Customer service is an important part of running any business. This is true even if you are delivering food for gig apps.
But the question is, who is your real customer?
In our situation it’s a bit weird. It’s kind of like a customer version of the movie Inception, where it’s a customer within a customer within a customer. There’s the delivery app, there’s the restaurant, there’s the person who ordered the food. They’re all customers, or customers of customers, or customers of customers of customers.
Yeah, it’s kind of weird that way.
Getting Started On Customer Service
This is part of a 31 day series we are calling the Courier MBA, where MBA stands for Mastering Business Attitude. You can see on the schedule here, we broke the series down into five primary business topics. We started with talking about your business plan, then got into operations, and yesterday we wrapped up the last of the finance posts. Now we dig into customer service.
I’ve mentioned this a lot, that a lot of us who got into this can really be called Accidental Business Owners. It wasn’t necessarily our intention to own a business, that just came with the territory when these gig companies insist on hiring us as independent contractors instead of as employees.
The EntreCourier isn’t here so much to say that’s how it should be, but the idea is that since they decided to make us businesses, they also gave us rights and opportunities that we wouldn’t have as employees. Our best way to really thrive in this environment is to embrace that role, embrace our rights, and think like a business owner.
Customer service is a part of that. With any business you run, customer service is an important key to success. Part of that key is to understand who your customer really is.
Understanding who your primary customer is in a delivery.
The whole thing starts with your status as an independent contractor. You are not an employee of Grubhub or Doordash or Postmates or any others. What they chose instead was to contract with you as a contractor to do the work.
And that makes you a business owner. This is nothing new if you’ve been reading this blog. Technically that is how you are operating.
When you contract with someone as a business, it is the entity that you are contracting with that is your customer.
In other words, from the moment you accept a delivery until the moment you drop that off, Grubhub is your customer. That is because your contract with these companies is on a delivery by delivery basis. Legally, that’s the only way they can do it, if it’s more than that they have to hire you as employees. So that means that while you are on a delivery for Grubhub, they are your customer. While you are doing a delivery for Postmates, they are your customer, and so on.
We’ll get more into that whole delivery by delivery aspect soon enough.
And then there is the restaurant.
This is where it gets a bit more involved. You have the restaurant. They are a customer of sorts, but they are customers for the delivery platforms. They contract with these gig companies to have the food delivered for them. So to some extent, they are the customer of your customer. That is an important thing to consider here, in that while you are making a delivery, you are doing so on behalf of the delivery platform. It’s too easy for drivers to forget or ignore this part, but good customer service as a representative of the delivery company is important here.
But I thought the person who ordered the food was the customer.
They are, sort of, but not really. The diner (as Grubhub likes to call them) is in a funny sort of customer la la land. If you base the customer relationship on who is paying money to whom, you could say they are customers of all three, the driver, the restaurant, and the delivery app. They pay the delivery app, and a portion of that payment is going to the restaurant, and in their mind they’re ordering really FROM the restaurant. And then if they are giving you a tip, there’s a direct payment to you.
Wanna really throw a wrench into this discussion? These delivery companies will make the claim they aren’t really delivery companies. This is all part of the whole thing about the legality of using independent contractors in the first place, because technically they are only allowed to hire employees to do the work of the company. What they do then is they claim they are technology companies to connect the people doing the ordering with the people delivering the food.
The problem is that they aren’t passing on the payments directly to us. They aren’t giving us the freedom to actually ENGAGE that customer as a true customer. I’ll put it another way: it’s a lie. But that’s another topic for another time.
I think I would say that the diner is maybe equal parts customer of the delivery company and of the restaurant. I’m not sure it matters much, to be honest. Either way, there’s an obligation to give them respect as customers of your customer.
What do we do with this?
Here are a few thoughts about this.
The customer relationship changes the balance of power.
It’s not employee/employer. It is literally a business to business relationship. You are the business, they are the customer. It really does equalize the relationship a bit. They cannot control you, much like a customer cannot control the restaurant or the store that they go to. But there’s still balance in the relationship because the rights of the business do not mean that a customer has to keep doing business with you.
It is a limited customer relationship.
Our customer cannot set our prices. I have a buddy who makes custom frame bags for bikes. I can’t walk in and say hey, Joe, I want you to sell me this bag for $30, even though the materials cost you a lot more than that AND you put a lot of time into it. That would be absurd. But that’s kind of what these companies, our customers, do when they expect us to accept every order. We have a right to set our price, we get into this in detail in episode 12 – and we do that through accepting and rejecting orders based on if they meet our price or our hourly rate.
The relationship is on a delivery by delivery basis. We have a moral obligation to provide excellent service from the moment we accept a delivery offer, but the nature of the relationship is for as long as we are on that delivery. There is no retainer here.
How we act with our customers, and with our customer’s customers, has an impact.
I’m amazed at the stuff I see on Twitter when people tweet at these companies about the stuff the drivers did. Seriously, some people take their independence way beyond common sense. You are serving a customer. If enough of this crappy service continues, the companies lose business and when our customers lose business, we lose business. It’s as simple as that.
Customers deserve our respect. All three levels of customer!
There’s a line between criticizing things that our customers do, and being contemptful. It’s not that fine a line either. We’re professionals here.
I will have issues and will voice those issues with the way each of these delivery companies do things. I have no respect for the way they flaunt the boundaries when it comes to independent contractors. But they are still my customer. As long as I am going to accept money from them however, I will remain respectful of them.
The same goes for the restaurants and for the folks that we deliver to. They all pay a fair bit of money to make this whole thing possible. The level of contempt that I see sometimes for all three – the app, the restaurant, and the diners, just makes my head spin at times. There’s an incredible lack of maturity and professionalism among a lot of people I see. Maybe that’s just the nature of social media any more, but the bottom line is, we can do better.
There is a fair tradeoff for our freedom and independence
I preach this a lot, that when the gig companies choose not to pay up for having employees do the work, when they choose to not protect us and not have our back like they would an employee, there is a tradeoff for that. They cannot control us, they have to allow us to operate as the businesses that they designated us as.
The same thing is true for us. I know there are those of us who are the accidental business owners, and there are a number of people who choose work like this exactly for the independence and the freedom. They want to set their own schedule, they want to choose where to work and who to work for. I’m one of those, I choose this for the freedom. But just like with these companies, there is a trade off. When you choose this route, that means you take on the responsibility of being a business owner, and one of those responsibilities is to be professional, to be respectful and to work well with your customer.