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Don’t Say Yes When You Really Mean NO

Updated: Dec 18, 2022

Too often I hear drivers complain about offers being low. I ask them why they take them and they don’t know.

How is that possible? It's a thing I see happen with new drivers...mainly. While I recommend that a new driver take everything they’re offered at first, I also recommend they dispense with the practice after a week. It's useful as a training tool, but that’s where it ends.

It's not up to me to say what anyone may be happy with. That’s why I encourage that one week “training” period. In that time, with Uber Eats for instance, a driver will be led all over town. They’ll get a good feel for the job. They’ll drive different areas. They’ll get a good sense of how efficient some restaurants are versus others. They interact with customers and learn their expectations. And, more importantly, they go through the practice of learning how the apps work and establish a safe routine while driving. They couldn’t get better training in a corporate video.

They'll get comfortable taking deliveries. They'll learn if they prefer driving nights or days. Foremost, they will get a sense of how the money works. That’s why we work, after all, to make money.

Drivers quickly learn that a gigs algorithms don’t care about their feelings…or their wallets. That’s up to the driver. It’s important to note that gigs don’t use many real people as dispatchers. When, and if they do, they’re only used in special circumstances. It’s all artificial intelligence, and AI doesn’t care whether you’ve been driving for five years - or five minutes. It doesn’t recognize seniority. It doesn’t care if you’re driving for beer money or if you’re trying to feed a family of five. ...Unless it’s told to.

It knows it has an offer across town for three bucks and you happen to be the closest driver to the pick-up location. Maybe, like many of us veterans just know, it’s trying to pawn off a bad payout. If you don’t take it (and you shouldn’t - more on that later) someone else will.There is indeed, as P.T. Barnum said, “…a sucker born every minute.” Feel free to decline this, or any other sad offer.

Thing is, many drivers will accept it. Or...better said, their humanity will accept it. We’re humans, not computers. We’re used to give and take, to receiving feedback while working with co-workers and bosses. We think that by doing this - or that, we'll be offered better assignments. We expect our efforts to be recognized. We perform a duty that isn’t in our job description because the boss asks, or to score brownie points. Or, just to help out. The gigs know this. They build their algorithms around it, or in spite of it. The gigs know that because our basic human instinct is to be agreeable, we likely will say yes when we really mean no.

delivery route
The algorithm doesn't care that you helped out and took a two dollar order for the team. Unless it’s told to.

The algorithms are each gigs secret sauce. It’s their “recipe” for success. Think about it. What are the gigs selling? What is their product? They don’t make anything. They share drivers across platforms. (BTW, if you aren’t driving multiple platforms, you’re doing it wrong). They're offering a service they can’t say is their own because of driver sharing. It’s all in the algo baby!

Take Dominos for instance. They’re very cognizant of their service and their drivers are part of their brand. That is to say, Dominos’ drivers are uniformed, wear car toppers and drive exclusively for them. They also have a real product to sell and combine it with their service. (I secretly think that Dominos is so damned good at service they should offer it as a product and compete directly with the gig business model). The gigs have nothing if not for their algorithms.

Rumors abound that if you don’t have a high enough acceptance rate then you get less offers or less good offers. Each platform has its own quirks and me thinks the algorithm is designed to keep drivers a wee-bit off keel...among other things. Grubhub calculates miles ‘as the crow flys’. Uber uses actual miles driven to calculate mileage. No one can really tell you how the gigs use their tech to track your movements and habits, but I imagine there are nefarious things going on. Of course I can’t prove it. That’s the point. They can, and do change their algorithms constantly.That’s part of their secret. It’s their recipe, their business model.

Like mileage that differs from platform to platform. The gigs try to incentivize drivers via the carrot/stick approach. Driver, meet algorithm. If you’re gunna send us down a rabbit hole, you’re gunna need a lot more carrots. Help us say yes and mean it.

A good approach is to understand each gig platforms rules, and then learn how to bend them in your favor. I've driven all the platforms and found that I work best with GrubHub and Uber Eats. I never liked Doordash and I reflected that in how I treated them. I was subsequently deplatformed and had my account suspended. I didn’t care because I never liked their model or their business practices. In other words, I said yes to their platform when I really meant no. And it showed.

