The Pebble and the Avalanche

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Current Revolutions in Business and Technology

by Dr. Moshe Yudkowsky,

author of The Pebble and The Avalanche: How Taking Things Apart Creates Revolutions


Tue, 2010-Oct-12, 08:14

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SuperShuttle and Its Problems

First of all, a brief note: it's been quite a while since I've posted anything here. The reason for the hiatus: software. I need to migrate to a new system for blog entries and for my web site — the current system simply does not work correctly and I've had to disable comments — and as such I've spent my spare time trying to find a new system instead of blogging.

Which is clearly a mistake.

So, on today's topic, which is SuperShuttle. I suppose this the pot calling the kettle black, but everyone once in a while you run across a company that's in such evident disarray that you can only marvel and then swear to never use again.

What I can deduce from reading the web site and from listening to their inbound phone menus is that SuperShuttle is attempting (and failing) to consolidate separate operations across the nation into a single entity. Back-office chaos does affect customer experience.

When visiting Los Angeles I used the web site to reserve a ride. On the web site, when I entered the city name and "convention center" as my location I was offered a choice of convention centers — nationwide, not just for LA. And my convention center building (one of several in the downtown LA complex) was not on the list. Being clever, I decided that if I entered "conv" as the search term instead of "convention center" that perhaps I could pull up the building. This worked — my building was under "CONVENTION CTR- W HALL." Given the size of th building, about a city block on every direction, I would have liked to know the pickup point, but that information was not on the web site. This user-hostile site meant that (a) other people travelling on the shuttle told me that they gave up trying to reserve online and (b) I had to waste time to call the toll-free number to find out the pickup point.

So, after sending email and getting no response, I called SuperShuttle's number and was treated to the usual series of annoying announcements: the lie about "our menus have changed," the invitation to use the web site, and then (amazingly) a long spiel in Spanish. Then came a series of announcements that told me more about the internal (dis)organization of SuperShuttle, the first being "Press 8 if you're calling from Nashville." This told me immediately that the toll-free number was not location-aware, and that the rest of the system would likely have similar problems.

After speaking to human, who had no way to access the information and had to make a phone call to a dispatcher in my city, I got the answer to where I'd be picked up. Two other people waited with me, and we saw the shuttle go past and towards some other location. The driver could not find us, and one othe person who was waiting somewhere else. After some phone calls, instructions to the driver, and going out into the street and waving our hands, he finally picked us up. Each of us had gotten a different answer about where to wait (I have no idea what, if anything, the driver was told). In fact, when SuperShuttle did answer my email, they gave me a different location. By my count, four passengers got five different answers to the basic question of where to pick up the shuttle.

The driver had no familiarity with the convention center, seemed unsure about where the airport was (and managed to miss the freeway entrace by slavishly and senselessly following the directions of the GPS), and could not operate some functions of the overly complex and oddly designed computer system in his shuttle.

While it's all fine and good to disaggregate the call center and the web site from individual cities and bring them into a central location, you have to remember that the local knowlege is lost in the process. If I select Los Angeles as my location and ask for "Convention Center," don't show me convention centers in Alambama. Don't use the local shortcuts that dispatchers used ("Convention CTR"). And if you're going to "franchise" and hire "independent operators" to drive your blue shuttles, at least insist on some basic competence. Disaggregation is no time to lose basic operational knowledge.

It's one thing to have indigestion as you digest various operations; but improper cooking leads to food poisoning.

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