The gig worker guide to customer service

The gig worker guide to customer service

Had you seen yourself as a gig worker, being self-employed in the service industry five years, three years, or even one year ago? Did you even realize you were joining the service industry when you took on this gig thing? And when you DID join the gig workforce, how much training and guidance did you receive about being successful in the service industry before your first customer appeared on your gig app's screen? 

From what I’ve seen and experienced, very few of us envisioned doing what we are now doing for extra, or even primary, income. And even fewer of us realized ahead of time just how much of a service business we had entered... Until the day arrived when, after providing our first few dozen rides or deliveries, our gig “boss” (through their app) rated us poorly for a ride or delivery we had thought was well done.

Like it or not, you’ve placed yourself directly in the line of fire for people to complain about the way you handled their ride or their food delivery.  

Depending on the particular platform(s) you’re working with, it’s possible that 50% or more of your income is derived from tips. Yet, tips are optional, and they are based on your customer’s perception of the value you brought to the transaction which contributed to them having a “5-star” experience. With that much of your income riding on tips, you’d think training on the one thing you can control to increase your tips - your behavior and manners - would be easy to come by and almost mandatory.

However, after cursorily ogling the results of an internet search, I found it was devoid of any results of etiquette training for gig workers.

With that in mind, please allow me to share some thoughts about “Gig Etiquette” which I hope will lead to increased tips (pronounced “income”) and work security for you.  

In the 2½ years I’ve spent as a full-time gig worker (meaning, it’s my sole source of active income), I’ve given over 2,000 rides maintaining an average rating of 4.95, and completed over 6,000 deliveries with a mid-90s satisfaction percentage. During that time, I’ve not had a single dispute with a customer/passenger, nor a threat of being deactivated by a platform. Only once have I had a “non-delivery” complaint (food not delivered) and that turned out to be an attempt to scam the platform and me out of a free dinner.

Etiquette suggestions for people haulers (i.e. giving people rides)

“My car is your car.”  Whaaaaat?  Have I lost my senses?  No, not in any way at all. My attitude when ferrying folks to and fro is that they have rented my car (and me as a driver) for the duration of the trip. As such, they are free to do whatever they want within my car as long as it’s not illegal, not dangerous to anyone inside or outside the car, nor damaging to body or property.  

"You want to rock out to your fave jams loud enough to seat dance to? Or, is the Boston Philharmonic your thing?"

Please, connect to my car system over bluetooth and enjoy yourself.  (Just make sure I can still hear outside noises to react to - you know, that pesky safety thing.) Need a charge for your phone? I’ll offer you one of 4 different charger connections. You want to sleep? Fine, just let me know how you want to be woken up at your destination.

Time and time again, I’ve seen YouTube videos or Reddit posts about a driver that, for whatever reason, got all territorial and offended by their passenger’s actions and wound up with a tense situation or, worse, an altercation because the passenger/customer didn’t care for the driver’s choice of music. I guarantee that there won’t be any generous tips given if that’s the case.

“Do you prefer conversation or are you looking for some time to yourself?” 

Again, this is “their” car for the duration of the ride. I’m happy to tell them about my town, my past, react to their stories about their day or the people they’ve met, or share the world news. (Read your newsfeed on your phone so you have enough of an idea of what’s happening in the world and your city to be able to at least acknowledge it.) Or, I’m just as happy to zip it and not say a word. 

Most importantly, though, the inside of your car is not the place to espouse your beliefs on civil liberties, religious doctrine, or even which is the best football team. It’s your customer’s “zone” for the duration of their ride.  

“Let me get that door/package for you.” 

While I generally don’t get out of the car for them, I can reach either rear door to open it for the rider as I pull up. If their hands are full, it’s a helpful, caring gesture that carries a lot of weight. If they’re coming from a shopping outing, hop out of the car if you’re able to and offer a little help getting packages and bags into the car or trunk. It will pay dividends when it comes to tip time. And do it for EVERYONE, regardless of age, gender, physical condition, or apparent nationality/ethnicity.   

“Sure, we can stop at Circle K for that gallon of milk you need.” 

Put yourself in their shoes. Have you never needed to grab something on the way home from work? If you didn’t have a car, how hard would that be to get done? (“Bus driver, can you please pull over for just a second?”) There’s a reason they called YOU, and not a cab nor a bus.

The key to avoiding issues, though, is to lay out the expectations up front. “I can wait xx minutes for you (whatever amount of time you’re comfortable with) and after that I have to leave because I have other riders waiting for me. I’m sure you understand, right?  Oh, and you better take your backpack with you just in case.” “I’d love to take all 8 of you with me, but besides it being wildly uncomfortable, I could get fined or lose my license, and you wouldn’t want to live with that on your shoulders, right?”  

You can say anything, if you say it the right way. It’s about you, not them, when you have to say no, and you are the “heavy.”  When you take the blame, or own the reason, or otherwise just don’t make them feel bad, you are the hero and they will recognize that. Suddenly, the tension and emotions are gone. Peace is restored.

