Although there are many things that used to require a phone to do that we can now accomplish with an e-mail, a swipe, a tap or a Tweet, there are customer service situations — compromised accounts, dangerous situations and other scenarios — where we still want to be able to reach out and actually talk to a live human being. But unlike many other consumer-facing companies, Uber doesn’t offer a contact phone number or a more immediate way to get in touch with the company besides a support e-mail address.
We’ve heard stories in the past where riders reported being held hostage, physically assaulted and harassed with unwanted sexual advances — by Uber drivers, often resulting in a lackluster response from Uber many hours or sometimes days after the incident, with varying degrees of aid offered.
Other stories might not involve imminent physical harm, but it’s nevertheless frustrating for customers who find themselves in an emergency situation that would be best addressed with a quick response.
We recently heard from a reader we’ll call “Vern,” who was upset that when he woke up in New York City to find he was somehow simultaneously taking an Uber ride in London, and his only recourse was to change his password and e-mail email@example.com.
Vern wrote Uber and waited… and waited for hours without receiving even an auto-respond message. He says it would behoove Uber to have a better method of reporting compromised accounts to crack down on fraud while it’s happening.
“Given the volume of rides that Uber manages, it is inconceivable that they lack an expedited means of contact in more urgent situations,” Vern says. “I can’t imagine I am the only customer to have experienced this issue.”
He says eventually Uber got back to him and deactivated his account — though it took a week to have it reactivated. He also got a $20 ride credit, but only after he specifically asked for it.
It isn’t just riders who are frustrated by Uber’s lack of contact options. A member of the Consumerist staff once took a ride where the driver’s Uber app was on the fritz, causing her to lose multiple fares. The driver explained that even she didn’t have a phone number to call the company, just an e-mail.
There is hope of speaking to a human for some of those drivers, according to Uber, which says there are dozens of in-person driver support centers around the globe which are run by the teams in those certain cities, including San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago and New York.
While there’s no comprehensive list of those cities that Uber could provide Consumerist with, drivers who e-mail support will be directed to those centers if there’s one nearby that can help address the problem in person, Uber says.
But again, in cases where there doesn’t happen to be a driver center nearby, a driver with an Uber app on the fritz in the middle of a potentially expensive fare will have no way, other than e-mail, to contact the company to address the issue while it’s happening.
When Consumerist asked Uber about the possibility of other contact options for customers who feel that its support e-mail address isn’t enough, the company didn’t say it would never be a possibility. It then pointed instead to its customer service track record, saying that almost 17 million support tickets were solved in the last five years, with 8.6 million tickets solved in the first five months of 2015.
“We have a dedicated support team available around the clock to our millions of riders in more than 300 cities around the world,” Uber said in a statement to Consumerist. “We have successfully and efficiently managed millions of customer support issues over the last five years, and we are always exploring new ways to provide the best and most efficient support possible.”
After the recent spate of high-profile incidents where riders said Uber hadn’t responded fast enough, the company announced the creation of Incident Response Teams in March this year to address customer’s safety concerns.
“To quickly respond to safety incidents, we have created Incident Response Teams that are on call worldwide on a 24/7 basis,” the blog post read. “These are specially trained groups that investigate and respond to serious safety concerns that may occur. The teams are distributed in regions around the globe and are there for those critical moments when a rapid resolution is needed.”
There is no direct way for customers to escalate their issues however, as all problems are still reported via the firstname.lastname@example.org e-mail address.
Of course, Uber isn’t alone in this; it’s what often happens when you have a rapidly growing, customer-facing company where the underlying idea of the business is to be as uninvolved with the consumer-facing part of the operation as possible.
Uber has argued — unsuccessfully, in some cases — in the past that it’s not actually a transportation company, it’s an app. After all, Uber claims, the drivers are independent contractors who don’t work for Uber. All the company does is make the connection between rider and driver, and process the payment.
There’s nothing stopping Uber from expanding its current contact option to include live support, but it remains to be seen whether the company is willing to take the time to figure that out.