Uber and Grab use ‘ambassadors’ to woo drivers

Some will describe the use of "ambassadors" here by Uber and Grab to woo rival drivers as poaching, but Associate Professor in business law Dennis Ong says this is not so.
Some will describe the use of "ambassadors" here by Uber and Grab to woo rival drivers as poaching, but Associate Professor in business law Dennis Ong says this is not so.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - Armed with just his mobile phone, Sam (not his real name) takes Uber rides from 10am to 7pm from Monday to Friday and earns $8.50 an hour for doing so.

His job: To persuade Uber drivers to sign up with Grab. Sam, who is in his early 20s, is among more than 30 "Grab ambassadors" who jump in and out of Uber cars seeking to raise the number of new driver sign-ups for the rival company.

He said Grab offers a sign-on bonus of at least $100 for those who ink a contract on the spot.

"It also saves them the trouble of going down to the Grab office to sign up as a driver," he added.

The New Paper understands that Uber employs a similar tactic here.

 

With fierce competition for drivers, the two ride-hailing companies use "ambassadors" in a bid to grow their respective pools.

In the United States, the strategy is different. Rival ride-hailing service Lyft had accused Uber of booking and cancelling rides in 2014 to obtain drivers' numbers.

Grab declined to comment when contacted, and Uber did not reply by press time. But drivers from both companies confirmed with TNP that they have been approached by "ambassadors" to sign up with the other side.

One Grab driver, who wanted to be known only as Mr Chia, said he had been approached this year by at least five Uber ambassadors. The 58-year-old did not sign up because he felt he could earn more with Grab.

Mr Steve Ng, another Grab driver, said Uber ambassadors had hopped into his vehicle several times this year. The 60-year-old gave them his mobile number, but he has never signed up.

TNP understands that Grab ambassadors work with "controllers" who operate from the company's main office in Sin Ming.

Controllers book rides for the ambassadors through the Uber app and tabulate their total fares for the day. Each takes charge of five to six ambassadors.

Besides their name, identity card number, mobile phone number and e-mail, ambassadors also ask drivers for their driving licence to fill up the online form accessible via mobile phones.

TNP understands that Grab ambassadors are given a target of 10 successful sign-ups a week. Every successful sign-up after that earns them an additional $10.

Sam, who usually starts his day with rides from home, said he can choose any destination with a fare cap of $10 per ride.

Once he decides on a destination, he tells the controller, who then makes the booking. Sam pays in cash first, with the company reimbursing him later. He earns around $1,500 a month as an ambassador.

While some might be uncomfortable with the tactic, he said many drivers are receptive, and a number have signed up on the spot.

He said: "The registration is fast and they don't lose any money, so why not?" But it is not always an easy ride for the ambassadors.

Sam once angered a driver, who dropped him off at his destination in a huff.

But he is undeterred. "I do meet all sorts of people, so it is still a pretty interesting job," he said.