Mastering CX in action: Uber's head of CX strategy & ops

In the first episode of our rebooted podcast we speak with Uber's SSA head of CX strategy about the art of making decisions in quick time and the importance of walking in your customers' shoes.

12th Apr 2022

We speak with Adi Tobias, the head of customer experience strategy and operations SSA for Uber.

Adi is passionate about CX and discusses how her role is all about being able to move fast and react and respond.

She also explains how she balances the expectations of two sets of customer – the Uber users and the Uber drivers, as well as highlighting why it’s important customer experience professionals are able to get outside of strategic thinking and into the act of being a company’s customer.

Every single experience that’s outside of what the customer expects has the potential to either escalate or leave a customer with a not so pleasant memory of that interaction.” - Adi Tobias, Uber

MYCD UP podcast

Discussion transcription

MYCUSTOMER: I was wondering if we could kick things off by talking a little bit about your background in customer experience. You've been with Uber for several years now. But before that, you had a rich and varied CV, taking in roles for sort of variety of organisations, including Investec and Nielsen, I think had a stint in travel as well. But it was always in marketing and customer experience. Have these areas of business been your passion throughout?

ADI TOBIAS: The enthusiasm for customer engagement, customer relationship building, was very strongly rooted in my experience at Investec. They pride themselves on going the extra mile for their customers in every single respect. And so having worked with them for a few years, that was fully entrenched in the culture, in the operations, in any kind of planning that we did, it was completely centered around what the right thing to do is for the customer, and then what the right thing to do is for the business, and in seeing those connect so well and so seamlessly.

My enthusiasm for that approach grew exponentially, of course, and as I evolved in my career, I always found myself asking these questions around, what is the right thing for our customer? What do they want? Are we actually meeting the needs? Is this the expectation that they have of us? And what gaps are we currently aware of? And then, how do we plug that? I always found myself in that conversation organically. And so I guess it became part and parcel of what my curiosity was and also just my want, and maybe enthusiasm is the right word for doing the right thing and making sure that it's not only profitable for the business, but also that it's a really good experience for the customer.

MYCUSTOMER: On the surface Investec and Eber seem like two very substantially different organizations. Yet moving to Uber, do you feel like you're able to transfer some of the way you approach customer experience into a role at such a different company? How was it different? And how were you able to apply some of those learnings and some of that process that you were so enthusiastic about?

ADI TOBIAS: Irrespective of industry, I think the principles practices and approach stands the test of time across industries, and even across roles. It's been pretty easy for me to take that approach, and weave it into whatever industry or business I'm in. So the level of enthusiasm for doing the right thing for customers is still as high as it was, you know, almost more than a decade ago now at Investec. So I thin, in working in customer experience, it's very, very important to be able to understand what the business needs, understand what the customer needs are. But also to find those commonalities across industries and leverage best practice. I think that's the responsibility of a CX professional. At Uber there's a value called seeing the forest and the trees – seeing the detail and the big picture. And I think that's really where CX professionals can play a big part in any business.

MYCUSTOMER: Uber being a huge organization that is and globally renowned, I think what our listeners would be really keen to ascertain is – what a role such as yours entails, both on a day to day and sort of taking in that larger picture. But also how, perhaps, given that you're in charge of the sort of regional aspect, whether there's any difference as well, in how you deliver the role from region to region?

ADI TOBIAS: My day to day is very varied. So the core components of my day to day is that I spend quite a bit of my time talking to people, whether it be meetings, whether it be my team, I spend a lot of my time talking to people and trying to find opportunities for alignment, so that we're able to execute on something that works best for the business and for customers. So whatever the strategy is that we have agreed on, how do we now go about and execute on that, so day to day, I spend quite a lot of time in meetings, it's very, very important to board that connection with you know, my team, my immediate team, as well as the teams that I work with within the support arm of Uber.

So trying to find opportunities to connect with them, via one on one, so as people, and then also finding ways for us to work more effectively together. So day to day, it's, it's pretty much from an operation standpoint. You know, that's how I spend my time. However, and this is a big however, anything can change at any time during the day. It's the kind of environment that is in real time. I think in some big businesses, you know, you may have what the luxury of planning, sitting back and then executing, so you've got time to breathe. In our organization, it's somewhat different, things move very fast. And things can change in an instant, which means that you need to be ready to react and respond at that very instant. So a large part of it is trying to plan for those kinds of eventualities. And that's where some of the strategic thinking comes into play.

So it could be anything from an escalations or a customer escalation, something's gone differently to how we had expected it to go. And we need to dig into it and make sure that we make things right with the customer, to a market or regulatory change. So when governments change their mind, about how they want us to operate in the space, we also then need to be ready to respond and react to that. And then we have, you know, kind of things that happen quite commonly in our region. And that is kind of protesting and marches, you know, and some of those kind of market related and nuanced activities that you need to be ready for and need to be able to respond to. Often what I find is when I speak to people that don't necessarily connect the dots  you see something on the news and you'd say, okay, that's regulators made one decision, but they don't always connect the dots to what that actually means day to day for our business. But it's that it's that dynamic. It's that flexible. You have to always be on the front foot and ready to, to respond and respond adequately.

