Here’s a basic principle to keep in mind if you’re in charge of speaking with the media when there’s trouble: switch up your message. Your response is going to be quoted, it’ll go online, and it’ll be Google-able.
Buzzfeed noticed that Uber has a tendency to repeat some version of the same line when one of its drivers gets into trouble: “Safety is our #1 priority.” And they’re using it no matter the circumstances – when a driver had a seizure and hit a pedestrian, when another groped a female passenger, when another was caught with liquor and weed in the car, when another hit someone with a hammer, etc.
There are two lessons here. First, if you sound like a broken record, people will stop listening. And second, have a short conversation with your Uber driver before you get in the car.
This rote response actually makes people believe the opposite of what the company is saying; you don’t care enough to come up with a better explanation or at least something more creative to say. So really, you don’t care about your passengers or their safety. And we took a quick look at the article links and the statements submitted by Uber spokespeople and there really isn’t much more being said besides this one sentence, reinforcing that impression.
What this statement needs are specifics about how Uber is working to make things more safe for its passengers. Perhaps more detail about the vetting process, or a public discussion about the guidelines for drivers when they get behind the wheel. Taken a step further, some of Uber’s PR should focus on passenger and driver safety. And not just lip service either. Actual steps being taken to show that the company is making a popular service even better.
Uber has been so focused it seems on dealing with the push back from competitors and the taxi industry that it’s not paying attention to what it needs to do to correct these equally important issues. If enough incidents like this happens, “Safety is our #1 priority” will not be enough to quiet the nerves of cautious customers.