories itself. Not only is that unethical, but it is also unnecessary. The problem that customers have with Uber is its failure to answer their questions. So the strategy of “no comment” is its actual problem. Chris Nakutis, general manager of Uber, stated at a technology conference that public relations was a waste of time for tech companies. Looking at the state of his company now, I’m pretty sure public relations would serve as a great safety belt.