FoodPanda and the Art of Making Customers Vanish Into Thin Air
I use FoodPanda. No big deal.
I’ve been using them for the past 73 days.
No big deal.
Many people have been using it for longer than that.
I’ve been using them for the past consecutive 73 days. Twice a day, every day.
Now that’s something you don’t see every day.
That’s not all.
I’ve spent a staggering Rs.65,000 ordering through FoodPanda during the last 73 days.
That makes me a very special customer. FoodPanda would be hard-pressed to find a customer more lucrative than me at this point in time.
And yet I don’t feel very special.
You know why? Because FoodPanda hasn’t done anything to make me feel special.
On the contrary, they’ve done everything in their power to make me feel as ordinary as possible, just one of the crowd, as opposed to someone who has been bringing them substantial business for a single customer.
And if they hadn’t done that, I would have continued with my 90-Day challenge with them and all would be well.
But they didn’t. Out of sheer stupidity or sheer ignorance, you decide.
Today was just like any other day, and it would have continued that way if FoodPanda hadn’t made two fatal mistakes.
But first the story. And I’ll try to be as objective as possible about the narration.
Start of Story
The Smart Meal is supposed to be a new ‘health food’ provider that has just popped up on FoodPanda. I ordered Cantonese Chicken from them at 12.56 pm and the vendor accepted it at that very minute. So far so good.
They claim to deliver within 45 minutes, but when the timer started, it started at 60 minutes. Again, 15 minutes longer is no big issue.
1 hour passes.
The way FoodPanda app works, if the time limit is exceeded, they ask if the meal has arrived or not. If you say no, they then give you the option of waiting 10 minutes more or contacting them via Live Chat. No number of either restaurant or FoodPanda itself is given.
This time around they said that since the restaurant is delivering on its own, I need to contact the restaurant. And yet strangely enough, FoodPanda didn’t provide me with the restaurant number to call and complaint.
I used FoodPanda live chat to complain. A Raza guy on live chat said he’s checking my order and will get back to me. He comes back with the reply that the rider is out there and the food will be delivered in another 10 minutes.
I receive a call on my cell from an unknown number.
It’s from Smart Meal.
Someone speaking fluent English, which I assumed to be the owner, apologizes for the delay, justifying that since I placed the order during lunch rush hour time the rider had to deliver to so many people and hence the delay, and that the rider was at South City and would reach me in five minutes.
My blood was rising but since the guy spoke politely and apologized, I just let him off the hook with a terse statement that they shouldn’t claim to deliver in 45 minutes and that they ought to have more realistic time schedules. And my office really is 5 minutes away from the hospital, so no real harm done, although I was getting late for a meeting.
I get a call from my father at home that there’s some guy delivering food there. Have I made a mistake?
Now I’ve got two addresses saved in FoodPanda, one office and the other home. So there was every chance that I may have made a mistake.
I told Dad to hang up, that I’ll check and call back. I checked the app. I had entered my office address. So what on earth was that idiot doing at my home?
I called that unknown number and asked him what the hell was going on. He said he’ll check with the rider and call back.
I called Dad back and told him not to accept the package and that the owner would talk to him himself.
I finally lost it.
I called that darn unknown number back and told him in so many words as to what kind of pathetic service are they running? And why would I accept stone-cold food that the rider has been carrying all over the city for the last 2 hours?
He apologized, said he’ll send new cooked food. I said, don’t bother, I don’t want your food anymore. Said Khuda Hafiz and disconnected the call.
Can’t still understand why did I say Khuda Hafiz at the end of my bhaashan, but that’s just what I did.
I get on to FoodPanda Live Chat and tell them about the story and that I want them to treat this as a formal complaint.
Jennifer’s online. But she didn’t say whether she was Lawrence or Garner. Or maybe even Love Hewitt. No wonder their live chat sucks. Its outsourced. And I bet Jennifer is in India. So she would be more likely be Jennifer Shetty, or Dixit or Rai.
I write a sweet email to [email protected], telling them about the episode and promising a ‘sugary article’ on my blog by day end.
And I get an automated response as follows:
The ‘processing’ hasn’t been done as of 10.27pm at night. Which is centuries in internet time.
I spew out two venomous tweets in honor of FoodPanda and Rocket Internet. They shoot out standard responses that don’t mean a thing in the real world.
The idiot rider who created all this ruckus is standing outside my office, asking me to accept the order and apologizing profusely.
2 hours and 51 minutes late.
His excuse? The oldest in the world. Tyre puncture. Accentuated with, it’s so difficult to find a puncture wala in DHA.
There are three within a distance of 150m from my office.
Either he’s a blatant liar, or sucks at being a rider if he doesn’t know the puncture waalays and where they are located.
I politely but firmly refused, saying I was already going in a meeting and the food is of no use to me now.
End Of Story.
What all this shows is that The Smart Meal is actually a ‘Smartass Meal’ vendor which FoodPanda has been dumb enough to accept in its fold without checking out who’s behind the operation.
Is it really a restaurant?
A proper takeaway service?
Or just a shady place in the Lyari ghettos?
The second moral of the story, if it can be called that, is that the customer can’t possibly consume the food if it arrives 3 hours late even if he wants to. Like in my case I had this meeting coming up, it could be the person is about to travel and that he won’t hang around to have the food if it is 2 hours late and means him missing the flight.
Or it could be a million other reasons. Bottom-line. The customer doesn’t have all day, even if FoodPanda and the restaurant does.
There are two fatal mistakes FoodPanda made in this whole episode.
Let’s discuss each mistake in detail.
Blindly Accept Vendors as Worthy Restaurants
In its haste and stupid ambition to become the biggest, the largest, [and any other superlative you can come up with] food delivery service, FoodPanda is accepting every Tom, Dick and Harry into the fold.
