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Beware: Uber Has No Customer Service and Still Has Bugs (arunhasablog.com)
95 points by ddrmaxgt37 on Nov 13, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 97 comments

> Going forward, I am probably just going to initiate a chargeback. They aren’t giving me many choices.

I've had great email support from Uber in New York. That said, a few years ago a lost iPhone turned into several phantom SUV rides in and out of New Jersey. An email to Uber revealed a policy against reversing such transactions.

"Okay," I thought, "chargeback it is." But it is not that simple - the chargeback prompted an account suspension. The issue was resolved a few months later, but still leaves a stink in the mouth whenever I start to recommend the service.

"Okay," I thought, "chargeback it is." But it is not that simple

It never is that simple. As best I can tell, a chargeback should be considered to be the ultimate burning of bridges with that company.

"but still leaves a stink in the mouth whenever I start to recommend the service"

So... Don't recommend the service? Much more powerful than a recommendation with caveats.

Lost iPhone used to purchase something = stolen iPhone. Police report along with details where this individual was picked up and going might have gone a long way.. unless you lost your iPhone in an Uber vehicle.

A Community Manager from LA got back to me via email. They refunded my trip and gave me a $50 credit. Transcript of his email:

Hi Arun,

Thanks for reaching out and so sorry for the delay here. We take customer support very seriously and the fact that it took a few days to get a response is definitely not cool or the standard. I'm working with my support team to make sure that emails like yours don't slip through the cracks again like this.

As for your trip and adjustment, the driver accidentally ended the trip prematurely and our operations team went in to adjust the fare to the amount that our estimator shows for this route (you can see a full breakdown for the charges below). However, it looks like there was a bug here that duplicated the adjustment (creating an additional $83 charge), which resulted in the $166 adjustment. Our engineers have already started looking into this to see exactly what went wrong.

I understand this is a big inconvenience and you shouldn't have to pay for this hassle, so I have refunded this trip in full (card receipt attached) -- you should see the refund back on your card in the next few business days. Additionally, for the delay in our response, I have added a $50 credit to your account. It looks like you ride in San Francisco most often, so this should get you a few rides on us. I promise this is not the norm and hope you can give us another shot!

Please reach out if there is anything else I can do.

==== Price Breakdown =====

Base Fare $3

Distance 32.5 miles x $2.55/mile $82.75

Time 4:30 minutes x $0.50/minute $2.50

Total $88

Best, James

Community Manager - LA Twitter - @Uber_LA

I am permanently banned from Uber.

About 6 months ago, I noticed I was unable to log in to my account. Resetting the password did nothing, so I sent an email to the local support address. Almost two weeks later, I finally get the following reply:

  I looked into this situation and it appears that this 
  device has been used on 25 different Uber accounts, which 
  is a major red flag for us. We will not be reactivating 
  your account.
  Uber Love,
I have one of those "firewall" apps on my rooted Android phone that lets you restrict individual permissions for a given application. By default, I prevent applications from transmitting the IMEI. I assume at least 24 other people have done the same thing.

I sent an email explaining the issue, and they eventually emailed me back saying they would "check in with their engineering team and circle back soon." In May. My subsequent emails have been ignored. There is, as far as I can tell, no way to escalate the issue.

I used to really like Uber, but they sure did their best to keep me from using it.

What's the name of the firewall app you use? It sounds like it's returning a noop string ("000000000000000" or something) from getDeviceId(), which is not what that method is allowed to return. If you actually read the docs: https://developer.android.com/reference/android/telephony/Te...

"Returns the unique device ID, for example, the IMEI for GSM and the MEID or ESN for CDMA phones. Return null if device ID is not available."

If it's returning a non unique string, it's breaking that contract, and it's the firewall app's fault, not Uber's.

Because my entire account is banned, not just the device. If it were just the device, it wouldn't have been a problem - I could've just turned off the IMEI blocker and it would've been fine. Sadly, that's not the case!

If they don't know your real IMEI, how can they permanently ban you? They don't ask for a copy of your social security card or anything.

I can see why you might want to permanently ban them, though. Blaming you for a bug in their software.

It is absolutely NOT a bug in their code. The relevant API is here: https://developer.android.com/reference/android/telephony/Te...

