A little before Christmas, the worst happened in Sydney. Martin Place suddenly became the center of attention when one man took hostages the customers of a café and the the whole started fearing about whatever was happening at that time.
In the wake of this event, Uber sent a communication that would trigger an immediate and angry response from the public. A tweet I came across, boasting surge pricing in order to draw drivers to the scene and “help” the people of Sydney get away from the danger zone.
More than a communication mistake. Just sheer stupidity from any point of view.
And on December 24th, an email came from Uber Sydney. A letter of apology. I copy the whole text below :
The events of last week in Sydney were upsetting for the whole community and we are truly sorry for any concern that our process may have added.
Our priority was to help get as many people out of the CBD safely in the midst of a fast-moving event. The decisions we made were based only on helping to achieve this but we communicated this poorly, leading to a lot of misunderstanding about our motivations.
Surge pricing is algorithmic and kicks in automatically when demand for rides outstrips the supply of cars that are on the road. This encourages more drivers to the area where people are requesting rides. As an increasing number of people were requesting rides that morning in the CBD, surge pricing came into effect automatically and this is when you might have seen higher prices.
We didn’t stop surge pricing immediately. This was the wrong decision. We quickly reversed course and provided free rides to people needing to leave the CBD. In the end, no rider was charged to leave the CBD on Monday and all higher fares resulting from surge pricing earlier in the day were fully refunded.
It’s unfortunate that the perception is that Uber did something against the interests of the public. We certainly did not intend to. We will learn from this incident and improve as a result of this lesson. Uber is committed to ensuring users have a reliable ride when they need it most – including and especially during disasters and relevant states of emergency. We take our community commitment very seriously in the 250+ cities Uber serves around the globe.
Please know that we have listened to the feedback and we are working to standardise a global policy to ensure we’re serving communities in the most efficient, effective and helpful way possible at all times. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the victims’ families, those that were injured and the Sydney community of which we are so proud to be a part.
The “mistake” was more than a mistake as it led to misunderstanding and did seriously hurt the brand. Especially at a time when Uber should definitely not have to be handling more “shit” than it does already.
Let this serve as a lesson for every social media manager, for every brand representative out there. Whatever the situation, whatever the need for speed that social media push on people, just sit down, relax and … Think before acting stupidly!