February 25, 2014

The Customer Service Lesson I Learned While Renting A Car

By Paul Bieber

So, you see, Elaine and I are traveling to a family wedding in California and then taking a little vacation.  Going to the California desert when we have seven feet of snow in our back yard is tough, but someone has to do it.

So where does the customer service lesson come in?  I rented a car from Dollar Rent-A-Car, an unnamed rental car company, and had reserved a luxury-level car.  Arriving at the airport, I went to the Dollar unnamed car rental booth and the young lady there confirmed my reservation, did the paperwork and directed me to see the attendant in the lot who would help select the car. 

Round 1.  When I showed him the contract, he told me they don’t carry luxury cars at this location and offered me a Volkswagen Jetta.  He said that’s the best car they had.  Now, I had just paid for either a Cadillac or a Lincoln.  He told me if I didn’t like it to go back into the office, but they wouldn’t help me because he was in charge of the cars. 

Round 2.  I asked him to call his supervisor to come to the pickup lot.  He told me no. He wouldn’t.  He turned his back on me and walked away.  

Round 3.  Elaine told me it didn’t matter, but it did.  We were going to be in this car for nine days, and I wanted a comfortable car.  She walked back into the office and came back ten minutes later and told me she had no success.  The lady in the office now realized she didn’t have the car that 30 minutes earlier we paid for.  I called the attendant over and asked him what other cars he had besides the VW.  He pointed to the lot with about 20 cars and told me to take my choice. 

I walked up to  a Chevy Crossover SUV and said we would take it. Just as I said that, he started to run away, saying he had a “customer” to take care of as a car was being driven in for a return.  I yelled out that I was a customer too.  He didn’t hear me. 

Round 4.  Five minutes later he walked back to us, with a scowl on his face, and said he would look for the keys to the locked Chevy.  He spent five minutes in his shack and couldn’t find the key.  He then walked into the office, taking ten minutes, came out with a can of some soft drink in his hand, and told us he couldn’t find the key inside either.  No Chevy.

The next best car on the lot was a Kia, which could barely hold our luggage, had no power seats, the Sirius radio only played ten channels of rock, and I could barely fit into the driver’s seat.  I was so angry, but Elaine reminded me we were on vacation and that we should try to have a good time.  We took the car and left.

Round 5.  We arrived at our hotel after a two-hour drive.  The next morning I called Dollar’s the unnamed car company’s 800 customer service line, not to complain about the abysmal service and attitude at the airport, but to get a new price for my contract, as the Kia  should have been priced at about half of the original price.  A lady answered promptly and I explained the situation.  She told me that she understood, but that she could not lower the price, as I had already signed for the car.  I told her I signed for the car before I picked it up, and she still told me she could do nothing.  I asked to speak with her supervisor.  She said it would do no good as their office was not allowed to change pricing.  Asking who could, she replied that I should speak with the supervisor when dropping the car off in San Francisco, eight days away.  And that ended that conversation.

Five rounds, and I lost each one.

The customer service reminder.  Make sure your employees have a smile on their face.  Make sure they know it is the customer that creates their paycheck.  If you advertise an 800 number help line, give those people the ability and the authority to help.  If you want repeat business, remember the customer is always right. 

There will be two more rounds.  When I return the car at San Francisco, and when I write an open letter to the president of Dollar this unnamed car rental company, sending copies to Hertz, Avis and most newspapers in the United States.  I’ll write this letter as a teaching lesson on customer service.  

I will win if it goes to round seven as I believe it is customer service that is the mark of a successful business, and I am willing to shout that from the top of the mountain.