Crowd-sourcing jobs

Amazon is considering adopting the Uber model, by signing up local workers to deliver packages they volunteer for via smartphone.


Cass said...

Sounds like a recipe for service degradation and unhappy clients who don't blame Uber, but Amazon (that's who they purchased from, after all). But that's just me :p

People keep thinking that no one needs to direct human activity: to ensure consistent quality standards are established in the first place and then adhered to.

That strikes me as so wildly naïve that I'm not sure what to say about it. The company I work for has very much the same mindset: completely untrained monkeys picked up from the local zoo... err... talented amateurs, operating with no management oversight or direction, should be expected to produce the same results one would get with a carefully thought out system and trained workers who can easily be held accountable.

Unexpectedly (!), it hasn't quite worked out that way so far :p

Quality control: who needs it???


Texan99 said...

That's interesting--why do you think service would degrade? It might just mean faster delivery. Uber service seems pretty good.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I'm looking for a part-time retirement job starting in a year or two. This seems ideal. Not much money, but a reason to get up and be useful.

I think I read that Waffle House, of all companies, has already started this.

As to degradation of service, Uber is replacing cab drivers in big cities. Are they worse? Didn't that service degrade of its own accord?

Grim said...

Cass' point perhaps applies more to skilled labor. I worked for a contractor that provided high-level support to DoD programs at one point; on the contract re-bid, the lowest bidder replaced the MAs and PhDs with a bunch of high school graduates who would follow orders. The quality of the product collapsed, because the quality of the people producing what was really a pretty serious intellectual effort collapsed.

In the effort Cass is talking about, corporate structure and discipline replace individual expertise. The effect, though, is to produce people who can perform in skilled tasks.

Amazon may think it can replace discipline with the profit motive. That may be right, if all it needs is people who will reliably show up and drive across town.

raven said...

Sounds to me like a lot of high value packages would go missing.

Cass said...

Sorry Tex - got busy at work yesterday and today is another busy one.

I don't agree this applies more to skilled labor at all. Will come back and write more when I can, but I worked at unskilled jobs for years before I went back to school and have supervised both skilled and unskilled workers.

Before that, I put in many years managing volunteers for various charities and civic orgs. What a nightmare that was!

So far, the easiest folks to manage have been skilled workers. Generally, they've been more invested in their jobs and have displayed more pride in their work. They're easier to motivate.

Managing unskilled workers was tough. Very few were self-motivated, and in low wage, highly interchangeable jobs, it's a hard sell to convince people to exert themselves any more than the bare minimum required. I was fairly liberal when young, and this is an area where real life experience was a major force in exposing the flaws of progressivism (for me at least).

All my dewy-eyed assumptions that people are all alike and have the same motivations and values were pretty quickly overcome by reality. Incentives play a part, and so does selection bias (skilled workers are not a random sample of the population; neither are unskilled workers).

How much incentive do random people who volunteer to deliver packages for money have to deliver excellent (or good, or even reliable) service? Are there any real penalties for NOT doing so?

In a nutshell, that's what makes me dubious that this will succeed. OK, now you can call me a grouchy naysayer who posts smiley faces at the end of her comments :)

Texan99 said...

You were replying to Grim, yes?

Grim said...

Maybe she was.

I'm just thinking that -- in an unskilled task -- an adequate wage will substitute for corporate discipline in providing an incentive to do the job, as well as a potential loss as punishment if the job is not done to spec. Skilled workers may need less discipline, but discipline and incentives are somewhat interchangeable. Indeed, I think incentives generally work better than discipline, though there are some persons for whom only discipline will work (and others for whom nothing will work).

Cass said...

You were replying to Grim, yes?

I meant to reply (albeit sloppily) to both of you but was rushed. Sorry for the confusion.

I wanted to reply to your comment here: (Tex)

That's interesting--why do you think service would degrade? It might just mean faster delivery. Uber service seems pretty good.