The same holds true for any platform, right down to the offers you get. If you don’t like a run offered you, don’t accept it. You'll be miserable doing something you think you’re being ill compensated for and that negative vibe will avail itself like a bad virus. Part of your job is sifting through the offers. Realize this and accept it. They are called “offers,” not demands. You’ll smile more, be happier sitting in traffic, and feel better about the company you’re driving for if you’re making $20 on that run and not $3.

Screen shot of Uber Eats offer.
This offer doesn’t meet the second criteria. It's an immediate fail.

After all this time driving, I have my own algorithm - if you will. I have a set of actions and reactions based on the information I receive in each offer they ping me.

I treat my offers like a speed date. My eyes instinctively go first to the dollar amount. If it’s below a certain number, I look no further and I reject the offer. No other information is needed. This is the mindset.

If it makes it past the dollar amount sniff-test, then mileage is the second thing to inspect. It must be at least a dollar a mile or it gets tossed. And remember, that is the mileage for the complete one-way trip from where you’re pinged to where you complete the delivery.

The third criteria is the restaurant. This is critical because if the restaurant has issues - I reject it out of hand. This type of restaurant is a time sucker. And time suckers are money suckers. I’ve had $30 offers going three miles from Popeyes - that I’ve refused because the merchant is uncooperative or unwilling.

I’ve had my share of ‘Show Me The Money’ moments when I stood looking at the lifeless, lazy eyes of an underpaid cashier that won’t even acknowledge my existence - while my phone pings out of control with multiple other offers. Don’t say yes...if you really mean NO!

The fourth criteria is somewhat also part of number two, in that I look at what the position is. Anyone who shoots pool knows what shooting for position is. You know you can make the shot, but is it going to leave your ball in position to line up your next successful shot - and so on. Is that run going to leave me in another hot spot where a lot of orders are coming in when I drop it off? If yes, it’s a no-brainer. If no, my eyes go back to the dollar amount. I might just take it anyway because I want to change areas, or it’s on the way to where I’m heading.

The fifth criteria is the safety of the area. I have a general rule. If I can’t feel safe in event of a break-down - then it’s a no. Full stop. You might say that I’m reckless listing safety as fifth on the list, but as my old man used to tell me, “Boy, you ain’t no hummingbird.” At six-foot four, 250 pounds - and well prepared, I have a different threat assessment interpretation than a person half my size.

Just sayin'...

The last thing I consider is what I like to call the Couch Potato Index. It's like adding a TRD stencil to a Toyota truck…I get to charge more for the name or, in this case, circumstances.

Inclement weather, areas with or times of heavy traffic, city driving. These are on a wait-and-see basis. And while the price doesn’t increase from the gigs perspective for those specific reasons - I raise the minimum acceptable payout requirement, from my perspective. With my motivation to get up and bust my ass in the snow left wanting, The Couch Potato Index, levies a special circumstance tariff that’s gunna require more money to get me to put the Xbox controller down and move my fat butt off the sofa. I won’t accept anything less than top-dollar during these events. Kinda like hazardous duty pay. I am, after all, a mercenary.

All of this criteria is computed on every relentless ping coming from multiple platforms - Amazon Flex included. Decisions are rendered in seconds from my addled brain. This process helps me make decisions to do what…? Don't say yes when I really mean no.

The bottom line? The gigs have a job to do, to get the product from the merchant to the customer using us to close the deal. What does that look like? You'll see their promotions going on. You can achieve diamond status with one company or deliver x number of runs and get x dollars in bonus without skipping more than x number, etc. Some even offer free language courses if you stay at a certain level. Promotions are fine, but if I’m being honest, I’m trying to make money…not learn Silbo Gomero.

You may find promotions fun. I find them as distracting as the pinging of a two dollar offer blocking the address of the drop-off I’m currently trying to make. If you have no idea what I’m talking about then you haven’t yet done the job or you need to find a busier area to work. And if you had a busier area to work, you might not need the promotions anyway. I wonder how you say, “problem solved” in Urdu. Anyway, promotions are fine, but they’re in place to achieve the goals of the gigs, not necessarily yours. Be mindful of your goals and if promotions help you achieve them, then knock yourself out.

Their game benefits them. You play your game. The one that benefits you. To put it bluntly, those gigs need your vehicle. You just happen to be attached to it. Nothing personal. It’s business. But this is your business too. Don’t say yes when you really mean no...

Happy Trails

Do gig companies use algorithms to help you?

  • yes

  • no

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