The weather forecast calls for rain and snow in the Big Apple on Wednesday, which means Herta Kriegner will be inundated with calls from people looking to book an Uber ride — or to complain about Uber’s service.
“On days when it rains, it’s worse. I think tomorrow will be a really bad day. The phones will ring off the hook,” said Kriegner, 47. Only Kriegner doesn’t work for Uber Technologies, the $17 billion taxi-hail app company that wants to take over the taxi industry.
Kriegner is president and founder of Uber Inc., a Midtown Manhattan graphic design company that registered its name in January 1999 — a good 10 years before Travis Kalanick, CEO of the taxi technology company, came up with his name.
But Kalanick’s use of the same name — as well as his company’s decision not to have a phone-based customer service center — is making Kriegner’s life a living hell.
Since August, when a totally fed-up Kriegner and her sister, Elena, started keeping a detailed log, the small design firm has gotten nearly 500 calls intended for Kalanick’s Uber.
Some of the calls are from riders asking about items — like furs or smartphones — left in Uber cars. Other calls are from Uber drivers looking for their paychecks. Kriegner politely tells callers to go to Uber Technologies’ website — but that usually just makes them angrier. The taxi-hail app has a customer service number, but it leads to a recording rather than a person. And calls to 411 for Uber led to Kriegner’s firm. Kriegner and her sister sometimes end up with an earful of sob stories or threats to sue, the graphic designer said.
Recently, Kriegner was subpoenaed to appear before a state Workers Compensation Board judge after an Uber driver sued her company’s insurance fund for compensation for a job-related injury. She was forced to spend two days on the matter — including attending a hearing at her own expense.
Kriegner said she wants to tell Kalanick “to pick up our phone and listen to what people have to say. Listen to your customers and your drivers.”
Kriegner said she only got Uber’s attention once, after she and her sister — out of frustration — started giving absurd replies to callers. “Sorry, it’s raining today, we don’t want to get our cars wet,” they told one caller looking for a ride.
That — finally — got the attention of Uber Technologies. Its NYC community manager, Ed Casabian, called shortly thereafter to find out what was going on. Casabian promised to remove Uber Inc.’s phone number from Yelp. The number was removed — but it didn’t stop the problem, she said. A short time later, Kriegner ran into Casabian and a second Uber executive at a trade show and reminded them of her phone call nightmare. Casabian’s colleague — whose name Kriegner has forgotten — suggested she change her company’s name.
Kriegner, whose firm has done print design work for Lenox Hill Hospital, Playboy and the United Nations, said she refuses to give up the name she has spent 15 years building just because Kalanick’s Uber is bigger.
Kriegner has considered suing Uber Technologies, but she is afraid of it getting ugly, especially after reading about controversial plans by an executive to dig up dirt on journalists who write critically about the company.
“If they can dig up dirt on journalists, what’s going to happen to me? I get run over by an Uber car one day?”