One of the most common phrases you’ll hear from Swedes when talking about the US is something like “One thing I love about America is that you get such great service”
Next time I hear a Swede saying that, I’m going to say “you shut your whore mouth”. Then I will proceed with drop kicking them in the face. When they lie on the floor, whimpering “why?” I will say “I thought you liked being treated like American companies treat their customers!” and kick them in the genitals for good measure.
While I am exaggerating a bit, and while it is true that most restaurants with table service will treat you really well, it is also true that the average large American corporation outside the restaurant business treats their customers like trash. Exhibit A: the Consumerist.
Let me give you a recent real life example of what I perceive as a American Big Company Service Experience:
Thursday night, I was flying from New York to Cleveland to spend the weekend with my boyfriend. I had used Super Shuttle a couple weeks ago in Houston, and it worked well so I decided to make a reservation with them from my office at 2 Park Avenue to La Guardia. The flight was at 8:40; Super Shuttle suggested a pick up time at 5:10. “That’s okay” I thought to myself, “I’ll get to the airport with plenty of time, and I can spend the wait working”.
At 5:05 pm I’m outside the building, waiting for the car. When the clock strikes 5:33 and no car is in sight, I call Super Shuttle to find out what’s going on. The woman answering says “it’s fifteen minutes away”
Realizing that the car will be at least 25 minutes late, I decide that the $2.70 tip I paid in advance when paying for the shuttle would reward bad service. I ask for a refund, not because of the money – because of the principle. The Super Shuttle representative doesn’t really want to do this. I have to explain to her several times that I don’t want to cancel my pick-up and get a full refund, and she keeps implying that there’s no other way to get my tip back.
Eventually she acknowledges that they can do that. I make a mental note never to pay a tip in advance again.
At 5:58 I get an automatic call from Super Shuttle, saying my car is five minutes away. Eleven minutes later, at 6:09 I get another call saying my car has arrived. I don’t see any car – and I’ve been standing in the same spot for over one hour. I think to myself that the driver probably sent the message a couple minutes ahead so I surely would be there. He was probably stressed as he was running 45 minutes late.
By this time, I had realized that I could check the location of my car through Super Shuttle’s web site, so I did that; the car was 0.07 miles away. Being European and not entirely comfortable with the Imperial system I started making a conversion in my head when I see a blue Super Shuttle pull out from 4 Park Avenue – a block over – and speed by me. The numbers on the shuttle say 818, which is the number of my car.
By this time, I’m starting to feel stressed. Realizing that the driver had stopped at the wrong address, decided I wasn’t there and left, I call Super Shuttle again. Now the real circus begins: The first person I talk to puts me on hold and patches me through to dispatch. Dispatch tells me “The driver was there, he even went into the lobby and you weren’t there”. I try explaining to her that I wasn’t there because he was at the wrong address, and that I had seen him pull out and speed past me but she isn’t listening and just repeats that I was a no-show. After a while she just cuts me off, and I hear pause music. She essentially hung up on me, and patched me through to reservations. The woman there understood my problem but “could not help me”. All she could do was to make a new reservation (for which I would be charged again, including a $2 fee for making reservations over the phone) but there were no guarantees I would make it to the airport on time. If I wanted anything else, I had to talk to dispatch. I gave up and asked her to transfer me. She did, and my call was conveniently dropped.
If you have ever tried getting a cab in Midtown Manhattan around 6 pm, you know how hard it could be. I ended up calling Super Shuttle back in hope that they could fix it while walking and keeping an eye out for cabs. The guy I talked to then was the first friendly person, but all he could do is put in a complaint.
I walk the streets, trying to find a cab. I tried Uber, the “private driver app” that has saved me before but the situation was so crazy that there weren’t even any Uber cars available. I ended up finding an off-duty cab driver who agreed to drive me to La Guardia, and I got there just in time for the flight.
The morning after I got a voicemail from Super Shuttle. No apology, just a statement that I had been refunded my money. The refund is not important, I could have called American Express and have them cancel that charge. But not getting an apology, and nobody being responsible for the mess they caused me assures that I will never ride with Super Shuttle again.
The kicker? Uber, who did nothing wrong except that they couldn’t find a car for me at the moment I needed it, e-mailed me the next day:
I know that there are lots of American businesses that really do care about their customers. The small businesses that understand the value of every single customer being happy, like Bon Bon, a small restaurant/cafe in Cleveland where the chef came out and talked to us when our chili wasn’t hot. Or the start-ups that get the new era of digital communication where your reputation requires that you care about your customers, like Uber. Or the organizations run their business with a conscience, like Chipotle. But the majority of large American corporations couldn’t care less (unless some major media outlet writes about it, or it becomes a viral story in social media) because there will always be those that prioritize a cheap price and hence do business with crappy companies like Ryan Air or Super Shuttle. But where Ryan Air at least don’t equivocate that they are cheap bastards who’ll leave you stranded if it means they’re saving money on it, Super Shuttle pretends to be a great service. I guess it’s partly my own fault for choosing the Ryan Air of ground transportation without doing research on their reviews. Googling “Super Shuttle reviews” gives you an idea how reliable the company isn’t.