If that firewall app is making those methods return anything other than null or a truly unique ID, then they are not a compatible android device, and someone using such a device is not in any position to complain when apps behave incorrectly.

It's worth mentioning that it's not required for the return value of those methods to be the IMEI, but it is required to be either unique or null.

They don't ask for a copy of your social security card, no, but I have to have a cellphone tied to my account and I only have one of those.

Kinda tangential, but I think this social hacking that happens in the search of customer support is really interesting. I've used and seen it used over and over, normally following something like this:

1. There's a problem. Generally it's a pretty big deviation from normal service involving a non-trivial loss, like paying an order of magnitude more for a cab than is necessary.

2. The customer tries to notify the company, normally just to recover the loss.

3. If it's a start up, there probably is limited or isn't any customer service. Larger companies will generally put people through a large, automated, slow, and probably ineffective process with tickets and machine answering systems. The issue isn't resolved either way.

4. Next up is a tweet. Some complaint about the issue @somecompany. A lot of companies large and small have embraced Twitter as a psuedo-support channel.

5. If the subsequent tweets get ignored, some will take to writing a blog post about the situation and lack of support.

6. If the blogger has any connections or visibility, aggregators or media might pick it up and republish it. Brief infamy ensues.

Reminds me of when that woman's AirBnB place got demolished. I'm not sure why Uber doesn't have killer support with $300 million to spend (maybe they do and this is an outlier), but I think the lesson for the start up community. People expect customer service, and customer service needs to be easier and faster than complaining publicly to a large number of people.

I'm long on Uber and Lyft but their approach to billing is lacking.

Uber really should provide some sort of cost breakdown on your previous rides. (They provide quotes, but not itemized receipts.) But at least you can get a sense for how much they charge on their website.

Lyft, hilariously, doesn't tell you how much they charge! At all! What on Earth is their thinking behind that? Is it miles? Minutes? Am I charged based on my Klout score? It's a total mystery to me.

I hate taking cabs, but at least their pricing is 100% transparent.

It's amusing that various local taxi regulations, which Uber and friends have long decried as being unfair, inefficient, outdated, etc. are pretty much the sole reason taxi pricing is transparent.

Not only transparent, but predictable: you don't have to read the fine print on each individual taxi to figure out if this particular fellow is charging you something absurd. That's something Sweden has run into with its deregulation of taxis: http://www.thelocal.se/20120425/40476

The gist of it is that some independent taxi drivers will legally post prices about 20x the going rate. Of course nobody who both knows what they're doing and reads the price will take such a taxi. But the business model / scam is to snag just a handful of clueless rides each day, especially targeting tourists arriving at Stockholm Airport. Then rack up huge profits on a small number of rides. It helps that tourists arriving at the Stockholm airport typically: 1) don't know what the going rate for taxi service is; 2) don't have an intuitive conception of what prices in Swedish Kronor mean; and 3) don't know how to quickly locate and read the posted prices.

Although being Sweden, there's a quick and efficient train from the airport to downtown.

I don't think it's fair to lump all taxi regulations together and then say Uber is decrying regulation. I doubt Uber cares about transparent pricing regulation. They've always shown the fare breakdown on the website and in the app. You can also estimate the fare for locations in the app and website: https://www.uber.com/cities/san-francisco There was some initial complaining about using a phone with GPS to meter the ride, but I think that was just chaff from entrenched interests.

If the initial cost to start a taxi was low enough (i.e. medallions were used to vet the driver and not to protect existing taxi companies [0]), competition might arrive at transparent pricing anyway. Especially with e-hailing where you can be more selective about the cab you choose.

[0] http://blog.priceonomics.com/post/47636506327/the-tyranny-of...

Er, what? The Uber pricing is listed right there in the app, in the same way that taxi pricing is listed: base fare, per-mile fare, and per-minute fare. And if surge pricing is in effect, there's even an extra tap-through step that tells you what the multiplier and final costs are, and asks you to confirm that it's ok.

There's even a trip cost estimator in the app that you can use by telling it your destination.

When the trip is over, you get an email receipt with the total time and distance with the charges listed, as well as a map with the route drawn.

I'm not sure how you can get more transparent than that. What else are you looking for?

Some of those taxi regulations are easy to implement and generally a good idea. Some of them are merely protectionist schemes designed to maintain an oligopoly.

