oBike's communications on exit deemed lacklustre by PR professionals

oBike has come under a fair bit of heat recently, making headlines for its sudden exit from the Singapore market. It has also gotten into a fair bit of drama with consumers for its lack of communications in how riders would be refunded.

According to a recent article by The Business Times, transport operators oBike currently owes "several months of fees" to PR agency Ruder Finn after first being engaged in September last year.

Marketing understands that the contract with the PR agency ended in May this year. When approached for a comment, a Ruder Finn spokesperson said, “We are unable to discuss details of our contracts with clients, but we are glad to have had the opportunity to work with oBike previously.”

Meanwhile, in a separate conversation with Marketing, Fairil Yeo, managing director, Singapore and head of digital, Asia Pacific, LEWIS, said that regardless of the circumstances under which oBike exit, its sudden cease of operations should have been managed with better care. In just over a day, the main topic enveloping oBike’s exit was centred on #refundmydeposit.

“From the sentiments on social media, it is clear that customers are vocal with their dissatisfaction. Had the communications of its exit been handled with care and implemented thoroughly, oBike may have seen a warmer exit from fans and customers,” Yeo added.

Before anything is communicated to customers, clear agreements should also be made between partners. This means issuing a joint-statement that’s well timed and coordinated, with a responsive communications team to address any customer concerns, Marican said.

For brands in similar situations, a good communications exit plan is required. Yeo explained this means an easy-to-understand message that not only explains the brand’s position, but also provide a proactive address of the consumer’s most common concerns. More importantly, the plan and message can’t be abrupt, or rushed. Yeo added:

Scenarios such as these require more than just a statement, brand need to be prepared to engage in a dialogue.

“Consumers need time to digest the information and likewise, brands need time to address/provide solutions,” Yeo said.

Agreeing with Yeo, Lina Marican, managing director at Mutant Communication, added that oBike “shrugged off its responsibility” to customers by asking them to head onto GrabCycle. Instead, it should have acknowledged its customers and provided a refund, instead of converting their membership to an SVIP one they can only use overseas. She added:

“The company should have had responsive community managers to tackle the social uproar,” Marican added.

That being said, she added that Grab has been smart to “swoop in and nab oBike's market share” by offering a free four-week trial for current users to try their newest bike-sharing partner.