Over the past few decades, the advent of online commerce negatively impacted brick-and-mortar stores, but now the pendulum is swinging back. With millennials seeking more real-world experiences, some companies have evolved how they reach out to consumers in public spaces.

In her series, The Future of Offline Retail, Addie Lerner, Principal at General Catalyst, points out this shift, and how online-based companies such as Warby Parker and Bonobos set up limited offline showrooms, often called pop-ups, to familiarize real-world consumers with their brands.

On Uber’s Innovation team, we took that approach in building a new kiosk-based tool in partnership with Uber’s Retail team to help people sign up to drive with Uber. The Uber kiosk, placed in malls around the San Francisco Bay Area, instantly connects mall goers to a knowledgeable representative who supports potential and current drivers with their questions and delivers a real-time onboarding experience. The kiosk shows multiple advantages over phone-based support or a human-staffed booth. Its large screen creates an interface that some users will find more comfortable, facilitating an easy-to-navigate registration process for new driver partners. The kiosk format allows for flexible and broad-based deployment, giving driver partners more access points for support.

One influence for the Uber kiosk came from arcade games, which, compared to a PC at home, creates a social environment inviting others to help the primary user.

The kiosk design, with its illuminated Uber signage, helps to affirm our brand placement in the physical world, extending it beyond the app.

One influence for the Uber kiosk came from arcade games, which, compared to a PC at home, creates a social environment inviting others to help the primary user. That attribute, along with a live support representative, brings in a human element we wanted to highlight.

After initial success in supporting and signing up driver partners through our kiosk prototype program, we are looking at new uses, building on Uber’s core value of leveraging the digital world to enrich people’s experiences in the physical.

 

Innovating the driver sign-up experience

Uber’s Innovation team consists of engineers, designers, product leads, and deployment leads who actively seek out opportunities and gaps across the Uber ecosystem that we can improve with technology. We primarily identify these opportunities by talking to individuals across the company, discovering their most pressing challenges and determining if we can develop technology to help.

Typically, we work with other teams over an eight-week sprint, developing a prototype to test out a particular solution. If successful, we incubate the concept towards full deployment. Our kiosk project took off from this process.

Uber kiosk design

As we come up with new designs for our kiosk, the focus remains on helping new driver partners sign up through a customized, hands-on experience.

At the beginning of the project, we partnered with Uber’s Retail team to create new and exciting ways to engage potential driver partners and educate them about the Uber platform. At Uber, one avenue we use for recruiting drivers involves stationing representatives at malls who can help potential partners start the registration process. Talking to these representatives, we found they were responsible for bringing on up to 20 percent of all new drivers in the Bay Area.

However, these representatives worked four or eight-hour shifts regardless of how much traffic the mall would see at any given time of day, which led to a lot of downtime. Finding people to do this job could be difficult, as they had to be both subject-matter experts and adept at catching the attention of mall-goers. On top of that, we still had to design an inviting and interesting space for the booths.

Coordinating schedules for these on-site representatives became unwieldy, and the whole system proved difficult to scale. All these factors made the driver recruiting program a perfect candidate to hack.

 

Our arcade inspiration

Surprisingly, the solution came partially from reminiscing over time spent playing arcade games, with friends gathered around to watch how we evaded ghosts in the Ms. Pac-Man maze or put a finishing move on Akuma. We realized arcades were actually pioneers when it came to reimagining the retail experience. To start, arcade machines are shared devices, deliver immense value for their users, and can be placed in a multitude of locations.

Initial kiosk sketches

Our first sketches and designs were inspired by arcades of the past with a new-age look and feel.

Uber’s online onboarding tools work fine for more tech-savvy drivers, but some prefer in-person assistance. Greenlight hubs are a great resource for driver partners actively signing up to drive, but a kiosk takes it a step further by meeting potential drivers where they already are. Just as with our beloved arcade games, the Uber kiosk provides a more social experience, letting knowledgeable representatives walk people through how to fill in form fields and navigate menus. The large screen on the kiosk also makes it possible for friends and family to accompany potential drivers, helping them navigate the experience or sign up as well. The kiosk offers a social experience similar to that of arcade games.

Our initial kiosk combines an iPad, a video-conferencing screen, a custom kiosk app built in React Native, and a custom video app powered by Twilio on the backend. Drivers begin their registration using the tablet, while friendly representatives onscreen coach them through the process, answering questions in real time. The applications for this kiosk were essentially off-the-shelf, allowing for rapid development.

