Ola: It hurts to see another Indian Startup Screw Up

Ola: It hurts to see another Indian Startup Screw Up

I am one of the most frequent cab-riders in this country. I can say that because for the last 3 months I have haired a cab at least twice every day. I generally travel by Uber because Uber incentivized my first few rides and I got used to their service and most often than not, Uber rides are cheaper than Ola.

That said, whenever I prefer Amazon over Flipkart or Uber over Ola, I always feel a sense of loss.  Being a part of Indian startup ecosystem, I wish to see India-based startup outlive these Silicon Valley giants.  To end this dilemma, I have started to follow this thumb rule: If an Indian startup up provides me at par service even if it costs me marginally higher, I will opt for it. There are two key elements here. Firstly, I would not compromise on the quality of service and secondly, cost should just be marginally higher. As a part of this drive, I recently switched to Ola. I recharged Ola Money with Rs 999 to become their ‘Select’ customer and then I bought their monthly ride pass. ‘Select’ are Ola’s priority customers who are provided with top rated drivers on the priority basis. After all this, I expected nothing but an amazing experience with Ola.

Ola personifies the famous dictum, expectations brings frustration. Since Friday, I have made 7 bookings through Ola. Out of these 7 times, only once did I have a pleasant experience. On other occasions, the experience was pathetic, to say the least. Let’s start in the chronological order. Friday evening, I made 2 Ola auto bookings. In the first booking (KRN 198026415), after I made the booking I waited for 5 mins but my auto did not move an inch. When I called him up, he refused to come saying he would honor only cash payments and not Ola money.  After this, I made another Ola auto booking (KRN 198028255). This booking was canceled by the driver for reason that I was not informed of. By this time I realized that Ola Auto has miles to go before it becomes a real thing. It’s just an add-on to keep some of the investors interested.

Next, I booked an Ola share(OSN 272775563). The driver called me up, asked me about my pickup, drop location and mode of payment. After successfully getting through the interview, he obliged and arrived. Mid way into the trip, he saw me eating chocolate and said: “Sir, don’t eat in the car, it might stain the car.” To which I replied, “Sure, I will be careful.” This is where it should have ended.  But he stopped the car and said “Last time someone brought their lunch box in the car and stained the car. I cannot allow you to eat in the car. ” His tone was intimidating and he had already stopped the car as a sign of protest. I still tried to tell him that it was a different day, different customers and a different story altogether. I also told him, “I understand your concern but it’s a god damn chocolate and not a lunch box.” But he kept saying random things like, “I will stop the ride right now. This is not a 5-star hotel but a cab. You have paid only for sitting here.”  By this time, my chocolate was already over and I had taken enough of his attitude.  It was only after I scolded him saying “Now that I am done with my chocolate, do you see even see any dot of chocolate.” I don’t know whether it was my scolding or the fact that chocolate was over, he started the cab. As I was approaching my destination, I made another share booking as there was some last minute change in my plans. Unfortunately, this booking too landed to him. He blatantly refused to honor the next booking and asked me to cancel. He dropped me some 600 meters behind my scheduled drop. I was still making the new booking and asked him to hold for a minute till I completed my booking but he had already ended the trip and was in an unforeseen hurry to leave.

I made a new Ola share booking (OSN272878625). There was nothing wrong with the driver but either the location provided was inaccurate or the driver did not know how to navigate. It took him quite some time to reach the co-passenger. We can give him benefit of doubt as technology at times can fail us. On weekends, I was in no Uber/Ola zone, hence no action over the weekend. I am back today(Monday). I made an Ola share booking (OSN274484863) the moment I landed here.  Experience during the trip was perfect. The driver arrived on time and dropped me at the designated location. Simple things which I take for granted when I am using competitor’s service.

Next, I find myself at a mall at 7:15 in the morning. I have still not given up on Ola. Hence I book an Ola Share (OSN274493665). It has wait time of 13 minutes. I decide to hold on. I wait for some 15 mins. My cab arrives. I wave to stop but it zooms past me, stops 300 m away.  I start walking towards it but it speeds away after a 30-second halt. The interesting point here is that my pickup location was a shopping complex. It is too big to be missed and a famous landmark to locate.

I tried my luck for one more time. I booked another Ola share ride(OSN274503717). Estimated time of arrival was 10 mins. Ola was incrementally getting better at this. The driver called me and asked if the mode of payment was cash or Ola money. He then asked about the pickup location and assured that he would arrive in 10 minutes. Exact 10 minutes later, he marked himself as arrived while map still showed he was 4 minutes away. Now, I had 3 minutes to get into the cab which was nowhere to be seen. I scanned the entire vicinity to find no cab with my lucky number. It felt like I was holding a lottery ticket and every lucky number would be exactly as mine but for one digit. My timer was already ticking. I called the driver. He did not pick up. I tried a couple of times more and the calls was unanswered.  By now I had realized that it was a ploy by the driver to con Ola customers. If he marks that customer did not show up, he would get the cancellation fee without doing any work. By now my phone was already on the ventilator.  One hour and a drained out phone later, I realized that it was a bad idea to trust Ola during critical times. I finally booked an Uber Pool. For a change, Uber Pool prices where double to Ola Share prices. But atleast I knew for sure that it would arrive. Uber prices had doubled since I started looking out for cabs an hour earlier. I guess that was the penalty Uber levied on me for infidelity.  Uber Pool arrived in 3 minutes and I had a comfortable ride thereafter. Like all the Bollywood stories, this too had a happy ending.

I am not here to promote Uber. I sincerely hope that Ola does a better job than Uber. But as a customer, I would not compromise on the quality of service. I have provided OSN numbers so that if this reaches desired authorities, they should be able to take corrective measures. First and foremost, Ola needs to inculcate discipline both in drivers and riders. It should not be a hangout place for all the drivers rejected/ousted by Uber. There is a silver lining to this story. Ola being a home grown company knows our needs and requirements better. They already have diversified their offerings by introducing Ola Auto, Rentals, Outstation and Shuttle. This gives them the monopoly over these segments where no major players exist. But it would all make sense only when they better their customer experience.

I raised support tickets for all these issues with Ola. The support team was quick to respond. They did reply back and assured of corrective measures while refunding the trip cost for one of the trips. But it was all too late and too little.  I wish that Ola provides best of service and people get hooked on to it forever. They have given a tough competition to Uber and if they lose from here, it would be our loss as well.