7 Rules For Managing Shared Resources (Like Bikes)

Nearly everyone has a story of that time they lent something valuable to a friend, only to later regret it.

Perhaps you were forced to nag the friend to give it back; perhaps it was returned damaged or dirty; perhaps both. Not a few friendships have ended over such disputes – and if friendships can be damaged by the perils of sharing, businesses are at risk, too.

The point is, sharing resources isn't easy. That transaction where something (say, a bike) is passed from one party to another is a real moment of truth. There is, after all, a lot that can happen to a bicycle between it being borrowed and returned – besides normal wear and tear, there's always the risk of it returning late, or the borrower not being ready to return it and the list goes on.

And when that bike comes back not in the condition or the timing you expected, someone's got to take responsibility – someone's got to fix it or clean it or mend the loyalty that was lost from missed expectations of a seamless experience. In today's collaborative consumption arena, that someone is generally the organization. Ultimately, although customers (or borrowers, participants, tenants, etc.) may be the ones who caused the situation, it's your product – you're responsible for making sure it's working for the next customer while making sure the last one will come back again, or at least see you in a positive light.

To make sure we all stay friends, here are a few of Zagster's rules for handling shared resources (but especially bikes):

  1. Take a community-based approach. It's important to establish early on that your users represent their own unique community. By joining this group, each user plays a key role in its success or failure. Emphasize the role your users play and focus on how their actions can affect the community. Late returns affect the next borrower, and reminding people of the real-life consequences can make a dramatic difference. The most resonating experience I carry with me happened during my time at Zipcar. One day, a friend and colleague came rushing into my office. I could tell from the look on his face that something was wrong. He explained that he had been running a few minutes late with his reservation; not thinking too much about it, he nonchalantly pulled into the garage. There, he saw a mother with her young son waiting patiently for the car to be returned so they could head out of the city. That picture's seared in my head to this day: the young boy clutching to his mother with one hand, the other tightly gripping the handle of his little bucket. That sight was far more impactful than any late fee could be.
  2. Obsess over the user experience. Things will go wrong. Tires will go flat. Things will get dirty. You'll need to fix them, clean them, oil them. As these tasks become rote, it can be easy to lose sight of the impact of failing to complete them. For you, it's the seventh flat tire of the day; for the rider, it's a perception-defining experience. The majority of your customers' interactions aren't with your website or your crack customer-service squad – they're with your bikes. Make sure those bikes always look and ride like new. Start solving problems as soon as they’re reported. When problems are solved promptly, riders feel engaged with the experience and assured that you’re on top of things. To make sure you're keeping your users happy, use NPS surveys to gauge your relationships at first transaction, after calls to customer service, and every so often on a recurring basis – say, once every six months.
  3. Focus on the future. It's easy to get trapped in a circular argument in which you feel like you can't reach a reasonable compromise with one of your users. But even if they've had a bad experience with your product, it's your job to build confidence in it going forward. Don't ignore or override their complaints; instead, use them as an opportunity to improve future experiences. Stick to that message, focus on how their experience will impact the product offering and your vision for an improved offering. Don’t go so far as to promise dates and deliverables, but make sure it's known – both by customers and within your organization – that you're focused on working out the kinks.
  4. Don't try to spend your way out of a bad experience. It won't work and it sets a bad example. Don't feel like you need to negotiate the price of user loyalty; instead, focus on what you can do to build or rebuild loyalty. The best thing you can do turn a passive in to a promoter is to have them try your product again and see that that first bad experience was just an exception. It's far more productive to say "next one's on us" than "here's how much our screw-up was worth."
  5. Use FIFO management. You're offering a service – you're not 911 or the fire department. So don't be reactive, be proactive. If you continually defer regular maintenance in favor of tackling new and exciting problems, you’ll soon find out that those small issues have grown into big ones. Adopting a first-in, first-out mentality will promote regularity, keep the stress down, and allow your employees to relish their roles and focus on doing great work. It’s also a vehicle for keeping costs down. Spend a little on regular maintenance and you’ll avoid many of those big disasters.
  6. Avoid the trap of bad revenue. Managing your balance sheet by penalizing your users is a lose-lose situation. That's not to say that you should shy away from holding people accountable for not following the rules. However, it's often more feasible simply to remove a delinquent member from the community than to spend time and money fighting over a relatively trivial debt. Ensure that you're messaging effectively – make users aware of the rules so they don't end up paying a fee for something they missed in the fine print.
  7. Use the product yourself. The most effective way to improve and understand the challenges your users and employees face is to ride your own bikes. The genuine user experience allows you to become intimately familiar with your product and better connect with your customers. Nothing compares to firsthand knowledge and nothing builds respect among your team, riders and partners like living your product.

Having trouble managing your bike share? Looking for some advice on how to make everyone happy? Talk to a Zagster expert and find out what we can do for you.