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Car Rentals vis-a-vis Customer Service (or, Richard Branson, please help the NA car rental industry!) October 18, 2007

Posted by andrea in ephemera.

[I know it’s been a long time…much work, much vacation – no excuses]

I was in Atlanta with a client on Sept. 27th (my wedding anniversary), and we were driving back to the ATL airport to return the rental car. We were there in lots of time, at least 2 hours before each of our flights. However, Dollar Rent-a-Car doesn’t have a spot at the airport for returns. I follow the sign pointing to where we should return it. I’ll spare everyone the details, but 1 hour later, and after having been on the phone with the “guy” (from a central call desk) giving us directions, we were no closer to dumping the car. I think I must have seen most of the suburbs around Atlanta at least twice by now (and I’m really good at directions, honest!). Finally, with the clock ticking, we pulled into the Hertz car drop-off, to catch our breath. The “guy” (didn’t give a name – and we were dumb for not getting it) told us to leave the car there, leave the keys under the back-seat mat, with that door unlocked, and he would make sure it got picked up.

Fear was in my soul. Enough that I even swore with the best of them in front of my client (who is Christian – I’m sorry Karen).

We made our flights (and me spontaneously hugging TSA officials at ATL is another story, but a nice one). I made it home, only to leave again this next morning at 4:30am to head to Vancouver.

I decide to follow up with Dollar, to make sure the car was indeed picked up, and that my rental contract is closed. Well, no, and no.

I won’t bore you with the details, except to say that the most helpful Dollar Rent-a-Car CSR, Sherry, told me that if I thought I could do her job better than her (i.e. to FIND the car)…well, then. She recited her script, ad nauseum, and kept telling me that really she was the ultimate boss and there was no one else to help me (apparently, in this situation, you threaten to sue, and you’ll suddenly find a supervisor). While I was in Vancouver (3 hours behind Atlanta), between my client and myself (Karen is a fireball of making things happen! I owe everything in this story to her), we managed to find the car (at Hertz); discover it was (seriously) in the process of being hooked up to a tow truck because Hertz kept calling Dollar to come get the car and they wouldn’t pick up the phone; get the tow company’s name/number/address; find out the process to initiate Dollar to go GET the car; and have the contract closed. Also, I had my “people” in Atlanta, who were so wonderfully, willing to drive out to the location of Dollar to help me. Bobby, Ben, Melissa – that’s you.

In those 3 hours? Sherry helpfully supplied me with an “issue number”. Thanks, Sherry.

It took another FIVE days for Sherry to email me that the contract was closed (I’m now in Austria, on vacation). But, since car rental companies take their money first, I’m out $500 US – for 3 days rental, AND the towing charges.

Because one of their people told us that it was okay to make an alternative drop-off. Huh. So “guy” was trying to help us, but didn’t follow through. I blame him for that. But, I believe his heart was in the right place, although he sucks at completing a task.

And the rest of Dollar Rent-a-Car (the new name of Thrifty Rent-a-Car) denied that this ever happened. Okay, I said I’d spare the details (I’m trying). Do I bite the cost? Or follow up? Will “Silverman Helps” help me?

Contrast Austria. Sixt Rentals, a German rental car company. We picked up a minivan on Oct. 10, to drive our family from Vienna to Salzburg. No problems, here you go. When we park the van near our apartment, my dad notices a big scrape on the van. Uh-oh. We’re fretting already. There’s absolutely NO way this scrape could have been ours. Logically.

During the trip, we find out that one of the seat-belts doesn’t work. And, thanks to numerous motorists on the Autobahn, that one of the rear tail-lights doesn’t work. Fretting more. My husband and I deliver the van (after-hours) and I write a big note, saying exactly what we noticed. And that we’ll call to confirm.

I don’t get any sleep that night.

Harald calls Sixt the next morning, to make sure that everything’s cool. They THANK HIM for pointing out the flaws, and they’ve made a note to have those things fixed. He asks if we’re responsible, and they reply quite shocked “of course not! We’re happy you told us about these things. This way, we can make sure that everything is working/fixed for the next renters.”

I checked my Visa statement. Sixt: absolutely the price quoted, no questions asked.

I have ideas about why the experience was so different…in America, the car is king. And people are treated like they’re guilty. And thieves.

In Austria, there’s thing idea of always exceeding expectations. And a trust that people are honest, and smart. When Austrians feel as though they’ve let you down, as a customer, they’re actually ashamed. And have the autonomy to do something about it.

I was kind of kidding when I said bring Richard Branson in to revolutionize the car rental industry in North America, but not really. But, that’s another post.

Don’t treat your customers like they’re stupid, and powerless, and out to cheat you. ‘Cause, most of the time, they’re not. And the trust will pay you back in loyalty, forever.

Sixt.com – use them always. A pleasure.
Dollar Rent-a-Car – sucks to be you, gimme your money. And, by the way, screw yourself while you’re at it.



1. cars » Car Rentals vis-a-vis Customer Service (or, Richard Branson, please - October 18, 2007

[…] unknown wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptI was in Atlanta with a client on Sept. 27th (my wedding anniversary), and we were driving back to the ATL airport to return the rental car. […]

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