MYCUSTOMER: I'd be interested in whether that side of things ultimately affects the overall customer experience?

ADI TOBIAS: That's a good question. So look, I think the way that the user journey is mapped out, is is with the intention to withstand many eventualities, right? So it should be the same experience that you get every single time you book; where the variability comes into play is, you know, an individual experience with a particular driver in, Korea, say – that's where the differentiation or deviation from the intended process could potentially come into play. Another one is, you know, if you think about something like New Year's Eve, right, everybody wants to move all the time. Which means that there’s incredible demand for our service. And sometimes we don't have the sufficient supply. And so I think waiting times is a big, a big deterrent. For many of our riders, they don't really like to wait long, because they've become accustomed to waiting for a minute or two, and having a car arrive, right? So anything that deviates from that normality for them, could result in a not so pleasing customer experience. And so these are minor issues, I would say, but every single experience that's outside of what the customer expects has the potential to either escalate, or just leave, you know, leave a customer with a not so pleasing memory, or that interaction now, that's from a rider perspective, right. So from a driver perspective, I think, for them, and the driver experience is incredibly important to us as well, is sometimes you have, you know, riders on the platform who don't necessarily treat drivers as well as we would like for them to treat them. Or, you know, there's some bias that comes into play, or any of these kind of scenarios that that come about when you know, just dealing with human beings. You know, so those type of eventualities are quite difficult to predict, we obviously have a very clear code that we expect both drivers and riders to adhere to, so that it's respectful and everyone is having the appropriate experience on the platform. But we can't plan for those outliers of experiences. And that's generally where we would need to focus on you know, what other supplementary processes or product fixes do we need to be put in place to prevent some of these outlying experience?

MYCUSTOMER: So driver experiences is as much part of the role?

ADI TOBIAS: Yeah, so it's very balanced in our approach, I don't think you can focus on one and not focus on the other. It's an ecosystem, right? It's not a linear experience. So when looking at how we treat our customers, and when I say customers, I mean, owners and spenders, right, it's, it's very important for us to treat well, you know, people who've been operating on our platform or riding on our platform for a very long time. We try and make sure that, you know, their  experience remains smooth. In order for them to remain utilizing the platform, whether it be driving or whether it be riding, we have very clear segmentation strategies, engagement strategies, across the board, to not only address gaps, that that kind of come up from time to time, but also to look at ways in which we can enrich the current experience. So yes, the basis of, you know, booking an Uber is pretty simple. But there's so many nuances that come about almost daily with any kind of product update, purchases, change, app update, you know, the all of these very many changes that we need to consider and then think about, how do we know engage better with a new group of drivers or new potential group of riders? Because you've now introduced a new product? It's it's very dynamic again, you know, there are lots of things to think about. It's super exciting. But yes, it's you just need to be ready. Like you need to be ready for anything all the time.

MYCUSTOMER: I think many people would suggest that sort of customer experience, roles are sort of long term and strategic in their makeup. And, like you said that that forms part of it. But it's so, so interesting to see how much firefighting is involved and reacting. Do you think that that's a product of just Uber or do you get the sense that that's something that many CX leaders have to deal with?

ADI TOBIAS: Look, I think that it's the nature of the industry, right? I think if you're in platform industries, it's part and parcel of what you do. Now, my role covers both operations and strategy. So the firefighting aspect is as much my responsibility as it is legal, or policy, or the ops team, they shared responsibility, because the outcome is for us to make sure that we're getting the right decision and making the right decisions for our customer base. So by no means, is there a siloed approach to say, well, this is not my baby, whichever department, you know, raise the alarm, you need to focus on it. That's not the approach at all. We’re very collaborative, super cross-functional, and always are looking to make the right decision for our customers at the end of the day. I transparently, authentically can say that.

MYCUSTOMER: And similarly, this decision, you're going to somewhere like Uber with all of the operational side that you've mentioned, has been a an interesting learning curve for you. And I guess, just to sort of wrap up the discussion I'd be very interested to know whether there was any one piece of advice that you had for fellow customer experience leaders and professionals?

ADI TOBIAS: There are so many little tidbits but I think my word of advice would be to not stay in the theory too much. My strong recommendation is to walk out and live out the customer experiences that you're either designing or managing, or whatever engagement touchpoints that you have, make sure that you and your team are tasting and experiencing it for yourself continuously. The theory of what we do is great, it's wonderful to have sticky notes, and wonderful jam boards or murals or whatever tool you use. That's great. But I would encourage people to think about the next step as well. What does that practically mean? Have I walked through every single step out of this plan? And is this an accurate depiction of what the eventualities are, for our customers, to not just stay in the theory and to not kind of hide behind, you know, a journey map or a strategy of sorts. Ensure that you're being very practical, very human centric in in your implementation as well as your thinking when devising these plans.

Adi Tobias Head of CX Uber


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