“BlaBlaCar should suggest the price of sharing a journey so that a driver’s listed price is justified!”
“Text messages should be sent!”
“Profile pictures should be added so I can see who I’m travelling with!”
The suggestions kept flowing as Fred Mazzella hurriedly took out his laptop and started typing everything down as he sat in the front passenger seat. It was early 2008 and Fred was travelling back to Paris after a business trip had taken him to the suburbs of Lyon. He was sharing the journey with Philippe, a member who used BlaBlaCar frequently as a driver. During the five hour drive, they discussed everything from music tastes to travel adventures, but the one topic which took center stage was BlaBlaCar itself. At the time, the platform worked like a classified page with drivers listing their journey and sharing their mobile number. There were no profile pictures, no price algorithm suggestions, and no online booking system in place. As a result, it was difficult to make an informed decision about whom to travel with.
To combat this, Philippe had in fact developed his own strategy to work out the reliable passengers. Whenever an interested passenger would get in touch over the phone, his go-to question would be “What’s your reason for going on this trip?” If it was for a friend’s wedding, there would be a degree of certainty that the passenger would show up. If it was to bring dirty laundry back to their parents, there would be less certainty. He would write their answers on a post-it as well as estimate the probability of them showing up, and would subsequently end up with a stack of post-its of what he deemed as the most dependable passengers. Fred was speechless. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that this man was not alone. Other people were creating blacklists – saving unreliable people as no-shows in their mobile phone – so as to screen their calls next time around. A scalable solution was needed to bring trust and reliability to the platform. The timing couldn’t have been better. Francis, who had worked nights and weekends coding the beginnings of the platform since 2006, had just joined BlaBlaCar full-time and was working hard to lay down a foundation for the future. Together, they implemented most of the suggestions.
In fact, this journey became one of the most memorable rides to date and truly cemented the idea that “The Member is the Boss”. As one of today’s core values at BlaBlaCar, it ensures that everything that’s built internally must be focused on the user experience and be centered around the value which it brings to members.
Members at the forefront
Providing the best experience to members is fundamental. From the moment they hear about BlaBlaCar to the moment they use the service, the member is always at the forefront of the team’s mind. Infact, nobody is ever considered to simply be a user of the platform. Instead, everyone is seen as an individual member of a broader community of peers that help each other out and BlaBlaCar is the enabler that brings everyone together.
At the heart of BlaBlaCar sits the Member Relations Team. With over 130 employees speaking twenty languages, the team continuously support members in their use of the service across three continents. Put simply, their mission is to make members happy. They reply to 100% of member’s questions, moderate all content published on the platform to make sure it complies with the guidelines, validate the authenticity of new members by checking photos, mobile numbers and email addresses, and continuously gather members’ feedback and suggestions to forward to product and tech teams.
But members of the BlaBlaCar community help out other members too. Why? Because nobody knows the platform better than regulars! BlaBlaHelp, an online service run by BlaBlaCar’s ambassadors, allows new members to ask questions via a live chat to which another proficient member – the “helper” – typically replies with their advice and aids them through the process. The efficiency of this online help is remarkable: 95% of the requests receive an answer within 10 seconds. This voluntary peer-to-peer help chat shows just how committed to their community BlaBlaCar members are.
Feedback is a gift
Listening to members has proven to be the simplest yet best recipe for building today’s platform. In the early days, Fred would save hundreds of numbers in his phonebook and call up new members every week to talk about their experience. He would ask them about what works, what doesn’t and would try to delve into their frustrations and investigate any worries they had with the system before Francis took the ideas and implemented them as technical solutions.
Today, there are many feedback channels in place to capture members’ valuable feedback and suggestions. One of which is called Member Voice. Likened to an attorney, it’s a team inside BlaBlaCar who support what members want and need. Acting as a bridge between the Member Relations Team and the Product team, all members’ feedback are collected, synced to a database and then conveyed to the appropriate team who implement the changes. Additionally, the collated feedback can also be easily diffused to all relevant teams across BlaBlaCar. As a result they can re-prioritize the needs and adapt their roadmap. In the past, several members expressed their views of feeling uncomfortable when there were 3 passengers in the back seat, especially in smaller cars. As a result, the team listened and implemented a new feature of “max 2 in the back seats” whereby drivers can guarantee the comfort of their rides on BlaBlaCar and passengers can decide on which ride suits them best based on the level of comfort offered.