> taxi pricing is transparent


Thank your for your informative and thought-out rebuttal.

Every taxi I've ever ridden in clearly lays out the initial charge, how much distance is included, how much additional distance is charged, how much idle time is charged, and any additional fees.

If you've never been ripped off by a cab driver in a strange city, you either haven't traveled very much, or you've led a very charmed life. (Or you have been ripped off, but you didn't realize it.)

I guess the possibility of taking public transportation when in strange cities is off the table?

Not too many strange American cities have public transport worth the name. If your (US) travels mostly take you to Boston and NYC, lucky you!

That's really useful if you know what the distance is to your destination off the top of your head, or know that the driver is taking the shortest route to it. Also useful if the taxi driver actually engages the meter, or doesn't claim that the credit card reader is "broken." The idea that taxi regulations somehow make pricing transparent or predictable is completely divorced from reality.

Failing to engage the meter is easily observed by the passenger. Credit card readers have nothing to do with this discussion, and are clearly just you being whiny. That price list I discussed is posted precisely because the law requires it.

Accepting payment by credit card is one of those regulations taxis in SF find unfair and inefficient, and so flaunt regularly. So, from that perspective, I think it's germane.

I've also had drivers in SF smoke, refuse to give me a ride, and try to charge me extra fees, all of which are, AFAIK, against the law.

None of which has anything to do with the transparency of taxi prices or the influence of the law on such.

> claim that the credit card reader is "broken."

Fortunately, the law protects you again in this case. In NYC (and SF too, I believe), if the credit card machine doesn't work, and the cab driver doesn't tell you before you start the ride, you don't have to pay a dime.

Doesn't Uber do that? After each ride, I get an email with the breakdown of the costs of the ride, map of the route taken, average speed, time taken etc.

I think the point being made is that you find out after and there's a lack of upfront information. Personally I'm a huge fan of the map, time stamps, and oddly enough, the rounding down

It's easy to see the pricing breakdown and to estimate the fare in the Uber app. Tap the "type" of Uber (Taxi, uberX, etc) to see the breakdown.

One of the reasons why I've been using Sidecar more lately. You put in your pickup and dropoff locations and are given an estimated donation recommendation (Sidecar let's you pay what you want) before you actually request a pickup. There's a lot to be said for setting expectations like that early.

... which you can do in the Uber app, as well, though of course it's not a pay-what-you-want service, and the fare estimation in the app is just that, an estimation.

Ran into the same thing with AirBnb actually - really poor support and messed up rule based billing. A host agreed to pick me up then couldn't make it for hours after. She had a strict cancelation policy, but agreed to refund anyway since it was her fault. She and I both contacted AirBnb to issue the refund, but they never did anything, and later even sent an automated survey asking how their support was. So they ignored what both I and the host wanted and wasted 1k of my money.

They've probably still saved me money over the long run vs. hotels, but honestly, I prefer to just call up previous hosts and offer them money outside AirBnb now and other similar options since I know AirBnb won't back me up when they screw up. The same option is available with cars as well. You can take Uber or Super Shuttle or whatever the first few times, but the drivers will usually give you a card so you can just call them direct and get a better rate.

In Boston, I had an experience with a driver who took us to the right street in the wrong city, then drove the wrong way down a one way and was pulled over by the police.

I gave a 1 star review and explained what happened. Without further action on my part, the local Uber rep refunded the difference between the actual care and what it should have been had there not been the whole detour. Very thoughtfully proactive.

I've experienced something similar in San Fran, where a driver took me on a really weird route, and I gave a 3 star review, and just said they could have picked a much better route and they agreed, and refunded the difference between the route taken, and the best route.

So why doesn't Uber calculate the route to take and display it to the driver? Every Uber car I've taken, the driver has both the Uber driver app running on their phone, and a separate GPS device.

That driver didn't have a separate GPS device.

In my case, the driver took the correct route, but his GPS was way off, not locking in properly. Sent an email and was refunded the next day for the difference in actual vs reported route.

Likewise. I had a driver in LA disregard my directions and take a route that landed us in traffic. The bill was $114. I emailed Uber when I got my receipt and they got back to me before 10 the next morning. They refunded me down to an $88 charge, which was appropriate given the ride.

