Author: Yuhong Mu

Background

DiDi, the Chinese ride-hailing giant, suspended its hitch service nationwide for one week following the brutal murder of a 21-year-old female passenger raped and killed by hitch driver.

The case triggered outcry on social media and became the top-trending topic on the Weibo, generating more than 85 million reads and thousands of comments. Later, tons of users are infuriated finding out that DiDi allows hitch driver to tag commuters and some tags are clearly sexual harassment, such as “sexy legs”, “big boobs” etc.

Even DiDi itself romanticized hitch service in advertisements, hinting it as a romantic meet-cute.

DiDi admitted on its official micro blog that the criminal suspect faked his father’s DiDi account to pick up the passenger and that DiDi had received complains of the hitch driver for verbal sexual harassment in early this year. But DiDi didn’t take any action after it contacted the driver without response.

Hitch or Social

DiDi launched hitch service along with tag review in 2015. Though, in early 2016, few users showed privacy concern of tag review on Zhihu, a Chinese question-and-answer website. the topic did not draw too much attention. One year later, DiDi disclosed its hitch riding statistics, 200 million rides, 2.996 billion miles, 30 million commuters, and service cover 343 cities. The business success is no surprise given the monopolistic position of DiDi.

Most interestingly, DiDi also disclosed user demographics, majority riders are working professionals and the male to female ratio is 1:1, while hitch drivers average age is 32 and the male to female ratio is 6:1.

Data also revealed users professions. Some of these data is collected through tag review from the short conversation between riders and drivers. Upon arrival, driver tag riders and both parties can follow each other and exchange virtual gift on DiDi.

All these designs serve one single purpose- Socialization

From an economic perspective, the price of hitch ride is usually half of regular ride service, and average distance is about 16KM, according to DiDi. Most hitch drivers do so to earn extra cash or find someone to talk with.

Given the non-profit purpose and the handiness of tag review, it is a no-brainer for drivers to pick up someone they like. Further with the huge gender ratio gap and enticing romantic advertisement, it’s obvious that DiDi encourages gender characteristic and purposely use it to promote hitch service.

In fact, DiDi is not the only one who tried to step into online socialization. There is another failed predecessor -Alipay.

In Nov 2016, Alipay launched Quanzi in Alipay app, which literally means social circle. Female users with credit score of more than 750 can publish content and pictures in the circle, others can like and give virtual gifts as a token of appreciation.

Soon, the feature became out of control, to attract more virtual gifts, user published lots of R-13 contents online. The critics went viral and Alipay had to take down on the following day. Thereafter, Alipay closed all social apps.

Service Quality is still the key even for data company

According to ts.21cn.com, a website for collective complaints, 2249 complaints of DiDi were reported in last 3 years but only 8.58% was resolved. Since the website is only one channel for complaints, the number is just a tip of the iceberg.

From my own DiDi experience during last Chinese New Year, I was asked by the driver to cancel the order and pay triple fare in cash for the ride. After that, I complained to the customer service but did not receive any follow-up. Until similar cases happened again, I decided to avoid DiDi as much as possible.

So, when Meituan-dianping launched similar ride-hailing service, many DiDi riders welcomed the competition, hoping it could suppress DiDi’s monopoly power.

DiDi always claimed itself as big data company and technology is the core. Data was generated and accumulated from every ride that engaged between riders and drivers. The bigger the network grows, the more powerful data is, and the more vulnerable the company is exposed to brand damage.

For every incidence surfaced, thousands of complaints have already happened. Quality management is often neglected because of immeasurable benefits, but once it fails, many unknowable consequences will follow.

Self-inspection or playing innocent

DiDi offered RMB157,000 reward for murder suspect shortly after the news broke out on the internet. However, everything that can be exposed will be exposed. The reward attracted a wave of critics from the public. Many argue that DiDi could easily locate the driver by using GPS and history data, the reward is merely a showing off of caring and transparency.

Even in the official announcement, DiDi claimed that it would suspend hitch service for self-inspection, sexual harassment in tag review was not mentioned.

Following up remedies

According to its official statement, DiDi will remove tag reviews from its app and highlights emergency function in case of danger. Hitch service will be temporarily offline from 22:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. and drivers need to undergo face recognition to prevent a fraud.

DiDi also plans to launch a charity fund for users or their families and put in more efforts to ensure a comprehensive real-name registration system on the platform.

All these measures seem reasonable to fix the current issue, but, dive into the root cause, why didn’t any staff in DiDi question the tag design? why were complaints ignored in the first place?

Final Thoughts

As more info about the criminal surfaced out, it might seem unfair for DIDI to be entirely blamed.

There are rumors that the criminal borrowed cash illicitly from more than twelve P2P lending platforms in one week before committed the crime.

However, in the age of criticism, big brands could easily find themselves not only being surrounded by loyal customers but also at the center of a criticism vortex, especially for tech companies, which grows astronomically fast and extremely emphasizes capital and business expansion.

Big brands are even more vulnerable to criticism, and the most effective, probably also the painful way to protect is to focus on quality management, that is, to strive to exceed customer expectations and turn customer complaint maelstroms into learning opportunities.

Thanks for reading The Low Down, insight and inside knowledge from the team at Momentum Works. If you’d like to get in touch with us about any issues discussed on our blog, please drop us an email at hello@mworks.asia and let us know how we can help.

Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at hello@mworks.asia.

 

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