Trust is a single point of failure for sharing economy marketplaces
The Sharing Economy is broadly defined by the meeting of 2 persons who don’t know each other, “do business” together and (generally) don’t meet anymore.
Obviously, the first question any new user would raise is:
What if my Blablacar or Lyft driver doesn’t show up? What if the expected apartment is a ruin?
So trust is key, because :
- people don’t know each other
- they won’t meet again so there’s a priori no consequence of behaving badly.
A US study actually showed 60% of the barriers to sharing come from a lack of trust.
The way Sharing Economy companies ensure this trust is by:
- Applying a strict rating of the experience and the users after all deals. Rate your Uber driver. He will rate you. Rate your AirBnb host, see if he answers within 24h or not, rate your Blablacar driver, etc
- Building guarantees within the platform, be it an insurance in case of a problem (see our examples below), a well-designed deal details to avoid as many surprises as possible, a payment process completed after the deal, etc
- Providing an outstanding support before the transaction and in case of problem. But in the sharing economy, there’s no such thing as “after-sales” – most of business happens at the moment of the transaction, so if there’s an issue to solve it has to be immediate.
…and of course they encompass all this in a strong brand to convey the trust.
Phone calls are used here at 2 levels :
- I want to reach the other person. You’d typically do that from the Uber or Airbnb app to actually meet the person. A phone call can make more sense here as you need to make sure you get an instant answer (as opposed to a written message which will not necessarily be treated immediately)
- I want to reach Support to solve a situation or give me re-assurance on the deal I’m going to make
On the 1st point, as users don’t know each other, and don’t plan to become friends, it would be awkward to share people’s phone number and connect them (plus they could escape from the platform fee:-)
So, direct (phone) communication can be built through IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) like Plivo or Twilio. It enables the marketplace to provide voice communication without sharing a number. As transactions usually happen “on the spot”, we can expect to see more and more voice features baked into services like Blablacar or AirBnB.
The 2nd point is actually key and is well illustrated by the example of Airbnb which rolled out 24/7 phone support after a user got a “traumatizing” experience. AirBnB reports to have now a 80-people department dedicated to ensuring trust and safety (quoted from the very interesting and dense article from Philip Lay).
We ourselves have a few customers operating in the sharing economy space. They are new players, not (yet) as known and structured as an AirBnB or an Uber, but we found a common pattern to build trust with their users.
Examples from the French sharing economy
France is famous for its “Cuisine”, its wines, and its Sharing Economy. BlaBlaCar is obviously the country Champion after its $100 fundraising round, but it hides tens of smaller companies operating in all types of markets.
We have the chance to serve a few customers of the French Sharing Economy and here is how they use their phone support.
Costockage – share your basement
TripNdrive – share you car at the airport when you travel
JeLoueMonCampingCar – share your motorhome
Homerez – Rent your home for vacations
Homerez has an international scope. Offers locations in 15 countries (Aircall helps them to provide a local support line, that can be routed to the appropriate teams anywhere they are). In their case, they provide a value-added service to home owners who want to rent their place on any third party site (homelidays etc), or on Homerez.com. Providing phone support is one channel to deliver these advice.
JeLoueMonCampingCar or Costockage need to help the renters get the whole information on the product. There’s always a concern from motorhome or basement owners about the insurance they benefit from in case of problem, the conditions of service, etc.
As the cofounder of jelouemoncampingcar.com states :
“Having the owners to trust the service enough to let go their $70’000 motorhome is critical, especially for first-time users. Providing phone support is one of ways we have to re-insure them : we receive many calls from people who want to test our reactivity, even on simple questions, get details about the insurance coverage we provide, or even just repeat what’s written on our website but from a real, “live” person.”
As they see it, phone support conveys the message that there are people acting as trusted 3rd party to make sure the transactions go fine. As the brand develops, and as users repeat a positive experience, the need for this support could become less critical.
TripNDrive actually makes the deal over the phone. When your plane lands, you call them to indicate you’re here so they can bring you your car. As such, it’s not a “typical” sharing economy example as it doesn’t work as a “peer-to-peer” deal (TripNDrive ensures the interface between the traveller and the car renter). Yet it’s a good example of the need to make the deal happen at a precise moment – phone contact has been the preferred option to smoothen the experience.
Now, you may wonder: “Ok. Now you’ve told me some companies offer phone support… awesome but…so what?”
Well, these startups are quite new but count amongst our most active customers with several thousands of calls per month each. The volume of calls they generate (at comparable sizes) is 10 to 20 times more than our e-commerce customers – not to mention our SaaS customers that limit phone support to their most expensive plans, as we describe it here.
We observe that phone support is an important way to deliver trust, especially in the earlier stage of a sharing economy startup, when the brand is not yet widespread and when most customers are first-time users. As the company grows, phone support takes its place amongst the customer relationship channels, but probably loses its prominence over more impersonal tools like email or chat.
PS. Sharing your phone?
@Aircall we are not part of the sharing economy BUT we’re doing all we can to join! First, we allow your users to share contacts, share voicemails, call details, comments on calls. That’s already a little bit of love 🙂
More importantly, we’re building a software that will make useless ALL the professional phones : deskphones or cell phones. Our vision is that on one day you’ll SHARE your smartphone between your personal life (your iPhone, say) and your professional life (the Aircall App on your iPhone). Imagine the reduced waste of hardware that will generate….