Former Head of Driver Retention at Grab and Current Head of Operational Support at GET
Palm has over 8 years working specifically in recruiting and retaining drivers and bikers for transportation platforms. He joined Grab in 2013, 6 months after the South-East Asian unicorn was founded, where he was Head of Driver Retention and Loyalty. In 2017, Palm then joined GoBike, a Thai-based biker platform, as Operations Manager responsible for bike acquisition and loyalty. Palm is now head of Operational Support at GET, which is Go-Jek’s Thai ride-hailing business, where he leads driver support and retention. Read moreView Profile Page
I think a good place for you to start would be for you to provide some context of when you joined Grab in 2013.
Yes. My joining to Grab in 2013 is at that time in Thailand, there’s no ride hailing application at all. Only Grab and Easy Taxi was there. Just the two of us in the market trying to penetrate to the customers, as well as the drivers. We’ve been struggling trying to get the driver on board and later on, we’re trying to scale the business.
This was pretty early days when you joined, 2013. I think the business was founded in 2012. Was it still early days then in the growth of the business? What was the size of the business in terms of the growth rate, the number of drivers, the employees?
At that time, according to the research that Grab has been doing overall in the market, just for the quick note that at that time, we both, Grab and Easy Taxi, the competitor at that time, trying to penetrate into taxi market. Grab Car just like Uber wasn’t there yet. The idea was not there. We don’t think that we need it at that time. We have probably around 100,000 taxi drivers over the country. 80 percent of them are driving around in Bangkok. 80 percent of the 80 percent that is in Bangkok is active. Actually, driving on the street. We would think if we could hit 30 percent of the drivers that are driving in Bangkok, that would be first milestone for us to start scaling if we can hit that number at that time. Yes, that’s what we’re trying to do. First phase of launching a brand and the service in Bangkok is we’re trying to recruit the driver to the system. By that time, the number is swinging up and down because the service was not launched. We don’t have the real booking yet, but we need to have the driver on the system first.
What strategies did you use to recruit drivers at Grab?
The strategy that we used to recruit the driver is we have to go to the driver. Not inviting the driver to come to us because they have no idea what the application for taxi hailing is for. In Thailand, people are hailing at the roadside and bargain with the fair and stuff. The strategy that we use is, we go to the gas station. That time we go to the gas station because a lot of taxis are there. Sometimes they’re not filling their gas, but they just stop for a quick break. Doing that, we don’t need to find a place for a carpark for the driver to come to us. They already park there at the gas station. We are there. Then we prepare a training, a quick training method and materials for the driver. Before that, we need to have some old-fashioned way, like a piece of paper that we bring to the driver and show it to them, knocking on their window of the car and asking them if they would spend five minutes with us and recruit them. It’s quite fun at that time.
Walk me through the process, so you approach the gas station, there are drivers there having a break, do you approach them and pitch to them the idea of Grab or how does that work?
What we do is, we go there at the gas station, we setup a tent, putting our Grab Taxi brand. At that time, it was called Grab Taxi. Before we rebranded to Grab. We setup a tent as our command center there. A mobile spot for recruiting. We have around four to five salespersons, they’re not salespeople, they’re not selling anything, but they’re just selling the idea or recruiting a driver. They’re bringing a sheet of our work, showing the driver and pitch to them in one or two minutes of that pitching of inviting them, to get their attention. If they’re interested, you spend another three minutes, in total, five minutes, tell them the benefits of joining us. When you get their attention, we’ll bring them to the tent and we start training, everything, like a flipchart, a flip board. We show them what the application looked like. Then we’re asking them for the documents to recruit by taking the picture on the mobile phone and send the picture of the documents through some kind of line like WhatsApp chat program with the backend team at the office to put all of the information in the system. Then we need to show them the real-time, real job. We shoot the booking from the backend to the location. Specific note that this booking is for which driver, then that salesperson just accepts the job and then walks them through the process until the end. That’s how we activate the non-Grab taxi driver to be a Grab taxi driver in one place. Then they are allowed to run on the street.