I think service would degrade because good service doesn't happen automatically. The few articles I've read about Uber (quite possibly very different sources from what you've read) have contained numerous complaints about lack of promptness, taking other fares without bothering to let the customer know, etc. To sum up what I've read, it's basically: don't use Uber if you need to be somewhere on time.

I thought Grim's comment about my observations applying more to replacing skilled with unskilled labor fit right into that theme: when people aren't getting paid a lot, don't perform a task professionally or think of the work as at least "their job", but even better, "their career", they're not as invested.

My biggest single disappointment in managing people has been that I went in as a young woman really believing that most people would naturally take pride in doing a good job.

That really has NOT been my experience, whether we're talking about unskilled labor, volunteer work, or even white collar/skilled labor. It has been most true, though, of skilled labor jobs.

I'm guessing that if someone spends years acquiring a skill, they have self-selected, and also as a consequence value and take pride in their skill (they see it as a personal reflection upon them, rather than having the attitude of, "Hey, I'm only getting paid X bucks an hour, so I'm not doing any more than I have to."

I actually had young people tell me that doing too good a job makes you some kind of chump. How anyone gets ahead with that mindset is a mystery to me. I don't work hard for my boss.

I work hard for the pleasure of knowing I did a good job. It's essentially a fairly selfish motive. Not sure what selfish motive would motivate large numbers of people who volunteer to deliver packages in their spare time to deliver good service.

Sure, some will. But (and I can only speak to my own experience here - YMMV) what I've seen in life leads me to expect most, won't. Especially in today's culture of inflated self esteem and not judging mediocrity harshly.

Cass said...

Think about delivery in cities, for instance. Where/how you leave a package matters.

Leave it in the open or in the hot sun vs. shade? Drop it at the curb because walking to the door is too hard? Leave it out in the rain instead of putting a plastic bag around it or finding a sheltered spot?

It's surprising, but a lot of people have to actually be taught to think about those things. Sure, you wouldn't. But would you volunteer to deliver packages?

Full disclosure: my first 10 years or so of working were all customer-service related stuff. Being courteous, diligent, and prompt were natural to me b/c my Mom and Dad taught me well. They trained me. Lord knows, left to myself I'd have been even more of a bonehead than I already am :p

Most folks I worked with back then weren't raised that way.

Cass said...

I'm just thinking that -- in an unskilled task -- an adequate wage will substitute for corporate discipline in providing an incentive to do the job, as well as a potential loss as punishment if the job is not done to spec.

You may be right, Grim. Especially in a tough economy. But that sure wasn't my experience. I remember being so thrilled to be hired when I started working, but a lot of my co-workers hated their jobs and seemed to have a sort of, "Take this job and shove it" attitude. Generally there were one or two good workers, and the rest weren't terribly professional.

Skilled workers may need less discipline, but discipline and incentives are somewhat interchangeable.

I think if the alternative were starving, that would definitely be true: you'd offer excellent service because losing your job would be catastrophic. But I'm having trouble seeing part-time delivery jobs that way.

Indeed, I think incentives generally work better than discipline, though there are some persons for whom only discipline will work (and others for whom nothing will work).

Agreed. That's how I try to manage (in fact, one of my biggest weaknesses is that I hate being negative and prefer encouraging good performance to holding people accountable for poor performance).

Texan99 said...

My experience with traditional cab companies has been pretty awful. I've had better luck with cabs I hailed on the street. My main problem has been in cities that don't allow hailing on the street, or where there are too few cabs to be able to count on being able to hail them. You call, the dispatcher claims some guy is on the way, but sometimes 45 minutes later you're still on the phone with the dispatcher, who claims the guy is 2 miles away, and ten minutes later he's still 2 miles away. The only way I used to be able to get good service was to make arrangements with a particular driver to come back and pick me up again later. If I'd tipped well, he usually turned out to be reliable. Sometimes I used private services, too, which cost more but were more reliable.

I've never used Uber, so I can't compare directly. In either case, though, management will have to figure out a way to discipline bad drivers. Uber has lots of tools for that, and I can't see any obvious reason why they would have to fail any worse than a traditional company. If they do fail in service, the question will be whether their prices are so much lower that customers will put up with it.

