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Uber is testing in-app call support for Bay Area drivers

Can you hear me now?

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Uber drivers often complain that they'd like to be able to talk to an actual person when reporting a problem, such as unruly riders or a bug in the app, rather than being forced to have a back-and-forth with an Uber representative over email. Today, Uber is responding to those complaints by announcing an in-app phone support feature for drivers in the Bay Area.

Drivers in the pilot will have the option of calling Uber directly from their app during business hours Monday through Friday. Those drivers who have a question or a complaint can tap "Help" under the Account page to an Uber representative.

The pilot is an extension of the ride-hail company's efforts to streamline its feedback tools for both drivers and riders. In March, Uber discontinued its email address that it had used for six years and replaced it with a new in-app customer service feature.

"We’ve already seen response times go down and customer satisfaction rates go up," Uber says in a blog post today. "As we develop our in-app support technology, we want to make sure that getting in touch with us is as quick and easy as getting a ride."

"every time I get a canned reply from different reps"

The inability to get an actual Uber representative on the phone has been a source of constant frustration for many drivers. Garen Karanyan, an Uber driver in LA, was recently deactivated for canceling too many rides. "Since then I have been emailing support to get my account active again and every time I get a canned reply from different reps," he said in an email to The Verge. "I would email Adrian and will get a reply from Eugene saying that he stepped in for Adrian, I would email Eugene and Angel would reply saying that he stepped in for Eugene, so on and so on."

Uber says its expanding its driver support operations in an effort to meet the growing demand from its workforce. The company says it has "outgrown" its first in-person Partner Support Center in San Francisco — which serves more than 500 drivers daily —and opened up similar customer support centers in over 100 cities globally.

Uber says it's expanding its driver support operations

Still, Uber has also come under fire recently for its customer response operations. An investigation by BuzzFeed found that hundreds of customer service representatives who review the messages about lost items and passenger altercations have been terminated in droves over the last several years. The firings came as Uber has shifted much of its customer service operations from the US to other countries like India and the Philippines. Uber says it still has two "centers of excellence" in the US, one in Chicago and another in Phoenix.

Moreover, Uber appears to be at an inflection point in its relations to its rapidly growing workforce. The company recently settled a class action lawsuit brought by drivers in California and Massachusetts over the classification of drivers as independent contractors for $100 million. In exchange, Uber gets to keep its business model — drivers are "partners" with the flexibility to make their own schedules, but lacking access to traditional benefits like health care€”. Drivers involved in the case get a few hundred bucks each and a little more transparency from the company.