By Wayne Schutsky GSN Managing Editor
When commuters settle into one of Waymo’s self-driving cars there might not be a driver behind the wheel, but The Voice of Waymo is always there in case riders have questions or run into trouble during their trip.
The Voice of Waymo – a tongue-in-cheek name for its support team – is just a click away for riders that need a helping hand.
Gilbert resident Kellye Turpen is a program manager for that support team and has taken a leading role in making sure Waymo riders in the Early Rider Program feel comfortable as they test out the new technology.
Turpen said her team answers a variety of questions for riders like how to use the app and also helps coordinate retrievals when users leave items behind in a vehicle.
The team is also responsible for on-boarding orientation with new riders – which includes talking to them about the safety report the company released last year, the inner workings of the cars and showing them the ways a Waymo autonomous vehicle differs from a regular car.
“We talk to them about how to do things,” she said. “There are some differences. They actually have to do some things in the vehicle that are different than a regular car that you would get into.”
The team tells new riders how to request help using a button and how to tell the car to begin the ride.
“They have to tell the car to go whenever they are ready,” Turpen said.
The support team also does safety check ins on riders if they are in a vehicle for a few minutes but have not started a ride or arrive at the destination and do not exit the car.
“It’s kind of a blending of proactive and reactive support,” Turpen said.
Being involved with Waymo’s Early Rider Program has made Turpen a local celebrity of sorts with friends, family and neighbors in the East Valley who are excited about trying out the new technology.
However, it’s not the brand name recognition that comes along with Waymo or Google that is exciting her acquaintances.
“As much as you would think that it has a lot to do with the association of the brand, it’s actually more the technology they are really interested in,” Turpen said.
She added, “Their first question is ‘when can I ride?’”
Witnessing Waymo’s impact on the Valley is personal for Turpen, who grew up in Phoenix. She then moved to Las Vegas before returning to Arizona and moving to Gilbert.
“I’ve been back for about six years now and I’ll probably live here forever,” she said.
Her path to Waymo started at Mesa Community College and Chandler-Gilbert Community College, earned an associate’s degree in psychology. She then studied organizational psychology at Northern Arizona University’s online program.
“It is kind of the blending of business, psychology and managerial theory and helped my career as it stands today,” Turpen said.
Beyond her personal connection to the East Valley, working with Waymo is an interesting professional challenge for Turpen, who has worked with prominent technology companies like Zappos and Infusionsoft.
Much like the technology itself, the professionals providing customer support for Waymo riders are breaking new ground in the industry.
“The uniqueness about this is that it’s the first kind of support for an autonomous vehicle and so we have a (major role) in defining that industry and what it means to provide support to these people who are riding in these driverless cars,” she said.