As we develop the next generation of the Uber kiosk, we intend to integrate the driver registration application and conferencing screen for a more seamless experience.

 

Humanizing the kiosk experience

As with arcade games, Uber’s kiosk lets people interact with the digital world while remaining firmly planted in the physical. The ability to have live customer support agents creates an avenue for individual communication beyond what is offered in a solely online form. We believe this is key to delivering authentic interactions and can act as an avenue to create a more intimate experience with the Uber brand.

A human customer support representative can walk potential driver partners through the entire onboarding process, and respond to questions immediately. It creates a more satisfying experience than waiting for an hour on the phone or chatting with a bot.

Kiosk video help

Mall-goers are greeted by friendly virtual representatives who are happy to answer questions and help users sign up to be driver partners.

The nature of the kiosk naturally complements the human element offered by our live customer support representative, as its arcade-like format and large screen lets groups of friends and relatives participate. These groups might help out in the sign-up process or even register themselves.

Initial driver partner reaction to our kiosk shows that it has been very well received. For a kiosk placed in the Daly City Stonestown Galleria mall, users described the experience as delightful and on par or above the quality of in-person support. We also placed kiosks in our Greenlight Hubs, letting driver partners make the choice between sitting down with an expert on the premises or solving their issues with the on-screen representative. The immediate result from this placement was a decrease in wait times for those coming in for assistance.

To quantify our results, we gathered feedback in three key areas: expert helpfulness rose from 4.48 to 4.58; customer satisfaction (CSAT) jumped from 81 percent to 90 percent; and our Net Promoter Score (NPS), a measure of customer loyalty, grew from 61 to 93. The results made it clear that not only is the kiosk a great tool for Uber to make our services accessible to more people, but some customers actually prefer it when interacting with Uber support.

 

Minimizing operational costs

Uber kiosk

Our kiosk is designed to be eye-catching and as approachable as a friendly onsite representative.

After launching the Uber kiosk in the Daly City Stonestown Galleria in summer 2017, we rolled it out to 12 more malls across the Bay Area and saw over 10,000 interactions in the first few months. We consistently hit our new driver sign-up goals and reduced the cost of our driver recruitment efforts to a third of the original price. This transition allows for a smoother driver partner recruiting program that has fewer moving parts, is easier to deploy, and has as good or better results at a fraction of the price.

Due to the lower cost of production and operations, kiosks have the potential to be highly adaptable to their environment. Kiosks are also economically self-sustaining; if a machine is not attracting enough visitors, it can easily be moved to a more visible location.

Normally, creating a completely personalized space at a retail location is expensive and requires extensive time and effort. However, as we learned, a team of engineers and designers can create a kiosk to look any way and have any functionality for a fraction of the effort. This flexibility unlocks unlimited potential for taking risks and testing new and unique ideas.

Currently, the Uber kiosk is located in malls across the Bay Area, but we plan to expand our presence to college campuses, airports, market squares, and more locations across the United States to better reach potential driver partners.

 

Next steps

Future plans for kiosks

We have tons of exciting ideas for where we can place our kiosk and how we can engineer them to meet the needs of our customers.

Arcade-inspired kiosks can make stepping into the digital world as seamless as interacting with the physical world. The potential for its uses are virtually limitless. We can not help but imagine all the ways we can engineer our kiosk to provide our products and services and to greatly increase our reach and inclusivity.

At this time, people are limited by phone, network availability, and limited data plans in using our services. For instance, according to the Pew Research Center, 23 percent of American adults do not have smartphones. This is a market full of people missing out on the opportunity to use our products, services, and driver partner programs. Kiosks can be a dependable resource for a number of people, including those who may need a ride from point A to point B, without a  smartphone or data connection. Additionally, travelers in foreign countries with no data plan could book rides from a kiosk, if we incorporate that capability.

The possibility of incorporating our other services, such as ride requests and UberEATS, into our kiosks can help connect people across all backgrounds with the ability to interact with our digital world.

If you are interested in learning more about the Innovations team or partnering with us, reach out to: ts-innovation@uber.com.

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Anurag Agarwalla
Anurag Agarwalla leads the Innovation team for Uber’s Technology Services Group.
Marissa Alvarado-Lima
Marissa Alvarado-Lima is a technical writer on the Innovation team for Uber’s Technology Services Group.

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