about anything under the Sun!
After Cleartrip, its now Meru’s turn!
Wow, it sure feels like a personal Customer Service crusade – after Cleartrip, it now seems to be Meru Cabs at the wheel. And they are taking their faithful customers for a nice big ride around town, pun intended. Now, to be fair, between the wife and I, we have used Meru Cabs for almost 3 years now (ever since the new Rajiv Gandhi International Airport opened in Hyderabad) and at least 2-3 times a month, so that’s a sample size of about 100. And incredibly, not one out of those 100 trips have been anything but an incredibly pleasant experience. I repeat, every single one of them – That is world-class service, and especially noteworthy considering the typical bar that Indian businesses set for themselves.
Here is why I love using Meru – Their booking process is straight-forward and intuitive, the service is largely secure and professional, the cabs very clean and well-maintained, and the ride extremely comfortable. All of this at what I consider a very reasonable price. A ride will cost you Rs 15 per km, which in today’s Bangalore is only 1.67 times the cost of riding an auto, but quite a bargain considering how much more comfortable the trip is. So, if it’s not clear already, I’ve been a big fan of these guys, am constantly rooting for them and telling anyone who cares to listen about how wonderful they are – doing my bit of word-of-mouth marketing for them, you know. Of course, they are only available in select cities now and I can’t wait for them to come to Chennai, a city that I frequent quite a bit and where I miss the service dearly.
Anyways, all good things come to an end – and my Meru streak met with the same cruel fate on our trip to Kumarakom last week. The first element of surprise was when I made the phone call to book our cab. I was politely told by the IVR recording that I would be tagged an additional Rs. 50 as a convenience fee, with absolutely no explanation for what the said convenience was. Did they add a new toilet to the cab, I wondered. That thought was quickly put to rest when they followed that message with the offer of a generous discount of 50% on the Convenience charge if I asked for a cab within 35 minutes of my booking – if they did add the loo, am sure it would cost the same no matter when I booked, right? So anyways, I asked to talk to the friendly agent for an explanation of the charge. Turns out the “Convenience” refers to the use of their Call Center to make the booking, and she told me the fee would not be applied if I booked my cab online! Since when did calling a call center become a “Convenience”? Did I just blissfully miss that whole era?
Seriously, the whole notion of asking Customers to pay extra when they are calling you to give you business is nonsensical. Sure, find other means to encourage customers to use the web so you can improve operational efficiency but charging them more because they call you is a surefire way to destroy any goodwill you have built. And if that isn’t enough, their fee structure of charging less for a more imminent booking completely defies logic. I would think it aids their scheduling algorithm to know their demand in advance, but clearly they prefer the last minute scramble – kinda like JIT as if their cabs were perishable entities? And to top it off, they have an equally befuddling explanation of why it is the way it is on their website. Nicely done, Meru – clearly this whole decision came out of a half-baked committee with a confused set of objectives.
Of course, I still needed the cab and with no intentions of paying any silly additional fee, I went online. And their online booking process, while reasonably straight-forward, just gave me this sinking feeling that my booking was vanishing into a black hole. A very ordinary website and an even more ordinary process. Given how well-oiled their phone booking machinery was, I expected to be able to specify my phone number and have it identify me, but no such luck. Not even close. Just out of curiosity, I played around so more with their website – their user experience could use an upgrade…actually make that a rewrite. They should take a leaf out of Cleartrip’s book, or better yet, have Cleartrip build and host it for them. Maybe they could even sell package deals – suggest a cab booking for every flight/train ticket that gets booked etc.
And Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is virtually non-existent. I tried all the 3 leading Search engines and searched for the typical queries – “cabs Bangalore”, “Taxis Bangalore”, “Airport taxi Bangalore” and in none of the cases did Meru come out on top. In fact, in some cases, they didn’t even make it to the first page. Not what I would expect for what is easily the most popular airport taxi option in the city just judging by numbers. Nope, no ads on the Search pages either. For someone that’s trying to get their online reservation system going, I thought it was strange that they hadn’t even covered the basics? And instead unfairly passing the burden to the customer?
In any case, I provided the necessary information and submitted the request, but made one fatal error – I think it gave me a confirmation number and I forgot to take it down before I closed the window. The site asked me for my email address and my phone number, so I assumed they’d either text or mail me the confirmation? Apparently, that’s too much to ask for. Last I checked, email was still almost free but it didn’t matter. So the next morning comes around and no sign of the cab or any notification around it. I finally call and the Customer Service rep asks for the dreaded Confirmation number. I feign ignorance and give her my phone number instead and her system promptly tells her no reservation was made against that number. How can that be? I swear I saw a confirmation window pop-up on their website that said booking was confirmed. So I try pleading with her and she promptly redirects me to their phone booking department so I can make a fresh booking. For a small, additional convenience charge of course! I didn’t have anything to hold them on, so I couldn’t really make my case but they definitely lost an ambassador thanks to this pleasant experience.
If you are still curious, I did not call them for that cab in the end and found an alternate option to get to the airport that was a lot more reasonable. Thankfully, it doesn’t look like I am the only one that seems to have a problem with this. Hopefully saner minds will prevail in the end!