OZOcar Service Encounter

Adam Greenfield rips into OZOcar’s service offering after a lackluster trial run. I’ve never tried OZOcar myself but it’s a little surprising to hear this report. They’ve been working with a former Live|Work service designer for the past couple years. I’d expect them to have their act together by now.

You know what? The experience sucked so bad I’m not even willing to give them another chance. They failed both my major mission-critical requirements for a car service — picking me up on time, getting me to my destination on time — and most of the minor ones as well.

Greenfield’s critique illustrates a few different service design principles that are worth pointing out.

Process vs Outcome
Service quality has two primary components: process and outcome. Customers don’t start keying into process characteristics (courtesy, responsiveness, access, communication, credibility, empathy and tangibles) until the outcome has been satisfied (reliability, competence and security). Think of it this way: it doesn’t matter how friendly your driver is if his car doesn’t also have four wheels and an engine.

OZOcar technically met their outcome obligation in this case (deliver me from point A to B on time). Greenfield got to the airport in one piece and in time for his flight. The trouble is, they fell so short on projecting reliability and competence that he barely had a chance to notice the process characteristics.

The Prius itself was new, nimble, and clean. Even though it’s not designed as a fleet car-service vehicle … it was certainly comfortable enough for the ~40 minute trudge to Kennedy.

Read more about process vs outcome in SERVQUAL: Review and Critique from the European Journal of Marketing.

Expectation vs Perception
Both process and outcome are judged based on the difference between the customer’s expectation of service quality and their subjective perception of actual service delivery. It’s known as the “gaps model” of service quality. In this case, Greenfield had come to expect byzantine routes from New York drivers, so that particular failing didn’t hurt the service:

… frankly it’s nothing I haven’t experienced before in the wild & woolly framework of NYC driving. We’ll count that as a wash.

On the other hand, the expectation that the driver would be able to find a common address (and the correct terminal) wasn’t even close. This could have been a failing of a particular driver, but it reflects poorly on OZOcar’s hiring and training.

It’s much harder to understand the lack of wireless internet:

…I’d heard that each of their cars sports ultrafast WiMax wireless broadband … The driver doesn’t seem to have heard of any in-car wireless network, but by now I’m so irritated that it doesn’t even signify.

Sometimes, with a new service it takes a while for front-line employees to get up to speed (many Starbucks employees weren’t initially aware of the in-store music tie-in with Apple, for example) but in this case WiMax wireless internet, along with an Apple iBook and Sirius satellite radio were all big selling points (tangibles) for the OZOcar service when it launched.

Read more about expectations vs perceptions in Five Imperatives for Improving Service Quality from the Sloan Management Review.

Service Recovery
Great services have specific plans for how to recover from mistakes and regain trust in the eyes of their customer. OZOcar made their fair share of mistakes, but they had only the most basic of recovery mechanisms:

…a full ten minutes after my scheduled pickup time, I got a dispatcher on the line who told me that the driver “couldn’t find my building.” … since I’m already on the phone with his dispatcher I’m able to vector him in. More or less, anyway; he still comes down the driveway the wrong way.

From an outcome point of view they fell severely short on reliability and competence but never made any concession toward that failure. An outcome-based recovery mechanism could have taken the form of a discount or a coupon for a future trip. For process-based failures, recovery can be as simple as a sincere apology. Unfortunately, the OZOcar driver remained silent, despite delivering a terrible service. The result was that Adam posted a 937-word rant on his blog, something that could almost certainly have been avoided.

Read more about service recovery in The Service Concept: The Missing Link in Service Design Research? from the Journal of Operations Management.

  1. AG

    Absolutely fascinating deconstruction of my minor nightmare, thanks. (And I am aware of how minor it was – the point of the rant was mostly to ensure that no one else I knew wasted money on OZOCar.)

    I’m particularly interested in your thoughts on service recovery procedures, because from my point of view, *all* products and services will eventually fail or otherwise fall short of their users’ expectations at some point. I believe that a lot of the artistry in contemporary design is in devising fluent “exception handling” protocols. This also mirrors my interest in de-escalation and repair attempts in interpersonal conflict, but that’s a different story.

    At any rate, thanks again for helping me reach a better understanding of just why I was so enraged by OZOCar, and what the experience said about the design of their process flow.

  2. Jeff

    I think you’re right that all services will eventually fail in some way. A zero-defects approach to service is a nice goal but in a realm with so many variables, over a long enough timeline, something will always go wrong. One of the most common themes I’ve come across in my research is the importance of simply giving frontline employees the authority to correct mistakes when they happen.

    At Emergence 2007, Bettina Von Kupsch from Swisscom described a system they have in place where each employee is pre-authorized to spend up to $1000 to solve a customer’s problem. There’s rarely a problem of that magnitude, but the fact that it’s there gives employees a net so they can address situations without worrying about the cost.

    There are three articles from the Harvard Business Review that are worth checking out.

    Richard Chase mentions service recovery briefly in Want to Perfect Your Company’s Service? Use Behavioral Science.

    “How do you make up for a service-encounter error? Research on what customers perceive as a fair remedy suggests that the answer depends on whether it is an outcome error or a process error. A botched task calls for a material compensation, while poor treatment from a server calls for an apology. Reversing these recovery actions is unlikely to be effective.”

    James Heskett mentions it in The Service-Profit Chain Audit.

    “A popular concept of quality in manufacturing is the importance of doing things right the first time. But customers of service organizations often allow one mistake. Some organizations are very good at delivering service as long as nothing goes wrong. Others organize for and thrive on service emergencies. Outstanding service organizations do both by giving frontline employees the latitude to effect recovery. Southwest Airlines maintains a policy of allowing frontline employees to do whatever they feel comfortable doing in order to satisfy customers. Xerox authorizes frontline service employees to replace up to $250,000 worth of equipment if customers are not getting results.”

    The gold standard by far is The Profitable Art of Service Recovery by Christopher Hart (along with Heskett). The nine page article is devoted to the concept of service recovery and it shares some truly remarkable examples. It’s too deep to summarize here, but I’ll write a post about it in the near future.

    “Mistakes are a critical part of every service. Hard as they try, even the best service companies can’t prevent the occasional late flight, burned steak, or missed delivery. The fact is, in services, often performed in the customer’s presence, errors are inevitable. But dissatisfied customers are not. While companies may not be able to prevent all problems, they can learn to recover from them. A good recovery can turn angry, frustrated customers into loyal ones. It can, in fact create more goodwill than if things had gone smoothly in the first place…”

    The authors also explore the concept in a fantastic book called Service Breakthroughs: Changing the Rules of the Game.

  3. I agree that OZOcar has its faults. As a New Yorker I’ve tried the service, and then talked with someone who works there, and it’s rather impressive what they’ve managed to accomplish.

    One key point: there’s basically two big companies that run all the “black car” service in New York City, and let’s just say they don’t welcome competition, if you know what I mean. So just getting up and running at all is a major accomplishment.

    Another point is that car services like this (non-taxi cabs) actually make a much larger share of their revenue from corporate clients than individuals. In fact, I bet their largest financial service client uses more cars than all the individuals combined, so it could be that OZO focuses on the corporate client experience much more so than the individual customer experience.

    Without following the money, a service understanding is incomplete, and I think that’s where Adam’s critique suffers, and why OZOcar as a business seems to be doing just fine.

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