I experienced an exact opposite response. We had a fairly troubling experience with an Uber driver late at night, and sent an email explaining what happened and requesting a response.

The next day we had an email response, refunding our money, requesting more information, and offering to talk on the phone. A little more discussion and we were told the driver had been terminated and got another heartfelt apology. It was great.

NYE 2012 I got caught in the crash that brought down their system and lost all their reservations. The driver who was heading to pick me up at a 1x congestion rate probably got a brand new 5x faire after the system came back up and made an easy decision. A decision that left me in sub freezing temperatures waiting for a car that would never come.

It was my first uber experience and while it hasn't quite been my last, they certainly aren't my favorite choice.

I don't have the email archive available but I seem to recall them taking almost a week to get back to me. I imagine that the crash caused them quite a customer service backlog though. At the end of the day, for leaving me in sub freezing temeratures they gave me a $50 credit.

This should probably be retitled "Man has problem with Uber on Sunday, declares crisis mode on Tuesday".

It's also worth pointing out that Monday was a federal holiday. So, he didn't even wait 1 business day.

> Going forward, I am probably just going to initiate a chargeback. They aren’t giving me many choices.

Give them a week to sort it out. Don't immediately chargeback, but call the credit card company and tell them about the irregularity. That way, you give Uber some room to sort it out, you don't have to worry about the charge in the process, and you established the timeline in case things do get hairy.

A week... Why?

24 hrs is plenty... they should have a phone # at minimum. Chargebacks, etc are how to get action.

Chargebacks are a valid tool to use when a business doesn't act in good faith with you and is trying to take your money, but some people use them way too casually for the type of aggressive tool it is. Not getting an email response in 24 hours isn't an unreasonable or unusual situation. Chargebacks can have serious repercussions for small businesses; everything from being forced to pay an additional penalty to some faceless algorithm closing off their payment account and people ultimately losing their jobs because of it.

While responding to an email in less than 24 hours is ideal, many smaller businesses don't have a 24 hour per day customer service center and can't always respond to an email in that time frame. Some businesses say 48 hours - 72 hours on their contact page and I think that's pretty reasonable for anything that's not an emergency.

If a company decides to be faceless by not providing a phone number and not communicating on their support practices†, then being penalized by some faceless algorithm sounds like the kind of lesson they need.

† It's not hard to send automatic emails if there are no supporters in the office for a few days or if the queue is too long.

Be careful, the lesson for the rider may end up being a ban from the service.

All because he couldn't wait a business day for a response (the ride was Sunday around noon, Monday was a holiday, a Tweet reply came Tuesday).

What makes you think he'd ever even want to trust them again when they happily take 80$ of him, make no movements to return them and leave him with exactly zero communication as to why that is?

They didn't happily take money form him. There apparently was a billing mistake or 2. And there has been at least one communication. I would be very surprised if he never wanted to use Uber again.

Agreed. At a minimum you should have a rep stay in contact and at least keep the guy up to date on what's going on. People will give you a break as long as they don't feel like someone dropped the ball.

90% of excellent customer service is simple communication. Even if it takes a week, if I get a call every two days letting me know what's going on and where they are with the credit or charge back, it shows the company cares and I'm not so quick with the chargeback call to my CC company.

It's 2013, companies shouldn't have a hard time communicating. With so many direct and indirect channels to get a hold of people, this should be easy.

IME credit card companies can't do anything until the charge clears (which may take a few days). So you'll see the charge is wrong, but you can't do anything about it because it's still pending. Given that it may also take a few business days to resolve the underlying problem (it may have been an issue with the driver misquoting the price initially, so there may be a back and forth there) a week is a reasonable amount of time to wait. But absolutely you should notify the credit card company immediately, in order to start the clock

24 hrs even over the weekend and major holidays? Most things I've charged on weekends don't even post to my account until at least a business day has past. Can you even start the chargeback process on an authorization?

The customer is always wrong.

I've only had one serious issue w/ Uber requiring customer service. We were in Berkeley -- which is not a city I know very well -- and asked to be taken to the nearest BART station for our ride back into the city.

