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Consumer Insights >August 27, 2021

Listen & Adapt: How Grab Used Customer Insights To Get Ahead

August 27, 2021
Cory Profile Picture
Cory Schröder
Content Marketing Manager

Low on groceries and need some delivered? Want to book a ride to the airport for you and your family? Looking for affordable, everyday insurance?

Well, if you live in Southeast Asia, you’ll be happy to hear that all of those issues (and many, many more) can be solved with one app: Grab.

Founded back in 2011 by two Harvard Business School students, Grab was originally a simple taxi booking app. However, over the past 10 years, it’s grown almost exponentially and now offers a wide range of services — from food delivery to cab rides to hotel booking — making it a true “super app”.

But how did Grab manage to achieve such stunning success in just over a decade? And what can you learn from their journey?

We’ll address these questions and more, as well as take a look at Grab’s extensive list of services, in this article.

Grab’s Journey to Success

Source: Nikkei Asia

During their time at Harvard Business School, founders Anthony Tan and Tan Hooi Ling created the app MyTeksi in 2011.

Originally launched in Malaysia, the goal of this app was to make taxi rides safer. By 2013, the company had expanded to the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand and changed its name to GrabTaxi.

In 2014, two new services were launched. The first, called GrabCar, provided transportation via the use of personal cars through a licensed partner. The second, GrabBike, was launched in Ho Chi Minh City as a trial service, though it did run into some legal problems later on.

Though GrabTaxi applied for a grant from the Malaysian government’s sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah Nasional, they were turned down. Therefore, the company turned to the government of Singapore’s investment fund, called Temasek, who agreed to finance GrabTaxi with $10 million.

Understandably, the business’ headquarters was moved to Singapore later that year. By 2015, GrabBike’s services had expanded to Vietnam and Indonesia, and they launched GrabCar+ in the Philippines, which provided a fleet of higher-end cars.

In these first three years alone, Grab seemed to have cracked the code for rapid, successful expansion.


By 2016, the business rebranded to Grab, which encompasses the company’s wide range of services — including new options like GrabHitch for carpooling. They also expanded further outside the realm of ride-hailing with their new GrabPay and GrabRewards options.

GrabPay functions as a digital payment service among third-party merchants and can be used for Grab rides, food deliveries, in-store purchases, and fund transfers. Essentially a mobile wallet, GrabPay holds its own against competitors like Apple Pay and Google Pay in Southeast Asia.

The same year, Grab launched an in-app instant messaging service, called GrabChat, which permitted riders and drivers to communicate. This innovative service even allowed for the translation of messages if their languages differed. It’s this kind of attention to detail that has helped Grab achieve such impressive, multinational success.

In 2017, Grab introduced two new services — GrabFamily and GrabCoach — which each allowed them to expand their customer base. Just the next year, Grab acquired Uber’s Southeast Asian operations, which allowed them to expand into food delivery services with GrabFood.

2018 also saw the launch of GrabExpress, their last-mile courier service, and Grab Financial, the financial area of the company — which provides insurance, financing services, and payment options.

As we can see, at this point, Grab had made a clear step towards their “super app” title, having far exceeded their original services. They also began their Series H funding round in 2018, which reached around $5 billion.

In 2019, Grab was able to expand to Japan and the Middle East through a partnership with JapanTaxi and Careem, respectively. They also co-branded with big-name brand Mastercard to launch Asia’s first numberless payment card.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Grab made some incredibly smart and thoughtful moves. In February, they launched GrabCare, providing 24-hour ride services for healthcare workers, who were dealing with increased discrimination due to fear of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Furthermore, in an effort to support their driver and merchant partners, Grab committed $40 million to relief efforts across Southeast Asia and slashed the salaries of top management by 20%. Due to increased demand, they also expanded GrabMart and GradAssistant services to more cities and countries in the area.

In April 2021, Grab announced its plans to go public via a $39.6 billion SPAC merger with Altimeter Growth Corp. And by May 2021, the company was valued at just under $40 billion — a huge feat.

So, what has made Grab so wildly successful? We’ll break it down in the next section.

Why Has Grab Been So Successful?

Source: Vulcan Post

Grab has done incredibly well over the last ten years, and it has a great deal to do with its flexible approach to growth and general adaptability.

With the goal of becoming a “super app”, Grab knew that it needed to do more than just provide taxi rides. So, let’s explore some of the reasons that Grab has been able to grow so quickly.

1. Building Brand Trust

One of Grab’s largest differentiators is that they have worked hard to earn consumers’ trust — which can be seen in a few important factors.

Their Rides Have Set Price Fares

Upon first look, this may seem like a minor difference between Grab and its competitors. But when you consider the level of traffic often seen in Southeast Asia, what might have been a $15 ride elsewhere could end up costing five times as much in Bangkok or Manila.

Many rivals like Uber and local taxis do not offer set price fares, meaning if they hit traffic, get lost, or just take a longer route, the rider pays the price. But with Grab, users know what to expect from the get-go, which leads to greater brand trust.

Additionally, because the price is set from the beginning, Grab drivers have an incentive to get you to your destination as efficiently as possible — dawdling won’t make them more money. Therefore, riders and drivers can forge more relaxed, genuine relationships.

They Offer Flexibility in Payment

Through their own GrabPay or via uploading your own credit card info in their secured app, you can pay for their services electronically.

This provides users with a sense of security, knowing that they don’t have to give out their payment information or cash to drivers or delivery people if they don’t want to — not to mention greater ease of use.

However, Grab is also aware that many regions in Southeast Asia are still very much cash-based economies. For this reason, they still offer a “cash payment” feature to encourage more app use — something Uber didn’t incorporate until 2015.

