Uber, Airbnb and DoorDash are some of the most successful and well-known startups on Earth, and they all share one thing in common: they provide experiences that depend on how much customers are willing to move around.
That meant all three went through huge upheaval since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020. For Uber, lockdowns meant fewer customers needing to get around, and more drivers keeping their vehicles parked. Airbnb bookings plummeted. In the meantime, demand for the kind of meal delivery offered by DoorDash soared, including customers who might never have tried such services before.
This week’s Collision conference in Toronto not only marked a return to in-person gathering for the startup community. It may also turn out to be a turning point in how travel, hospitality and food experiences will evolve in the years to come.
Just before the pandemic began, for example, Catherine Powell joined Airbnb to lead its experience division, which was intended to help the company enhance guest stays before merely occupying a space. Almost immediately, however, that division was shut down and Powell has since become Airbnb’s global head of hosting.
That means instead of dreaming up excursions for Airbnb guests, Powell is now focused on enhancing stays based on emerging expectations, as well as enhancing the experience of being an Airbnb host. This includes a tool to help hosts indicate the Wi-Fi service they can provide to guests, for example, as well as recommendations on creating the optimal environment. Overall, guests are now booking longer stays, she said, suggesting they are blending business with pleasure.
“If people are going to work remotely, they need a comfortable place to work,” she said. “They need an ergonomic chair, not a chair for a dining room table.”
In the first year of the pandemic, Powell said Airbnb hosts made over two million adjustments to their listings to ensure that guests who wanted work remotely could be reassured they will have the amenities that they need.
As more people return to the office or make other short-term trips, meanwhile, Uber this week relaunched shared rides in the U.S. Formerly known as Uber Poll and now rebranded as UberX Share, the service allows driver to pick up more customers during a trip, using matching algorithms to find people going in the same direction.
According to Andrew Macdonald, Uber’s SVP of mobility business operations, UberX Share will never add more than eight minutes to an arrival time, which is a way to ensure a good experience for passengers. It can also shave 20% off the cost of a trip. As for drivers, better CX comes through a policy change whereby they can choose whether to opt into the service, which was formerly mandatory.
Expanding into new experiences
UberX share is a necessary evolution for a company that started off as an app for a private black car service, Macdonald said. It’s not just a matter of improving CX, but offering a more diverse set of customer experiences.
“The ability to go point to point on a solo ride, driven by somebody else, is a luxury product experience,” McDonald said. “The vast majority of our opportunity going forward involves structurally lowering costs. There’s a bunch of ways you can do that. You can put more people into small vehicles, more people into large vehicles, you can get more affordable vehicles, you can take excess network capacity and pair people up. And that’s what we’re doing.”
DoorDash also needs to diversity the experiences it offers, which in its case translates into having more merchants on its platform to offer a wider selection of meals. Andy Fang, one of the firm’s co-founders, told the Collision audience that being “customer obsessed” has been one of its guiding principles from the beginning. Those customers not only include the consumers ordering meals but the merchants themselves.
This has led to the launch of services such as DoorDash Drive, which allows merchants to use its delivery fleet for orders that they sourced themselves. Storefront, meanwhile, is an e-commerce offering for merchants who don’t have the capability to build their own online ordering platforms.
“Building products that they were asking for really helped fuel our growth and showed an appreciation for customers, even in the early years and even heading into today,” Fang said.
Making it magical
Powell has been doing similar work for her host customers at Airbnb, such as reducing the process of setting up a listening to 10 steps. Right now, she said about 40 per cent of Airbnb hosts are using income from the spaces they rent as a way to make ends meet, so along with simplified processes and tools, two-way dialogue similar to a voice of the customer program has become critical.
“We have workshops every week, listening to what their needs are,” she said. “And then my job is to go back and talk to the my product partners and say look, we need to create these products, or we need to share these insights, or we need to change this policy to make it easier for them to host.”
Pleasing the B2B customer – such as hosts, Uber drivers or DoorDash merchants – won’t mean much if consumers aren’t impressed with the experience they get. Macdonald said as much as Uber sees to move from being used weekly, monthly or occasionally to daily.
“It’s not enough for us to add transportation verticals. We have to make them meaningful,” he said. “If we’re going to launch peer to peer car sharing in place of a rental car or in place of individual car ownership, it has to be better on Uber than any other option in the market. It has to be magical — that same sort of core magic from the early days of Uber, was which was pushing a button and a car shows up. And people are like, ‘Wow, that’s unbelievable.’”
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.