Rage Against Uber
Why I Deleted My Account Over A Free Burger
As I read an email from Uber Support over a free burger I never got to enjoy, I decided to delete the app for good. It reminded me of the story of the dude who was executed by an enraged king…over a vase.
I couldn’t remember who in history the story pertained to. All I saw in the moment was a middle-school memory of my history teacher talking about an ancient civilization (Greek, Indian, Chinese? Can’t recall).
One day, that king had been debating with someone (a soldier, a servant, a slave perhaps) on the value of a vase in his palace. He became so enraged by the man’s argument, that he sent him to his death.
What was said, I cannot say; I only recall the moral of the tale: there was probably much more going on than a vase. It was at that moment of recollection I deleted Uber, not because of any major issue with ride-sharing itself, but because of my infuriating, year-long catalogue of experiences with the company’s customer support. This was much more than a free burger; it was my battered sense of dignity.
The Road to Rage
It all began early last year, when I had just moved into an apartment in Downtown L.A, and started using Uber more frequently. I had for the first time reached out to it’s customer support team, because a usual route ended up being about three times its usual (and estimated) cost. The driver was also unprofessional, and I was about twenty minutes late to a new admin job.
Then the same thing happened a week later; I was overcharged and late to work:
Both times this occurred, I was a few dollars away from an overdraft fee. I couldn’t help but worry every time I used the app, some random number would get charged to my account. But the charges were resolved relatively quickly, and I was issued a refund both times. As furious as I was about how it affected my job, Uber Support’s response addressed both situations well, so I moved on.
Then over the summer, I complained about two Uber Cash rewards that appeared to be false advertising. My penny-pinching soul reached for a 20% discount that was advertised in-app, and a 10% cash back reward on Wayfair. For the former, the discount ended up being 5% less, and the latter was never applied.
There were oddly misplaced apologies, and I never received a clear answer.
Truthfully, I didn’t care about the 5% difference, but their messages began to frustrate me. The reps dealing with my issue seemed to be probing me for every detail, as if I might’ve made up a promotion that many others probably received.
It annoyed and offended me that they kept asking for more evidence of these promotions, as if these cash back rewards would be ominous proof I had manipulated and gained the system. I mean what next Plebeian, world domination?
I moved on, mainly because I was compensated, and dismissed the whole thing as the result of a group of people who lacked common sense.
Is Anybody Out There?
Things truly went sour after I requested customer support a fifth time over an incident where the wrong bank account was charged for a ride. Granted this was my fault, as I had multiple cards on file, and selected the wrong one by mistake.
At the time, I wasn’t aware of this until I received an overdraft notice two days later from Wells Fargo. It charged $35 for an overdraft, which was a whole week’s worth of groceries for me. As someone who lives paycheck-to-paycheck, I immediately went into crisis mode.
I didn’t want to waste any of my budget paying off the fee, so I promptly messaged Uber, and asked to switch payment methods. That is when I entered the next layer of customer support hell.
Apparently, you can easily switch a payment before or during a ride, but once the ride is over, switching cards is like filing a claim with your HMO. I wound up exchanging emails and calls with both the bank and Uber, at the same time, throughout a period of 48 hours.
The rep at Wells Fargo told me I had to wait for Uber to review the transaction. She said the charge needed to be switched before the bank closed the following evening. I tried to get Uber to switch my payment before then, but it became a wild goose chase with impersonal responses.
Notice the pattern in this particular message? It seems like I’m no longer talking to someone, just a generic template of information. It infuriated me they did not try to understand the hectic state I was in.
Unfortunately, the overdraft fee went through, and I had to cutback on groceries that week. As another last slap in the face, I received an “under investigation” response after the fee went through, when it no longer mattered.
Something in me went into defensive mode, so I sent this passive aggressive remark:
It was the first time I felt dehumanized by Uber. The previous incidents seemed to be only goof-ups. This time, it was like someone just kept pushing the “under investigation” button every time I showed up in their inbox.
Days later, I looked into my account, and my support case was labeled, “resolved.”
No. The opposite of that happened, Uber.
By the holidays, I reached the 500 point mark on Uber’s Blue Rewards Program. I selected a free meal delivered at no charge from Umami Burger. It was like a promise from yonder; a little gift to myself during the season of giving.
But as soon as I claimed my reward, Uber Eats stopped working.
Every time I would start a food order, an unplugged blender — bright pink and annoying — would inform me of an internet connection error (even though I was still able to request rides).
No matter what troubleshooting method I used, I had no way of accessing the special for Umami Burger, so I yet again reached out to Uber Support, and complained for the seventh time that year.
By that point, I was self-aware of this strange, physiologically reaction toward the messages I received from them. It was this feeling someone wasn’t going to actually know what to do, and give me some dumb template answer.
