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Super-What?

I remember the first time I stepped into the great blue van: I had just graduated from college and on a whim, my sister and I took a spontaneous trip to San Francisco. Landing in this unfamiliar city at some ungodly hour of the night we were saved by SuperShuttle, the royal blue van with gold lining that for a mere $19 would take us door-to-door to our destination. Perfect for two twenty-somethings jet-setting on a tight budget.

I remember the first time I stepped into the great blue van: I had just graduated from college and on a whim, my sister and I took a spontaneous trip to San Francisco. Landing in this unfamiliar city at some ungodly hour of the night we were saved by SuperShuttle, the royal blue van with gold lining that for a mere $19 would take us door-to-door to our destination. Perfect for two twenty-somethings jet-setting on a tight budget.

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Fast-forward some five years later, and SuperShuttle has become this New Yorker’s lifeline when it comes to getting to the airport. That is, until they left me stranded on my doorstep a rainy day this summer, almost forcing me to miss my flight to Portugal.

After waiting outside for 45 minutes amid a torrential downpour, I finally called 1-800-BLUEVAN to find out when my ride would arrive. “They already came and you’re a no-show.” “A no-show?” I retorted in disbelief, “I’ve been standing here for 45 minutes and clearly there’s been no van.” “That’s not what the driver said,” the customer service rep replied coolly. Despite my shock over their allegiance to the driver’s word over the customer’s, the clock was ticking and I needed to problem-solve more than argue. Surely we could work together on this. So I asked when the next van could come pick me up. “There’s no one who can pick you up, you’re a no show,” he reiterated. “Well I’m going to miss my flight – what do you suggest I do?” “Catch a cab,” he muttered snarkily.

Catch a cab! Not only would my wallet have to endure the pain of losing $50 for a lousy ride to Newark Airport, I was thoroughly dumbfounded by the betrayal of old reliable. SuperShuttle had screwed me over and like any relationship, from that moment on I could never trust them again.

In the case of SuperShuttle, I think much of the problem lies in their shift from an employee-based driver model to unit-franchise/operator-driver model (meaning, each driver essentially owns their own van, running their own business through a centralized dispatcher). This leads to a lack of accountability – a disconnect between the drivers taking responsibility and the guys running the show.

Aside from better training and screening of their customer service reps, how do you suggest SuperShuttle clean up its act? Just because it’s running a cheap shop for those less financially-endowed, does it have a right to treat its customers cheaply? Can you think of customer-service practices from other companies you think SuperShuttle should channel? Is there any way to repair a relationship when trust is broken?

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Oh, and by the way, when I fly to Florida tomorrow for Thanksgiving, I’ll be patroning the New York Airport Service Express to LaGuardia Airport. For a mere $12.

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About the author

Danielle Sacks is an award-winning journalist and a former senior writer at Fast Company magazine. She's chronicled some of the most provocative people in business, with seven cover stories that included profiles on J.Crew's Jenna Lyons, Malcolm Gladwell, and Chelsea Clinton

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