Stuck on the road without a 4G connection and trying to book a taxi is a frustrating experience most of us would have faced one time or other. Uber hopes to change that soon.

In a global first, Uber India is piloting a call centre for riders to book a cab by just calling its helpdesk. While it may not sound like much, staying away from a call centre-based booking system helped Uber curtail its costs and grow rapidly globally.

Uber does have a call centre for drivers and even for emergency situations where a rider gets a call back if they press the SOS button on the app, but that’s not enough for those who struggle to navigate apps and, thus, skip online cab bookings altogether.

“We are trying to play on accessibility and allow people to use local languages to maybe send an SMS or a call to book a ride as opposed to just using the app. It is not just the local language access but it also allows access to older people who are not comfortable navigating apps,” Vidhya Duthaluru, Director, Engineering, who leads Uber’s Customer Obsession team in India, told BusinessLine .

Ola started with a call centre number to book cabs but shut the facility when Uber entered India and Ola was forced to look at ways to expand rapidly by focussing on efficiency of operations rather than maintaining a call centre. However, the company reserved the move to expand its reach. Uber is finally taking cues from its rival to expand its own reach in the Indian market.

Uber’s Customer Obsession team is tasked with providing an end-to-end customer engagement platform across all products and is responsible for improving user experience for millions of customers through data-driven, ML-supported solutions.

To compete better with its arch rival Ola, Uber is looking at various ways to expand its user base. The ride hailing app has set up its Customer Obsession team in India, which is expected to double in size by the end of the year. Overall, Uber’s engineering division has over 500 employees based in Hyderabad and Bengaluru technology centres and is likely to grow by at least 50 per cent by the end of the year, Duthaluru said.

Uber is also testing the calling and SMS facility to book a cab in multiple Indian languages.

“We are looking at the sections of society we’ve excluded so far and how we can bring them in” Duthaluru said.

But before you delete your Uber app, the call-to-book a cab feature would be available only to a select number of users. Uber wants to ensure that while it allows certain sections access to its network through calls and SMS, its cost to maintain call centres doesn’t go through the roof.

Proactive customer service

Duthaluru’s mandate is also to make sure that customer support is more seamless than what it has been so far. Her team is also looking at creating new access channels for resolve customer issues —be it live chat, call, or even artificial intelligence-driven automated resolution. Uber’s use of AI could soon help you get a refund of a ride where you were overcharged or where the driver took a longer route — before you even raise the issue with Uber.

“We are looking at moving to a proactive intervention. We’ll actively look at a bunch of events that happened during the trip so that before a rider contacts us, or if the driver takes an unusual route, we’ll contact the customers proactively to check the problem,” said Duthaluru.

A lot of customers today contact Uber for fare review related requests. Those are some of the things that Uber will be proactively reach out to the customer. Based on some calculations, Uber will be able to issue a credit if it notices the rider was charged more than they were supposed to.

An AI engine will automatically assess if a refund can be generated without the need for human intervention. “If your ride gets cancelled multiple times, we might be able to upgrade you to a higher category of cabs,” she said.