All my experience is from at least 10-15 years ago; I never take cabs any more. But it was my consistent experience in many cities and many states from about 1985-2000.

Texan99 said...

Re packages--have you had great service from UPS, FedEx, and the Post Office? Mine has been extremely variable. It's often quite good, when we are lucky enough to be dealing with a guy who's been on the route for a long time and has gotten to know us. But the variability from worker to worker leads me to believe that the good and bad service can't easily be tied to any particular management structure. The P.O., for the most part, blows, and yet they must have at least as much advantage from a stable work force and employer leverage as any other form of delivery company, including Uber, I would think? If Uber gets complaints about a delivery worker, it can easily block him from further work, perhaps more easily than an ordinary company could discipline an employee, especially a union employee.

Grim said...

I find that the Post Office is consistently much superior to UPS or FedEx. Of course, this is a small town and people know each other, and that accounts for part of it. But not all of it -- the few folks I deal with in person are only a small part of their chain.

As for taxis, I have very rarely used them, too rarely for my experience to be telling. I typically prefer (a) to avoid cities entirely, or failing that (b) to ride a train to close to where I need to be, and then walk the rest of the way, or (c) to schedule enough time to walk everywhere. As a result, I probably haven't taken five taxi rides in my life.

Texan99 said...

That different people have different experiences with these services takes me to the only point about Uber that I really feel strongly about: I'd like the customers to decide whether they succeed, rather than the local city council, influenced by the desire of the traditional players to preserve their monopolies over some of all of the fields in which they operate. If Uber gives bad service for the price and fails, I certainly won't grieve.

It's still interesting to explore the different experiences of different customers, though, for the light it may shed on whether management is taking appropriate steps to ensure good service, and on whether the particular structure of the company aids or hinders that goal. I don't see a clear pattern here.

Cass said...

Re packages--have you had great service from UPS, FedEx, and the Post Office?

I really have, for the most part. Our mail carrier here is awful but the local post office are WONDERFUL so I think we just got unlucky.

I started to type up a comment on Amazon earlier. I do a LOT of online shopping b/c I hate to shop and hate malls. My experience with Amazon stuff delivered via UPS/FedEx has been uniformly outstanding. They also sell via brick and mortar stores who don't work directly for Amazon, and my experiences there have been maybe 50/50 (not getting a response at ALL, not getting what I ordered/getting shorted goods, delays, you name it).

They have incentive to sell through Amazon, but the consistently great service I get with Amazon falls apart once I drop down a level to Amazon affiliates. I suspect there's a reason for that :p

At Christmas I ordered 2 large packages of t-shirts for one of my sons. I got - 3 weeks after ordering! - 2 t-shirts, not even in the original packaging.

So clearly there's some quality control through Amazon that's lacking with vendors they don't directly supervise.

Cass said...

On cabs, I have very little experience. Don't take them very often, and I have never used Uber at all.

I agree the market should decide, but in large cities there are factors I don't think the average person necessarily is equipped to evaluate. In NYC, from what I've read, taxis have to pay the city to do business and Uber is being exempted from those fees.

I'd want to read a lot more about this before coming down on one side or the other. I agree that cities should arbitrarily ban Uber, but don't agree that they shouldn't be subject to the same regulation and costs other providers pay.

And there are other types of costs too: there are now more Uber cars than taxis in NYC. One of the weak areas of conservative economic theories in my mind is that large enterprises can (and often do) impose real costs on their neighbors and on municipalities. A community can choose to subsidize those costs out of their tax dollars (perhaps for the jobs, or because there's some other compensating benefit), but that should be an explicit decision, not a loophole or a backdoor handout.

Anyway, I'm guessing services like Uber impact large cities more than small towns.

I don't really know much about this topic, so these are mostly general observations.

Cass said...

Ugh --

I agree that cities shouldn't arbitrarily ban Uber