Uber has been banned from New Delhi after one of their drivers, a sex offender who previously spent seven months in prison for his crime, raped a 25 year old woman passenger. This is a big deal – big enough to make women everywhere hesitate before choosing to be alone in a car with an Uber driver.
Yes, shit happens, but this should not have. This was an avoidable – preventable – crisis. This needed to be a prevented crisis. Not just for Uber’s reputation, but for the 25 year-old victim.
Before they were banned from New Delhi, Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, released the following statement:
What happened over the weekend in New Delhi is horrific. Our entire team’s hearts go out to the victim of this despicable crime. We will do everything, I repeat, everything to help bring this perpetrator to justice and to support the victim and her family in her recovery.
We will work with the government to establish clear background checks currently absent in their commercial transportation licensing programs. We will also partner closely with the groups who are leading the way on women’s safety here in New Delhi and around the country and invest in technology advances to help make New Delhi a safer city for women.
Analyzing Uber’s response to this crisis
The first part of this statement has the right tone, demonstrating appropriate commitment to action on behalf of the car service company and true compassion. The second part of this statement is what makes me wonder.
In their first sentence, they seem to pass the blame off onto the local government. My thinking here, is that if this was an identified risk (which it should have been), it was Uber’s responsibility to understand governmental restrictions and find ways to overcome them. This crisis reflects upon them after all, not the New Delhi government. Especially after the New Delhi government chose to ban Uber from their City.
The second part of the second paragraph also troubles me. It’s a major promise and commitment. If Uber were to follow through with this promise and actually be a part of the change, that would be great – for women in New Delhi as well as the Uber brand. However, if they fail, act too slowly, etc. it can be seen as an easy promise made too quickly to get themselves out of hot water. And what now since they’ve been banned from the City? Will they still hold strong on their promised commitment?
Preventable crises NEED to be prevented
It is not possible to foresee and prevent every type of crisis scenario. However, this one should have been identified as a risk and better processes should have been put in place to do everything in their power to prevent this crisis from occurring. Engaging a convicted sex offender is not doing everything in your power.
Hopefully Uber will further reflect upon this incident and begin to implement better policies and procedures throughout their company around the world. This is the type of statement I would have preferred to have seen in their response, as this is within their power to do, as well as addresses the number one concern on their female customers’ minds right now: “Can this happen to me the next time I choose to ride with Uber? Would I be safer calling another car service or just grabbing a cab?”
The two big lessons for you to take away from this case study
- Identify the preventable risks that leave your organization vulnerable and do everything in your power to prevent them from ever occurring.
- When faced with a crisis, don’t focus on making promises to help change the world. Focus on identifying the major concerns that your own stakeholders are experiencing due to the crisis, and focus on the ways that you can strengthen your own inner workings to address these concerns and prevent similar crises from happening again.
Update: December 31, 2014
As stated above, Uber really did need to address this concern internally. The following link is to a TechCrunch post that details several recent rapes in Boston by alleged Uber drivers. Uber Driver Charged With Rape In Boston
Author of Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World, Melissa Agnes is a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. Agnes is a coveted keynote speaker, commentator, and advisor to some of today’s leading organizations faced with the greatest risks. Learn more about Melissa and her work here.
Lyn Brown says
I agree that crisis prevention is the first order of business. What complicates it in this case is Uber's nascent business definition – is it a commercial transportation service (taxi) or a technology firm which allows them to skirt the regulations that apply including background checks on their drivers? In any case, adopting best practices as outlined by the UN Global Compact is a good first step.