You actually show them how it could work right there, right then with the technology that you had. Which is quite impressive for the taxi driver, I assume.
That is correct. The maturity of the driver is quite engaged with this thing, they’re quite excited. They didn’t know that. They just have the phone, the phone that they have can do this. They can join by using their mobile phone that they have.
What was the biggest challenge recruiting drivers this way?
The characteristic of the driver is different. Let’s say at that time we only had taxi driver, so the driver is non-tech people. Taxi driver in Thailand is non-tech people. Just before the time that Grab launched their service there. Some of them are farmers. They grow their crops and they have to wait for their crops to bear fruit. They come to the city and run the taxi. When the time comes, they just stop running, give the rental car back to the rental place and then go back and do their crops. That’s most of the taxi driver are that type of person. The challenges are they’re non-tech people. How would you explain technology to the non-tech people? That’s the challenge that we have to overcome. What we do and it’s more successful way is we visualize their benefits generated by the technology that we are introducing to them. That’s how we engage them. They come to drive because they need some income. The people work for money. We need to show them how they can make money through the platform. That’s the strategy that we use.
You focused on really the incremental earnings they can drive from the application, as well as being a taxi driver normally or would you pitch it to them as moving completely over to Grab?
Earning is one thing. The other thing is the kind of intangible concept, but something like safety and trackable because from time to time, we have news. We have a criminal on the street where they rob the taxi driver, which is the real news on the newspaper. People get scared and they want to protect themselves. We tell them that if they are running with us, then we are the platform who track everything, we know who is in your car, who will be in your car and if there’s something that happens, then we can give information right away. They can inform us from the platform and then we can find help. That’s something that we pitch them with the benefits that they would get, apart from earning. Earning attracts them the most.
Going through that onboarding process, were there any particularly sticky parts with the driver where you’re really trying to onboard them face-to-face at the gas station?
First, what we face a lot is the driver, they want to make more money through the platform. They don’t want to spend a lot of time listening to what the trainer has to say or the salesperson at the spot have to say. Sometimes they just are forgetting things. They don’t remember which button, how to press. They didn’t deliver the service as we expected because they didn’t remember, or they didn’t pay attention for the whole process. The whole process takes almost one hour for one session. Either one-to-one person or one to a group. Some of them are just picking up some other things. The process needs to be recapped and needs to be repeated from time to time. It’s so different. When we launched Grab Car, it’s quite another story because Grab Car, they are educated people. People like us, we’re educated, and we have a car. It’s just parked in the parking lot and we want to make money out of it. You just register your car and your mobile with the platform. Then you go out and running. Just like Uber. People are more expecting the best user experience out of the platform. More than just making a lot of money because we have other sources of income, but this is something we want to do, you have time and you want to convert it into some income.
They are two different types of people, right? Like you mentioned, you had the farmer, which is the registered taxi driver. They’re renting a taxi and have been a taxi driver for a certain period of time. Then the other people, the Grab Car situation, which is similar to Uber, it’s I have a car sitting there, I can earn money from this. Why don’t I just try to leverage this asset and drive it about in my free time?
What were the strategies you used with Grab Car to onboard drivers?
The way that we try to onboard Grab Car drivers, because they are educated people and they are capable of using the digital sales onboarding methods. What we do is, we try to use the opensource platform like a Google Form and at that time, we only have Google Form, so we ask them to come to the office and give them a proper training. When I say a proper training, it means we have a room, we put them into one room and then we tell them from A to Z of what they have to do, which button they have to press. Later on, it’s developed into all the products. When I say products, all of the applications, how to use things like that, it’s all in the video clip. Then we’re using the classroom to tell them the service they have to deliver. Tell them the benefits, which is changing from time to time. We let them in and then we tell them in the classroom what they will earn out of the platform. Yes, the rest of the process, that is only 20 percent in the classroom. 80 percent of it is self-registered.