No matter where you are, Grab makes payment straightforward and flexible.

2. Offering Ease of Use

Another area Grab excels in is ease of use. As Grab is available all over Southeast Asia, some might think the app would struggle with consistency.

However, this brand has mastered the art of a consistent user experience, making their “super app” fun and easy to use.

Their In-App Chat Allows for Translation

One of Grab’s most impressive features is located within GrabChat, an instant messaging system that allows riders and drivers to communicate. With so many different languages spoken throughout Southeast Asia, it follows that many users will be met with a language barrier.

However, GrabChat allows riders and drivers to write in their own language and then translates the messages. This takes a lot of the stress and anxiety out of such an experience, as users can rest assured their wants and needs are understood.

The App Is The Same for All Locations

As previously mentioned, consistency is one of Grab’s strongest features — and this is perfectly encapsulated in their app design.

While the app will always show the language the user has chosen, for each new location, there are GPS maps, rates in local currencies, and pre-loaded locations — which all allow users to better navigate their surroundings.

It’s also what makes the Grab app so easy to use — there are no “fun” surprises in store when you pull up the app in a new country.

3. Providing A Superior Brand Experience

This last point is, in many ways, heavily supported by the previous two. Still, as Grab’s brand experience is worth delving into further, it requires its own section.

Their Offerings Are Hyper-Localized

While Grab does a great job of offering consistency across Southeast Asia, they also understand that some locations have different needs than others. For this reason, their hyper-localization is a true stand-out quality.

According to Russell Cohen, Grab’s Head of Regional Operations, their “strategy has always been, and will continue to be, to focus on Grab services in a country, our customers — and providing what we think and what we hope to be outstanding customer experience.”

What does this mean for their services? They listen to the regional needs of consumers and deliver. Tuktuks in Thailand, GrabBike in Vietnam, GrabBajay in Indonesia — Grab identifies consumers’ needs via the use of consumer insight data and provides them with solutions.

Their “Super App” Is A One-Stop-Shop

Not many apps can realistically claim the title of “super app”. But, offering services for transportation, food delivery, insurance, online payments, booking hotels, and more — Grab really does have it all.

By providing such a wide range of important services, Grab becomes a real staple in the lives of many users.

Instead of downloading a handful of apps to meet their varied needs, customers can get everything they need from Grab — easily, quickly, and securely.

What Can You Learn From Grab’s Success?

Source: Grab

While it may seem that Grab’s journey to success was seamless and devoid of roadblocks, that’s not necessarily the case.

From disputes between local taxi operators to violence against Grab drivers and assaults on riders to regulation issues, this brand has been met with its fair share of hardships along the way. However, what sets Grab apart is the way they’ve adapted.

Issues with the Land Transport Authority in Singapore over child safety requirements? Launch GrabFamily, a service that covers all their bases.

Struggling with users who cancel food orders last minute and rob delivery drivers of their income? Change up your rules and enforce penalties, such as suspension, for those who don’t use the app “responsibly”.

As a general rule, Grab has been able to adapt to the issues they’ve encountered, leaning into their flexibility and use of customer insights to anticipate needs. So, what can you learn from Grab’s story?

1. Reframe Your Struggles into Opportunities

When Grab has been met with issues, they haven’t folded — they’ve reframed. And oftentimes, were even able to improve their service based on changes made to remedy problems. (Read: GrabFamily)

When your brand encounters an issue, instead of seeing it as a roadblock to success, think of how this could create an opportunity for growth. Perhaps this issue brings to light a new improvement or feature you haven’t yet considered?

Either way, when you’re able to find a positive side to your struggles, you’re far more likely to grow from them.

2. When In Doubt, Adapt

While Grab could have easily created one business model and applied it to the whole of Southeast Asia, they were smart enough to realize that they needed to adapt.

Different countries and regions have varied needs. Be it cultural differences or differences in infrastructure, Grab used consumer insights to adapt their business model to what was required.

When you’re building your own brand, keep in mind that for many industries, a “one size fits all” approach is not the ticket to success. Instead, you need to delve deeply into your target audiences’ wants and needs — this way, you can tailor your products and services to meet their expectations.

A great way to do this is by using advanced brand tracking software, which allows you to gather accurate data at a geographically granular level. You can then use such information to inform better, more effective marketing campaigns.

3. Incorporate Employee Feedback

More often than not, brands look to consumer feedback to see where they need to make changes and improvements. And rest assured, there is nothing wrong with this approach. Consumers provide invaluable insights that help brand managers refine their marketing strategies.

However, one of the areas where Grab stands out is in its incorporation of employee feedback into updates and improvements. Grab’s Head of People, Ong Chin Yin, explained, saying:

“Our Grabbers are at the forefront of solving some of the most significant challenges in this incredibly diverse region, from traffic congestion to income equality and financial inclusion”.

By systematically listening to the issues and challenges that their local employees face, Grab has been able to identities niche problems and find inventive solutions. When building your own brand, remember to include employee feedback into your own problem-solving.

Every person has a different background and experience, and as the people on the ground running the day-to-day operations of your company, they are likely filled with helpful insights.

Final Thoughts

In just over ten years, Grab has become the leading ride-hailing app in Southeast Asia — beating out the likes of big names like Uber.

Though their road to success wasn’t always easy, their dedication to adaptability and using consumer insights to anticipate needs has led them to unprecedented success.

For those looking to Grab for guidance, keep in mind our tips listed above. And if you’re interested in following Grab’s example and utilizing consumer insights to drive your own brand growth, check out our brand tracking tool.

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