How a simple chat feature changed the way we ride




The idea was beautifully simple.

Southeast Asians love to text. So why not give them a chat feature within their Grab app — something they could use to communicate with drivers without fuss. No need to reveal numbers. No toggling between messaging apps. No dealing with patchy cell phone connectivity.

We even created template messages. Just four commonly-used phrases that could be sent with a couple of taps – “Are you nearby?”, “Can you wait for me?”


Since launching GrabChat in October 2016, our humble messaging function has exploded with 78 million messages traded across the region, with Indonesians, Filipinos and Malaysians accounting for the lion’s share of messages – making them the ‘chattiest’ nations in Southeast Asia!


Why did this little innovation catch on?

Because Southeast Asians Get To The Point. Fast.  


Why call the driver if you can send him a quick text? The average length for each GrabChat message is four words with succinct phrases like “Stuck in traffic” or “OTW” being the most popular. Busy commuters favor sharp and direct communications – making text perfect.

Some quirky facts: Indonesians may be the heaviest users of GrabChat, but Filipinos are the most ‘effusive’ with an average of 6 words per message. Compare this with just 2 words per message for Thailand, the most to-the-point nation!

Over in Singapore, “I’m coming down” was an unusually popular phrase – perhaps reflecting how high-rise buildings are a key part of the city-state’s landscape.


Because Small Savings Are Always Big

Early on, we noticed that telco companies in certain countries charged for calls or SMS made to phones on a different network. Travellers in Southeast Asia were also incurring expensive international roaming charges when calling their Grab drivers. GrabChat eliminates such fees as users don’t have to leave the app to communicate. To date, we estimate total savings approaching US$1 million in local SMS charges alone across the region.


Because It’s So Much Easier To Connect

Our pre-set messages can be sent in a second and are especially hot among drivers, accounting for over 50% of their messages. Tapping on a template like “I’ll be there in a few mins” is a small innovation, but it takes a huge mental load off busy drivers who don’t have time to text while navigating traffic – and lessens their distractions on the road.

For passengers too, triggering a template like ‘Can you wait for 5 mins?’ may be all you need to get your driver to stay put while you send off that last e-mail at work.

What happens at the end of your ride? All GrabChat messages are wiped from your phone and the drivers’. He speeds off with no record of the conversation.


Until the next ride then.