Getting member’s real and honest input through user testing is another important technique at BlaBlaCar. Members with varying age and experience levels are regularly invited to the office to test new designs, ideas, prototypes, product features and marketing campaigns before roll out. With teams often being too close to their own projects, there’s a huge benefit in simply stepping back and observing real members trying something for the first time. To avoid any bias, user testing often takes the form of a one-to-one meeting between a member and a BlaBlaCar employee acting as the facilitator. Additionally, there’s an observation room in which designers, developers and product managers sit to witness the live stream. As a result, everyone becomes more emotionally invested in what’s being tested, product improvements and iterations are accelerated, and better decisions are made overall. Feedback can be anything from a process not being intuitive to the wording of a product feature being unclear to something radical which changes everything.
Staying in touch with members of the community also means continuing to be an avid user of the product. In 2008, Fred and Francis would carpool constantly in the hope of discovering new ideas to innovate and grow the product, as they continue to do so today. With Francis as driver and Fred as passenger, it really helped them in shaping the product over the years. They were two members on both sides who knew the problems for each one and fixed them together. Fast forward to today, and all 550 employees remain active members of the community. As you may have discovered in the article “Think It, Build It, Use It”, BlaBlaCar employees can ride for free as long as they provide feedback or suggestions for improvements.
Inside BlaBlaCar’s community
Carpooling is a social experience and all about human connection. It gives individuals the opportunity to meet new people and the time to really get to know each other from spending several hours in the car with them. What BlaBlaCar quickly discovered from the onset is that the richness of the experience also comes from the diversity of its community. From musicians and teachers to scuba divers and world travellers, everyone has a story to tell.
Moreover, BlaBlaCar realized that to be a true community, regular occasions for members to meet were needed. Although the Silicon Valley-esque meetup culture was previously quite a foreign concept in Europe, the team introduced BlaBlaTimes, where members meet each other, share stories, have a great time together and provide feedback on the product to BlaBlaCar team members in attendance. Today, a bigger BlaBlaTour exists in which a series of gatherings take place all over the world for members to connect. During the summer of 2016, the tour covered 90 cities across 17 countries. And in Paris, BlaBlaCar hosts its very own BlaBlaDay, an annual event where talented members take to the stage and perform; artists from the community exhibit and sell their wares; and thousands of visitors join in many fun games and events.
The four elements of a thriving community
Today, BlaBlaCar is proud to count over 35 million members in its community. Getting there, however, hasn’t been a walk in the park. Over time the team has realized that there are four elements which are fundamental in building a community: Values, People, Events and Stories. At BlaBlaCar, it’s often the case that members see themselves as part of a bigger movement, and don’t feel like strangers amongst each other. They share strong values that encompass sharing, open-mindedness, solidarity and conviviality. When it comes to the people, BlaBlaCar has its very own BlaBlaStars, whereby talented members’ portraits are broadcast to the entire community through videos and social media. These members hero what BlaBlaCar is all about and create common ground for the community. Moreover, events are in place for people of the community to meet and connect with each other. As mentioned, BlaBlaCar hosts regular meet-ups and are also present at festivals around the world. Finally and just as important, there’s the stories which encapsulate how BlaBlaCar are building the journey together with its members. Only when these elements exist in unison can a functional community of millions of people exist.
Everything done at BlaBlaCar aims to make a member’s experience more seamless and enjoyable. Behind the scenes, the teams are actively listening to members’ invaluable feedback everyday through numerous different channels and they continuously strive to improve the product. Truth be told, members are the reason of BlaBlaCar’s existence. When you take a step back, your realize that a passenger is not a passenger until they find a driver. And a driver is not a ridesharer until they find a passenger. This means there is no BlaBlaCar until they’ve actually met. BlaBlaCar members make up the world’s largest people-powered travel network, and that’s why they’ll always be the boss!