How sharing economy companies create a customer-first experience – 5 approaches

Posted June 7, 2016

The sharing economy is a unique environment where businesses have two very distinct types of customers.

First, there are the actual product or service providers — the Uber drivers and the Airbnb homeowners. Second, there are the more traditional customers paying for said rides and rentals.

Keeping both sides happy is important, and requires an entirely new approach to crafting the customer experience. Here’s a look at how that gets accomplished:

1. Create trust through community

The most important asset in the sharing economy is trust. Without a community of users who trust both the brand and other customers, there is no way for a business to succeed.

For example, letting a stranger stay on your property while you are away is a big deal, so vacation home rental company Airbnb created a user profile verification system to ensure renters and hosts are who they say they are.

Creating trust: Airbnb created a user profile verification system. Image source: Airbnb.com
Creating trust: Airbnb created a user profile verification system. Image source: Airbnb.com

Users can link social accounts and request recommendations from friends to help legitimize their online existence. The company also offers professional photography for homeowners to give them a verified status. After each stay, both the owner and renter are given the opportunity to review each other to build even more trust for the future.

2. Build policies to protect both sides of the user experience

While trust is an important asset, successful companies protect their users by putting financial and safety policies in place on the off chance something goes wrong.

For example, Turo, a peer-to-peer car sharing business, offers $ 2 million in liability insurance to protect vehicle owners, and offers renters a variety of insurance packages. With this insurance, owners can rest easy knowing that, should an accident happen, all costs are covered.

Trevor Humphrey, Turo’s director of customer service, says the company’s community guidelines spell out how it expects its users to behave with one another. “We expect our car owners to provide amazing vehicles and incredible experiences, and we hold them accountable to that standard,” Humphrey says. “When things don’t go as planned, we have a backup plan to ensure our travelers aren’t left in the lurch. For example, if for some reason an owner cannot honor a rental request, we proactively work with top owners in the area to find the traveler a replacement vehicle.”

3. Design a straightforward, simple flow

Fellow transport company Uber grew from a small Bay-Area start-up into an international powerhouse by creating a simple user experience that completely revolutionized on-demand transportation. By removing the frustrations of using taxis and public transportation, Uber was able to draw in legions of loyal customers.

By making its service mobile-first and easy to use, Uber has become a highly recognized brand across the U.S. and many parts of the world. Streamlining online operations over various platforms is essential to technology companies operating in a sharing environment that is ultimately experienced offline.

Humphrey says that in Turo’s experience, users employ a combination of desktop, mobile and real-world interactions. “We are seeing more and more of our users interact with Turo on our native mobile apps, especially on the owner side. We also see many travelers use the full site to find and book vehicles, then utilize the mobile app to communicate with the owner and coordinate pickup and drop off,” he says. “So much of the Turo experience takes place in the real world, away from a computer, so we need to have great mobile apps for our customers to use on the go.”

4. Optimize the product with data driven analysis

Thanks to the evolving nature of business, companies have access to more data than ever before. This information can be used to better meet the needs of customers, which in turn leads better customer experiences, business growth and higher revenue.

Car sharing service Zipcar digs into data about how customers use the product to customize the user experience and anticipate customer demands. The company uses its data to place cars in more convenient and highly trafficked areas. The data the company collects also serves to promote an image of being environmentally – and wallet – friendly, namely by reporting Zipcar users’ costs and carbon footprint compared to typical car ownership.

Rover.com, a dog-sitting matching service, similarly uses data to improve the customer experience. Dog owners do not want to leave the well-being of their furry family members to chance, which is why Rover created algorithms to suggest specific dog sitters based on a variety of factors, including satisfaction ratings, booking frequency and pet-safety reports. The company also gives would-be dog sitters tips cultivated from user data on how to build their ratings up and get booked for more jobs.

5. Prepare to scale for a growing customer base

There is nothing more frustrating than having expectations for an on-demand service set by the company, and then having trouble using the service when you’re ready to give it a shot.

Imagine trying to book an Uber with no cars nearby or trying to order a sushi dinner and getting an error that no food-delivery couriers on Postmates are available to accept your order. These experiences would drive customers back to traditional services, and is the reason why the sharing economy is working to fine-tune the art of scaling up.

To ensure availability is never a problem, Postmates is carefully adding cities to its network where it can find enough drivers to meet demand and enough customers to keep them busy — a strategy that seems to be working quite well. Any business looking to expand should consider following similar steps to prepare. The inability to scale can sink a previously successful company.

The customer experience comes first

The common thread between all of these companies is that the customer experience comes first. Companies with a strong community, a well-designed product and a focus on solving customer service issues before they become a problem are seeing great success in the sharing economy.

Businesses in other industries can learn a thing or two from the success sharing economy brands are achieving. If you put the customer first and provide value, you will see the same loyalty that has driven the sharing economy to devoted customers around the world.

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