Just have a look at the Contact Page on FoodPanda where you can easily send them an email at [email protected] and voila! You are in.
Oh yes, you need three things to be eligible.
- Ability to write and speak English,
- A logo
- A menu with prices.
It doesn’t matter if the logo is bogus.
It doesn’t matter if the menu is copy pasted from the internet verbatim.
It doesn’t matter if you actually cook all the items on that menu [I’ve found out the hard way], cook them in your pajamas with a crying baby in your arms adding his own tears and saliva to the ingredients, or outsource the whole damn operation to a dhaba in Ranchor Lines.
As long you’re expanding the list of businesses on FoodPanda, everything else is game.
I’m seriously considering getting into this game, at least I’ll earn some serious Moolah on the side, and there are no side effects. Last time I checked, FoodPanda has yet to kick out any vendor. They’re all there, no matter how many transgressions they commit.
You guessed it. They want to be perceived as a huge database of restaurants, not the best in customer service.
Don’t Bother to Make Sense of Big Data
FoodPanda doesn’t bother to study who its customers are in spite of having truckloads of data at its fingertips.
How do I know that?
I’m the living, breathing example of that folly. If FoodPanda was really sifting through its Big Data and trying to make sense of it, it would have seen a spike in sales from this one customer who didn’t even exist 73 days ago.
Who was he?
Why didn’t he use FoodPanda before?
Why was he using FoodPanda now all of a sudden and spending so much on it?
And why the hell has he spent a whopping Rs.65,000 in just two months on FoodPanda?
If they had just moved their butt a little, they would have learnt that I’m going through a clean-eating challenge. That would have made them stop sending me stupid pizza related offers and send me those related to healthy eating.
They would have given me discounts on being a big spender on their app.
And finally they would have dug dig into my digital footprint and realized that I’m a digital influencer who even if not treated royally, should at least be monitored and given priority wherever possible. That I’m a seasoned marketer, have got sizeable presence on most social media platforms and have an interesting Klout score of 50. I wouldn’t be surprised if they even know what Klout is.
Come to think of it, there wasn’t even a basic courtesy call to just ask how has been my experience in the last two months and whether I had any feedback.
On the contrary, there were late deliveries, instructions not forwarded to restaurants about ingredients. And the final nail on the coffin. Today.
But let’s take a step back and not focus on me. Let’s look at the bigger picture. Every brand has got loyal customers, no matter how small a brand it is.
So what separates lesser brands from the immortal brands?
Two words. Brand Evangelists.
Ever heard of people lining up outside Apple stores at 4am in the morning prior to a product launch? Ever heard of people tattooing brand logos on their bodies?
That’s how brands go from mundane like FoodPanda to greatness like Apple or Google. And you do that by cultivating brand evangelists.
But how do you do that? Simple. By giving something to your loyal customers or delighting them consistently over a period of time that they turn into your hardcore fans.
Not every loyal fan will turn into an evangelist. But a brand doesn’t need that many. How many exactly?
Kevin Kelly, one of the authorities on this subject wrote an article in 2008 called, ‘1000 True Fans’ which itself has a cult following now, and FoodPanda would do well to read that article, twice a day, every day.
How does FoodPanda deal with such messy issues presently?
For the lesser mortal, I’m not sure, but when they manage to piss off a big whale like Omer Abedin CEO of Starcom, they do what they did in this case.
Whether it was a marketing gimmick and publicity stunt and done just this once, I’m not sure, but it sure was effective as a lot of media attention was given to it.
In fact I’m not even sure it occurred the way they portrayed it to be. The biggest giveaway is that they had to put it on Dawn as Sponsored Content. If it was authentic, it would have gone viral by itself, not by throwing money at it.
But even that was ages ago and I don’t think they now go to the trouble of bringing in the Panda even if they piss off the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
It doesn’t make business sense for brands to agitate or annoy their customers, and yet they continue to do that, feeling they’ll make it up to them somehow.
But what if that customer was a tough nut to crack? What if he really developed an insatiable grudge against the brand like United Airlines managed to do with the music band ‘Sons of Maxwell’ whose $3,500 guitar it’s baggage handlers managed to destroy and then United refused to compensate for it.
You know what happened next? The band’s singer-songwriter Dave Carroll created a hilarious song called ‘United Breaks Guitars’ ripping United apart, it went viral, and then when the airlines’ CEO approached them for a settlement, they refused. They were already making too much money selling that grudge song.
Have a look at this song if you don’t believe this story. And that song will forever remain etched in social media and give pains to United as long as it exists.
That’s how blind and stupid most brands are.
And every brand thinks it would never do something so stupid until they go ahead and do it. And the cycle repeats.
Not very clever.
To begin with, it’s not very clever to jump into the Service industry until you really know what you’re doing. That’s because today’s consumer is not just discerning, he’s one badass who’s going to rip you apart at the slightest agitation.
And the whole Web 2.0 system which makes it so very easy for anyone to start a business also gives an equivalent power to an average Joe to obliterate that business.
I’m sure Foodpanda would have pissed off quite a few customers in its wake over the years, but the thing FoodPanda should be mindful of, is that this time around they may have pissed off a customer who knows marketing and knows how to leverage digital media. And he can write. Has a blog. Period.
Who knows, couple of years he’ll write a book on Customer Service in Pakistan, and what’s the first example he quotes in the book?
FoodPanda maybe the only proper food delivery service in Pakistan right now, but they have a long way to go when it comes to making intelligently use of their own data and providing good customer service, let alone exceptional.
As such, it’s very easy for a contender to come along that doesn’t have a huge list of worthless restaurants on its panel but those that it do have as its partner, they work together to under-promise but over-deliver.
And that’s how you create an everlasting brand.
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