Is Empathy The Key to Uber’s Success?

by | Mar 30, 2017 | News

Conceptualizing empathy may be what sets Uber apart in the ride-sharing app market

Uber is risky, says Markus Giesler, associate professors of marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business. Riding in a stranger’s car, even when their name and license plate is known, removes the buffers of business and makes the app more attractive, but also raises a question of how risk is governed. This risk, he says, can be mitigated with conceptualized empathy, or a process of humanizing an experience or product.

Ele Veresiu, also an associate professor of marketing at Schulich, says empathy is an “effective technology for knowing the other.” However, it does not occur naturally, so Uber had to create an empathetic individual by coordinating social practices, modes of interaction, emotional response and mental habits.

By promoting a more formal way to interact with others via blog posts​, promotional activities videos and in-app prompts, Uber is able to link social risk to empathy and, in turn, make the app a more empathetic experience. 

In customer interviews with Uber users, for instance, one user called Uber a “therapy session on wheels” where the driver told the passenger about his life and troubles.

“This actually happened but its hard to imagine this consumer interaction happening in a taxi cab,” Giesler says.

The roles of emotion in governing risk are still mostly undocumented, so Veresiu and Giesler put together a four-step framework of “consumer empathization.” This includes:

  1. ​Apathetization: Taking social, financial or physical risk away from customers and externalizing it into the social environment. “The city is apathetic,” Giesler says, “and Uber’s answer to that is empathetic.”

  2. Verification: Promoting studies that show Uber’s presence in city leads to good social outcomes, was an example Giesler gave.

  3. Prototyping: Adapting to support an empathetic customer mindset.

  4. Contracting: Adopting the structure and mindset of empathy, even in bad weather or jammed traffic.

“There’s an intertwined structure of feelings,” Giesler says. “These structures of feelings might not be actively perceived by consumers, but they nonetheless govern into a particular ideological direction.”

Author Bio:
Hal Conick is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @HalConick.

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