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Your Complaint Was Refused? No Surprise, They Don’t Care

If an employee ever says the equivalent of, “Please don’t tell me about your problem; I really don’t want to know,” you can be sure that the organization has bigger problems than the one you happen to be having.

That was my sad experience traveling on the Hickory Hop shuttle from Charlotte Douglas International Airport to my long-awaited vacation destination a couple of years ago. It turns out that the shuttle’s cute name is no indication of appealing service: Hickory Hop is in the business of moving vehicles at prearranged times to various locations where people get on and off, rather than the business of helping customers easily get where they need to go when they need to get there.

Playing the Waiting Game

Hickory Hop was the provider recommended by my venue, but the carrier’s surprisingly inflexible schedule wound up lengthening my travel day significantly. Oh well, I thought, no harm done. At least I had the opportunity to do some work during the 90 minutes I waited at Charlotte.

Ten minutes before the appointed pickup time, I went to the appointed pickup location. At 15 minutes past pickup time, I called Hickory Hop’s office to make sure I was in the right place. I got a recorded message, and left a message of concern, which no one ever answered.

Then I walked over to chat with an elderly woman who was also waiting for Hickory Hop. She had called in too, and actually reached a human being, who told her, “Just wait, they’re on the way.” The response turned out to be a perfect indication of how little this company troubles itself with customer comfort or consumer confidence.

Finally, 25 minutes after the scheduled time, a Hickory Hop van with a cottontail logo painted on the back arrived. The elderly woman and I got on and compared our experiences with the other two passengers. The prize for receiving the worst treatment went to a fellow who had called multiple times with no response. He began to express his frustration to the driver, but she cut him off promptly: “You’ll have to talk to the office about that.”

Driven to Distraction

All four of us had afternoon commitments, so we asked the driver about our ETAs. She made it plain that she couldn’t tell us. She was perfectly pleasant but completely unhelpful. All she would say was that it would take about 45 minutes to get to the connection point at a smaller regional airport, where we would switch to another vehicle. Her job was to get us to the office; she couldn’t estimate further. Apparently there was no ETA for anyone, ever, and no concern about passengers’ concerns.

At that point, I noticed the sign on the wall of the van, which proclaimed: “Tips welcome. Please register any complaints or compliments with management.” Underneath was the phone number I had called for help. Clearly, Hickory Hop’s drivers had expectations of receiving gratuities for driving, but no expectations of providing quality service or care.

The driver for the second leg of the trip was no better. She was much chattier, but equally unresponsive to actual customer need — or to any aspect of customer experience. She left the elderly woman and her rather large suitcase at the top of a steep hill, explaining to me that it was too hard for her to turn the van around at the bottom if there was another vehicle there, although there happened to be none at the time. This driver was just following the routine that worked for her, without notice of the live passengers in her care. Her purpose was to carry out her task; the passengers’ outcomes were their problem.

And yet both drivers stood, expectantly if nonchalantly, next to their vehicles at the end of each leg of the trip, waiting for the tips they clearly felt were their due.

Is Being the Supplier of Record Enough?

I mentioned Hickory Hop’s notable lack of service to the management of the venue where my program was held. It turned out that they’d received — and passed on — numerous complaints about the service, and had recently decided to find alternative transportation options so as not to be damaged by their customers’ dissatisfaction with this crucial aspect of their trip.

Today’s service environment is increasingly demanding. When a company’s prevailing employee attitude is that “it’s not my job” or “it’s not my problem,” and their management doesn’t intervene to resolve problems or even smooth ruffled feathers, it’s hard to imagine that they’ll be able to sustain significant repeat business — not even if, like Hickory Hop, they’ve been operating as if they’re the only game in town.

Onward and upward,


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