I love my on-demand services. They are a lazy man’s dream. No need to plan ahead; no need to even move. Yet, I’ve heard more and more anecdotes about how the quality of on-demand services has plummeted recently. Despite all the technology investment and improvement, service qualities have started to revert back to those they replaced. The magic of consistency and convenience hasn’t been easy to scale.
After a particularly brutal recent food delivery where food showed up cold, late and made my wife promise to never order from that restaurant again, I got to thinking about where these services were getting it wrong. In an effort to automate more and more with technology, humans were getting pushed further and further out of the equation.
Many people see the end state of the on-demand world removing people entirely. Software is designed to remove friction and handle complicated, multi-variable problems. It is great for providing connectivity and optimizing systems, but still a long way away from understanding people and handling unexpected situations. I love ordering through an app, but I want a person helping me when something goes wrong. Why wouldn’t I? I fight like hell to reach a person when I call customer support, and still wait in a longer check out line with an actual cashier at the grocery store.
The assumption that customers seek total automation flies out the window the first time something goes unexpected. This is especially acute for real-time services. The reality is that now, and for years to come, people will remain central to mobile service businesses, just as they are to offline service businesses. Don’t replace the workers, help them become more productive and consistent. When something goes wrong, provide resolution tools for them to solve problems on their own.
The companies that own the bridge between automation and great human service have the best chance of avoiding price wars and commoditization. If Tesla develops its own on-demand service with self-driving cars, what will Uber’s largest asset be besides its pool of drivers and the cars they independently own? It is time for mobile service businesses to embrace their workers and create structures for the best ones to shine.