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Bold decisions: How Covid-19 hustled Careem back to the startup mindset

Bold decisions: How Covid-19 hustled Careem back to the startup mindset

Gheed El Makkoui, general manager at Careem UAE discusses all things mobility with Gulf Business in times of the pandemic

Has the mobility sector recovered since the easing of social restrictions?
We have noticed recovery in our ride-hailing business since the easing of lockdown restrictions, quite speedier than expected and we expect full recovery by end of 2021.

What are the key lessons that the company has gauged from the pandemic?
The importance of agility in uncertain times: At the brink of the pandemic, it was crucial for us to rapidly change direction. Careem shifted back to the startup mindset; we changed the size and shape of the organisation to be self-sustainable. We adopted a work from home model starting mid-March, where we maintained productivity and now, Careem is the first company in the region to go Remote-First, helping us cut our real estate cost by 30 per cent.

Staying close and true to customers: People’s behaviours and habits have shifted significantly in this new normal that we’re in. The on-demand business became core to people’s daily needs, aside from just transportation. Furthermore, customers’ value for convenience has grown even further, highlighting the importance of a superapp.

Customer engagement has grown tremendously on our app as it has become easier to use one app for their daily needs. We believe Covid-19 is accelerating digital adoption and has pushed companies like Careem to launch new services faster to meet their customer needs.

– Flexibility in servicing customers: Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption of digital payments, for example, 90 per cent+ of our deliveries in Saudi Arabia were paid in cash pre-Covid, today 100 per cent are digital.

What are the key safety initiatives Careem has adopted, and which are the ones it intends to retain once the pandemic is over?

Masks and Personal Protective Equipment

To ensure the safety of everyone around us, captains are following personal safety protocols including wearing a mask at all times. We have equipped our fleet with high standard hygiene kits in partnership with Lifebuoy; including hand sanitisers and disinfectant wipes.

Enhancing “Intercity” Rides between Dubai and Abu Dhabi

Travelling to the capital hasn’t been as easy as before the outbreak due to the recent safety measures put in place. To help simplify the lives of our customers, Careem has launched a new “City to City” service flow in UAE that allows customers to request a Careem ride to pick them up from their doorstep to any location in Abu Dhabi or vice versa, all they need to do is obtain a negative Covid-19 test, not exceeding 48 hours, and we will take care of their travel and in-ride safety needs.

Automated Quality Monitoring

In line with our commitment to safety-first approach, we created an automated algorithm that evaluates captain performance and behaviour, processing more than a million data points daily, including customer feedback, and other trip-level data. Data-driven, automated actions are taken on a daily level, allowing us to offer better quality service through constant captains’ education and strict actions against serious or repeat offenders.

Captain Self-Certification and Cleanliness

Our captains are trained to follow high standards of safety. Before going online they confirm that they are wearing a mask, are in good health, have disinfected their car/delivery vehicles prior to starting work and have cleaning supplies. We’ve instructed our captains to keep the car ventilated prior to trip start. This will help circulate fresh clean air into the car.

– In-App messaging

After a captain has received a trip, they are automatically reminded once more to wear their mask, sanitise their hands and clean the vehicle before proceeding to the customer’s location

– Flexible cancellations

We are allowing our customers to cancel a ride if the captain is not wearing a mask, without any cancellation penalties.

– Cashless and contact-free payments

We are encouraging customers to add credit/debit cards so that they can enjoy a cashless experience. Additionally, we are also encouraging customers and captains to avoid all physical contact during the ride. Alternatively, customers can benefit from Careem’s pay service allowing them to top up their wallets and use the available amounts towards their rides.

We anticipate that most of our customers in UAE and across the region will adapt to cashless payments post the pandemic as their preferred method of payment versus cash payments which was the norm before the outbreak.

How have customers/employees responded to the initiatives undertaken by the company?
We have seen a healthy recovery in our ride-hailing vertical since the time of the Covid crisis, this is a clear indicator of the public acceptance of our safety measures which in turn translates as their trust in us. It is also an indicator that the public prefers using Careem rides compared to other public transportation options after the pandemic.

Is the worst over yet?
After the tough patch in the early Covid days, we can confidently say that we are here for the long term. We had to make bold decisions to be self-sufficient by year end and protect our captains through creating additional work opportunities (B2B deliveries and B2C deliveries).

Our foundation is stronger to tackle the next big challenge and we will continue to learn and understand our customer’s needs daily as part of our mission, simplifying the lives of people in the region.

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