Etiquette suggestions for object haulers (i.e. giving packages or food rides)

Your impact on the customer’s experience with a delivery service (be it groceries, prescriptions, or a meal) starts when you walk into the provider’s business (grocery store, restaurant, warehouse, whathaveyou). Let’s look at the likely scenarios you may encounter, and how I deal with them:

“We’re out of (insert product-or-dish-or-beverage-they-ran-out-of here)". You need to call the customer and ask what they want to do about it.” 

Well, we don’t have to do anything at all - we’re independent contractors and that’s not in our role.  We could go on and on telling the provider about how it’s not our responsibility and so forth, which will only serve to irritate them and cause further delay.   

On the other hand, you could just text/call the customer to explain the situation and get their desired action and be done with it. Or, if the alternate choice is obvious, just make it on behalf of the customer. You win by getting out of there faster, and by impressing the customer with your concern for their experience - both of which are reflected positively in their tip.

 “Here’s a cup for their soda - go ahead and fill it.”

Yes, some restaurants expect the drivers to fill the customer’s drinks because that’s normally what the customer would do if he/she were there. 

I’ve seen Reddit posts go on ad nauseum over this topic - should I or shouldn’t I?  Most driver comments I’ve read seem to indicate they don’t do it and push it back on the restaurant. Yay for them - they made their point!!!  I, on the other hand, just do it. I’d spend more time arguing with the restaurant employee than it would take to do the task. The next time those drivers are in a rush and looking for their customer’s order to be handed to them ASAP, and I’m in there hoping for the same thing, guess who is going to be serviced fastest and first?

Believe it or not, you’re building relationships with these providers and unless you’re only doing this gig thing for a couple of weeks, their memories of their interactions with you are going to hurt or help you over time.

Now, you’ve left the provider with your goods in tow, intent on delivering them as fast as possible so you can get on to the next one. But before you go, take a moment to review the delivery instructions. Sometimes, that’s the place where you’ll find the customer’s request for plates/utensils/extra hot sauce/etc. If you catch that request before you’ve left the provider’s location, you can still handle it and score points with your customer. 

Do you take a minute before you drive off to send the customer a text with your ETA, along with a comment to assure them you’ve read their delivery instructions? Communication about the status of the delivery - whether it confirms you’re on time or if you’ve been delayed and why - means a lot to the customer.  

Oftentimes, the app only gives them a time range during which you’ll arrive. If you can pinpoint it down to the minute or two, they can be ready and less stressed from wondering when you’ll show up. Plus, you give them a chance to reward you for your punctuality.  

Often, your customer will prefer a no-contact delivery but they forgot to request it in the app. A quick text from you before you arrive, telling them how you will be handling the delivery, is very helpful.  If they want to change it from what the order indicates, they can easily do so at that time. Again, it shows your concern for their satisfaction, health, and safety.

After your safe and always-accurate GPS-guided drive to their location, you pull up and beep the horn or text them to let them know that you’ve arrived, and you wait patiently for them to come out for their goods, right? I was aghast to learn from some customers that that is what they have experienced with their delivery request.

If you’re looking for tips, that is precisely the wrong thing to do. Regardless of how late or how hurried I am, or how bad the weather is, I always deliver to their doorstep or wherever they have requested me to leave it. And please, please, PLEASE take a moment to check the address and their instructions about no knocking or ringing the doorbell. I have frequently found that Google Maps sometimes alters the address from what was passed to it by the app, and it directed me to the house next door in error.      

Here are a few final thoughts about deliveries of both people and products that have made a difference for me:

  • Be pleasant and wear a smile when you see the provider and your customer, even if you’re having a rotten day. They don’t need to know, they don’t care, and it won’t make them want to tip you more.
  • You can store your standard text messages in the dictionary of your phone’s keyboard app so you can quickly insert them into a text and send them to your customer. I have created messages for when I’m waiting at the provider’s location, for when I’ve left the provider and what my ETA will be, and for what to expect when I get there for both a standard and a no-contact delivery. I also have them for a post-delivery “thank you for the tip.”  Which leads me to….
  • Say THANK YOU for the tip they give you, whether it’s $1 or $50. Anything greater than $0 deserves recognition. I send a “Thank you” text after I leave every time I get a tip. You’ll make a difference and be a stand-out when you do. You’ll be surprised how many times your customer will then text you to say they’ve never been thanked for a tip. By doing so, you’re putting forth a good face for yourself and for the delivery business, even if you never see them again. Remember the old adage that “a rising tide floats all ships.”  
  • One final tip, and maybe the one that’s the hardest to perform when it’s a hot summer day in the privacy of your car: Wear a shirt with a collar! This can and should be done by everyone who delivers, especially food/meal deliverers. Put yourself on the receiving end of one of your deliveries and ask yourself how you’d feel about it, if you delivered to yourself.  

It doesn’t take a lot to make a difference, and the small differences can lead to unexpected and abnormally large tips as a result.

Happy Trails!

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