I told them Uber Eats was not loading, and I braced myself for another wave of robotic bull:
Nevertheless, I repeated myself again, and made sure they knew I was damn tired of it:
Then there was this response, seemingly taken out of someone’s ass:
Notice the rep asked for the name of the restaurant, a word they had just typed into their own message.
Once again, some ingrained emotional torment began brewing inside of me. It was yet again this feeling that a corporate behemoth was doing everything but spit in my face.
I normally don’t even eat beef, and have only dined at Umami Burger two or three times (it’s great but not something I would die for.) Yet something in me felt the need to send an outburst of anger:
It was from that point on I received dead air.
Killing in the Name of Mental Health
Throughout an entire year, my experiences with Uber Support gradually demoralized me. Each issue that prompted me to reach out to them seemed only like minor inconveniences compared to the torrent of rage I developed toward its support reps.
In the beginning it was a mere rolling of the eyes. Where did these random charges come from? Why probe me over a 5% increase in a discount that’s already applied to my account? Why so conspicuous about a transaction review? By the end of the year, I hated Uber.
It came to a point where I started talking to my therapist about Uber. I felt this bizarre kinship with the Pavlov Dog, like the anger was this form of conditioning I couldn’t control. Every time I got a text message from Support— “We have responded to your request.” — the emotional defensiveness would stir up again, like I was getting ready to fight a bully.
“Why did this get under my skin?” I asked my doctor, “why did I get so emotionally invested?” It was a normal reaction, he said, and a common story he encounters, “big corporations like to outsource these sort of things…the communication gap can make us feel unheard.”
He also told me the stress of my lifestyle as a writer contributed to those feelings as well. As a freelancer that does tutoring on the side, I live and breathe my next invoice, whenever, wherever or from whomever it comes from. He advised that it was best to stop focusing on how they reacted, and instead focus on why I felt the way I did.
It wasn’t just Uber that I built up all this rage against either. There were many customer support exchanges I suddenly remembered were in my sent box. The Snapchat data storage complaint that never received a response, the $10 Amazon gift card that was never delivered, the ISP startup that messed up my installation.
Most of the fury within me spawned from the same metrics: shallow niceness, vague information, and excruciatingly painful communication gaps. What made it all so frustrating was a consistent feeling no one was answerable to my issues, except me, who must decide between giving up on a service I constantly rely on, or be submissive to it’s overpowering nature to have me depend on it.
I began googling studies on the emotional effects of so-called computer rage. In some of that research, the dehumanization I felt might’ve actually been designed to appear human, meaning I made a connection with a method of customer support that was, ironically, designed to combat computer rage:
“Use of technology often has unpleasant side effects, which may include strong, negative emotional states that arise during interaction with computers. Frustration, confusion, anger, anxiety and similar emotional states can affect not only the interaction itself, but also productivity, learning, social relationships, and overall well-being.”
The “we got you” and “treat yourself” phrases corporate giants like Uber send out through their apps, echo these studies by reformulating the tone and language of their systems, thus “an error has occurred,” becomes a glib, “sorry for the inconvenience.” The reason those responses got under my skin was because they merely projected a business with no other desire but to ensure I continued using its service.
With all the controversy surrounding Uber drivers, and whether or not they’re treated fairly by the company, my rage against the machine may seem quite self-centered. However, I wrote this because I believe there are many that will relate to these emotions against not just Uber, but the many other technology giants who have profound effects on our daily lives.
At their best, their customer support teams are fast and efficient at resolving issues that arise through their services. At their worst, they become faceless and robotic giants of loosely connected agents, neither remembering you or expected to; outsourced and unanswerable people behind the screen, who bare no decision-making responsibilities, and probably aren’t even sure who does. Template-enforced tunnel visions, response times ranging from minutes, days, some random week later, or just dead air.
I think a lot about the vase story now, and why it instantly popped into my head the moment I pressed the quivering x on Uber’s app. If the market is king in this age of consumerism, am I not the manifestation of its power? It was, after all, a need to vindicate feelings of frustration that instilled the decision to cut Uber’s head off.
Be it a vase or a burger, there was indeed more to the enraged king who sent the poor man to his death. This was not a story about ruthless monarchs, but broke Millennials; a generation of entitled rulers who must give themselves a sense of control when their hi-tech kingdoms stack up against them.
Last Minute Note
An eerie thing happened while working on this article. I was typing phrases like “delete uber” and “uber support complaints,” on Google, when — after more than three weeks of dead air — I received an email from Uber Support:
It was yet again absent of understanding or knowledge of the original issue with Umami, but instead of hoping someone would understand, I waved my goodbye