It seemed to take longer than I expected, and sure enough when I got the Uber receipt, it was plain as day: We literally drove right by the Downtown Berkeley station north a ways to the North Berkeley station. It was galling to see it presented on their trip map. I don't blame the guy for not knowing the area that well I guess, I just didn't want to pay for it. They gave me a $20 credit to my account which was just a few bucks less than the entire ride that night. All in all I was pleased. The response took a bit more than 24 hours.

In Chicago, I left my phone in a Black Car at 9 Am. After realizing this half an hour later, I put in a ticket to customer service with the name of the driver. Ten minutes later, Nicole from Chicago's community management team emailed back with the drivers number. I was able to call the driver and he returned it immediately.

I was incredibly impressed by the response time and helpfulness of both the driver whose name escapes and the Chicago community team/Nicole.

I've used Uber 250+ times since 2010 and haven't had any issues that warranted any action beyond occasional 3 or 4 star ratings of drivers.

I really dislike these kinds of posts that try to dramatize things with statements like Uber "has no customer service." It feels like you're trying to hold up the company by stirring up the mob. You should have given them more of a chance.

I had a problem where I rode in an Uber and the GPS tweaked out, causing the distance to be 2x what it should have been. I responded to the email, and they refunded me for the difference that was overcharged within a day.

To have $180 taken from your account is certainly nothing to sneeze at. At certain points in my life that could have seriously affected my ability to pay rent!

It seems rather drastic to totally drop the service and do a chargeback after 3 days, though. Obviously something has slipped through the cracks.

Uber is a super slick system, but I'd bet money there's still people behind the scenes scrambling to keep the gears spinning.

> It seems rather drastic to totally drop the service and do a chargeback after 3 days, though. Obviously something has slipped through the cracks.

That's the power of the chargeback, though. They might not have a customer service number but they've got a number the credit card company knows how to call. To avoid this situation in the future, an obvious solution presents itself...

It's not very accurate to say they have "no customer service" when actually they just have slow customer service.

For those who are in NY, you should check out Whisk at whisk.me: it's like Uber, but we have realtime pricing info during the ride, like a taxi! And our prices are cheaper too.

Disclosure: I'm a developer at Whisk.

I'd say the question most germane to this post is do you have a phone number for people who need support? or do you at least have an SLA on your email support?

They don't have a phone number and their contact form even has a silly captcha. As such the above post constitutes mindless and unreflected spam.

We do currently only do email support, but we respond to each email quickly and in a personable manner. We also have a process to check every single transaction that occurs to make sure that no extreme or inconsistent charges occur. And sorry about the captcha on the website; we are still growing rapidly better fulfill the transportation needs of New York!

Even if you don't do support via phone, you should have a phone number so one can get an actual human being in realtime interaction in case your system gets so fucked up that normal procedures break down.

As far as i'm concerned you're not a company that takes business seriously if i can't call you.

And this is echoed by many people i know, even though we prefer most of our communication to be online.

Come on with the phone number zealotry. It's very hard as a rapidly growing small-medium sized business to provide great phone service (on the level of being able to fix random problems on the spot), and if you can't provide great phone service, it's generally better to stick to asynchronous online methods where you can provide better service.

I'm not sure if my post wasn't clear enough. Let me try and rephrase:

It's fine to deny phone support by default and demand usage of online tools. However if you don't provide a phone number for emergencies and cases where you fucked up, you don't take business seriously.

Doesn't mean i think you shouldn't do business. Simply means i won't trust you with anything remotely important.

The trouble with providing a phone number which is only intended for emergencies is that customers will learn that they can call it for ANYTHING. And woe to the company that says "That doesn't sound very serious! This number is only for emergencies, can you please send us an email? Bye now."

That's a matter of bad training.

No. The situation of any phone support professional who is under management pressure to both provide quality service and filter out "unimportant" requests is untenable. The quality of support will end up sucking.

The "serious problem phone support only" thing is a nice, MBAish compromise idea that won't work well. Everyone thinks their problems are serious. The way to make this work is to provide a phone support number AND to make the web- and app-based support tools work so well customers won't feel a need to call it very often.

I don't agree with your first statement, but i'm totally fine with your conclusion.

If you provide a phone number for emergencies, it will be used for non-emergencies by the most irritating kind of customer (`every problem of mine is an emergency!').

so according to you, GitHub isn't a serious business?

You're using different words than i wrote, so i can't tell if we're talking about the same thing. I wrote "not a company that takes business seriously". What does "serious business" mean?

