The time: the future
The scene: the Wastelands.
Two vagrants huddle round a slowly dying fire. There’s a super-highway in the far distance, sleek cars heading to an even-sleeker city.
Tom: Is that all we’ve got?
Dave: (holding up a rat) All we caught in the trap
Tom: Guess that’s it then
(Tom drives a skewer through the rat. He holds it over the fire. But the fire will go out long before the rat cooks properly…)
Dave: My anniversary today. Three years.
Tom: Yeah? Must be closer to four for me
Dave: What did you do?
Tom: Sent some food back in a restaurant. Chicken wasn’t cooked. But they still gave me one star. Took my rating down below four. You?
Dave: TAB Conference. Too many beers. Threw up in an Uber. Letter arrived two days later. Can still see the words…
Tom: Me too. ‘Your behaviour has fallen below the rating required to continue in society. You have a week to put your affairs in order…
Tom and Dave together: …You will be escorted to the city gates.’
If you have never used Uber, it’s simple. You download the app, and use it to call a cab (more correctly, a private hire vehicle). The app tells you the name of your driver, the type of car he is driving, the registration number and when it will arrive. A map shows you exactly where your cab is.
As many of you know, we had a family holiday in California this summer – a state that is about as far from the Wastelands as it is possible to get. But it is the state where Uber was founded less than ten years ago – and where Uber leads, society may one day follow…
You don’t pay the driver – Uber drivers do not accept cash – and the money is taken direct from your bank account. And then, when the ride is finished, you rate the driver and – crucially – the driver rates you as a passenger.
Phew. I’m rated at 5 stars by Uber and yes, I do what I can to protect that rating. As more than one driver said to us in California, “If someone’s rated below 4.5 most of the guys I know won’t pick them up.”
It used to be said that ‘the customer is always right.’ Well, as businesses start to rate their customers that old maxim is disappearing out of the window.
I am giving no secrets away when I say we do that at TAB. We want the product we deliver to be the best it possibly can be – and it is a product that depends on mutual trust and co-operation. It also depends on a mutual contribution: if someone consistently fails to prepare for meetings, then they lessen the value and experience of the meetings for the other participants. If the 7thmember of a TAB board is not preparing properly, we owe it to the other six members of that board to take some action – and we do.
What we don’t have, of course, is an app that rates TAB members. I can just hear our Uber driver, ‘If a couple of Board members are rated below 4.5 most of the guys I know won’t join that Board…’
But I believe that where Uber leads other businesses willfollow: that the idea of businesses rating customers will become commonplace.
As my boys get older, I become increasingly fascinated by the developments that will shape their future. They will shop almost exclusively online: they will use Uber – and I think they will be entirely comfortable with the idea of rating a service and being rated as a consumer.
At this stage in a post I usually have a sentence along the lines of ‘so what lessons can we draw for our businesses?’ For once, I’m not sure: maybe it’s a topic for a few boards to consider…
But I am absolutely certain that ‘ratings’ will play an ever increasing role in all our futures. We may be a few years away from Tom and Dave being consigned to the Wastelands, but the penalties of a ‘low social rating’ may be closer than you think.
And before you say it is a big leap from getting a low rating on Uber to being thrown out of society: that I’m painting a dystopian vision of the future that is never going to happen – or that I’ve written this on a Friday night after one Shiraz too many – consider this.
China has already introduced a social rating system, and people are already being penalised. People’s routine behaviour is being rated and scored and the data is being accumulated and used.
A high score can lead to perks – lower energy bills, a better rate of interest on your savings – while a low score can see penalties imposed. Your children might not qualify for certain schools, or you might be denied rail or air travel within the country.
That, I think, is sinister and Orwellian in equal measure: but once the tech exists, it is almost always used. So you, and your business, need to be aware of the developments.
Uber came along and ‘disrupted’ the taxi business – and I, for one, am delighted that it did. Similarly Amazon has ‘disrupted’ our high streets. But link Amazon’s tracking with Uber’s popularisation of ratings and there are implications for all our futures.
A Brave New World indeed…