That said, assuming you intended to say the same thing i did:

While Github are by and large nice people who found a good way to help people and make money with it, they do not take their business seriously.

In the past my experience has been that in cases which involve systemic issues with their entire design, or bugs exhibited on their website but involving third-party software (i.e. hard problems) their responses have been:

  * workarounds instead of even considering an investigation into change
    (even when they cause problems for OS projects due to no action of
    said project whatsoever)
  * invitations to fix the third-party software they chose
  * flat out refusal to even look at bugs in their website because they
    don't support older browsers (see Opera 12 vs. 15+)
Lastly, i'm a paying customer. Nothing i do with Git involving my lifelihood or anything remotely serious depends on Github, because in a case of emergency i cannot even have a reasonable expectation of aid from them. I'll happily use and recommend their service and gladly pay them, but only with the caveat that they take things about as seriously as a bunch of guys on a hiking trip. †


Just a question, what bearing does a custom kegerator have on their business?

The fact that they built this into their office makes it very clear that they have a quite laissez-faire attitude towards their business.

How does that follow? Do you consider any company who has a hackathon to also have a laissez-faire attitude towards business? Since obviously the stuff built there isn't directly contributing to their bottom line.

There's a lot of aspects of Github I think you could use as an example (and you do) but the existence of a kegerator or alcohol in the office isn't really a good one.

> Do you consider any company who has a hackathon to also have a laissez-faire attitude towards business? Since obviously the stuff built there isn't directly contributing to their bottom line.

Out of sheer curiosity, can you show me examples of hackathons held that don't directly contribute to a company's bottom line?

More importantly though: You're making the mistake of thinking that me saying "they don't take business seriously" means "they're bad at making money". This is not the case, and github is exceptionally good at making money, which is why they don't actually need to take business seriously.

When I had issues I just put it through their "how was the ride" thing that pops up after every ride, and they sorted it for me that day.

Unfortunately, it wasn't the ride that was the problem. It was how much they charged me. I had already submitted the "how was the ride" form.

Oh, now I see what you're driving at.

I'm still pretty stunned you weren't able to get in touch with them.

Likewise; two or three times, always quick and happy to refund.

Ive seen quick responses in the few times I have had issues

Another person with the exact opposite experience here: Uber has great customer service here in Seattle. Everything from lost items, bad drivers, bad routes – these happen rarely, but every time I've had a prompt customer service response. And the occasions that warranted a refund were taken care of without even requesting it.

Yesterday my friends called an Uber to get home from a bar. The car arrived in a few minutes as scheduled - and the driver put his head out the window to say his last fare was still in the car, he was going to go drop them off and would be back soon. They cancelled it and called another Uber.

I had a small billing error with an Uber a couple months ago (I had a free ride promo that somehow got eclipsed by a $10 off Google account promo). I tweeted, got a DM a few hours later that telling me to send them an e-mail. I did, charge refunded same-day. No complaints.

I've only had to use uber support once, and it was for an extreme edge technical error. I received immediate email reply from the SF CM at 2AM. She followed up twice in the following week to keep me updated on the status without me ever having to write back.

Uber has been great in my experience. In NYC I had a couple terrible drivers, and I gave a couple terrible reviews.

Without me having to reach out, figured out the details, then they apologized and provided a refund.

I had a couple Uber issues a while back. With a simple tweet to Uber SF, I had everything handled quickly and easily the next day (just hours later, really).

I've only had things mess up once on Uber and I wrote them and they refunded the charge no problem.

Camon, I understand being upset because of the overcharge, but it was just 3 days ago!! You definitely didn't pay the bill yet, if I buy a custom Macbook it will take 3 weeks to ship, I asked my bank for cheques it took 20 days, I contacted Kobo support it took 10 days to get a reply, just be f*cking patience.

Macbook: That's shipping. Irrelevant.

Asking your bank for a cheque: Again, irrelevant.

Kobo support: Well that's incredibly poor. Any support request that takes >24-48 hours is shoddy and unacceptable. It may be okay for you to 'be patient' and accept sub-par service but it doesn't mean everyone should.

Outside of the Google-like lack of customer service, I am perplexed as to the software bug that led to such a bizarre calculation.

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