The Old College Try

Today, I have a special guest blogger, Greg Meyer. Greg and I are kindred spirits when it comes to customer experience, and I asked him to share a recent car rental story and the lessons one can learn from it. Thanks, Greg. You rock!

The Old College Try

“Do, or do not. There is no try” –@yoda

“We try harder” –@avis

It’s really challenging to “speak with one voice” as a company, whether your company is small, large, or anywhere in between. I recently had an experience with a major car rental company that left me appreciative of individual effort and frustrated at the inability of the company to meet the needs of the customer.

So, what happened?

I had a small crisis – a flat tire on the way to an important meeting while traveling on business to Research in Motion headquarters in Waterloo, Ontario. I called Roadside Assistance, and my expectation was that Avis would send a crew to fix my tire. They actually told me to fix it myself and that there were tools in the trunk to accomplish the task.

Lesson #1 – The Company Process Doesn’t Always Benefit the Customer
The representative from Avis wasn’t necessarily wrong – he was following a script that suggested what he should do when someone calls in with a flat tire – but he wasn’t able (or willing) to see things from my point of view. I didn’t want to learn a new process, use any tools, or to do work because my day was already full.

Lesson #2 – Help can come from an Unexpected Place
Lauren (the building receptionist) went above and beyond my expectations by finding a local Avis rep when he was returning another car and escalating the issue to the local sales manager Chris. Chris showed up and brought me a new car – a Kia Soul – and was very pleasant. I was ecstatic and wanted to shout everyone’s praises to the whole world. And I did.

Lesson #3 – Oops, Everyone’s not on the same page
I drove off into the sunset with a new rental car and went along my merry way. Everything’s great, right? Not quite – when I returned home to the states I got a bill to replace the tire. Huh? After a few emails to figure out what was going on, I found that because my corporate office advises me to decline the rental car-provided insurance, incidents like a flat tire are “rotten luck” and need to be paid out of pocket.

I wrote to @AvisWeTryHarder and explained to Ann Smith (the social media representative) that this outcome was silly, that I shouldn’t need to pay it, and that she should fix it. She did (eventually), but she wasn’t able to do so immediately (by policy.) And the overall experience was one of confusion, rather than triumph at great service and heroic efforts by a few people.

What did I learn?
Avis resolved my issue and I didn’t have to pay for the flat tire (yay!) There were a few key lessons that I gleaned from this experience, including:
  1. It’s hard to speak with one voice – even if everything goes right, training your employees to understand the complexities of a situation and how to use common sense is difficult to train, so you’ve got to hire for attitude;
  2. The customer decides if it was a good experience — customers don’t care why it went wrong, they just want you to fix it. Or explain very clearly why you can’t fix it and to offer a good alternative;
  3. There might be good substitutes, but it’s hard to think of them sometimes – I could have called AAA Auto Club, but I didn’t realize that they would cover me while traveling in Canada. In this case heroic effort won the day.
What’s the impact of the “old college try”?
The customer doesn’t care whether you try harder. The customer cares whether you get it done. Yoda wins.
About Greg Meyer: Greg delights customers and tries to provide the best customer experience possible by listening, providing support, and solving problems. He is a startup veteran of several early stage companies including Gist (acquired by Research in Motion.) In addition to his ability to translate simultaneously between English and Geek, Greg likes to draw things and take pictures of signs. You can contact Greg at @grmeyer. (photo by http://flickr.com/photos/gregmeyer)

5 Responses

  1. Good article on “the old college try”. A couple of other observation on the flat tire customer service experience.

    1. Customers do want a great service experience, if they pay for the extra service or not. As consumers we often strip companies of their extra services (don’t pay for the insurance/roadside assistance) and expect to get the service anyway. Companies should factor that into their pricing up front, when ever possible. I understand it’s hard to do if you are competing on price, but national rental companies are not really competing on price. If roadside assistance is becoming an expected service, rental companies should build it into their pricing.

    2. Train people to say yes quickly “we’ll take care of you right away” and inform the customer what the charge will be, (if any) in a fast, happy and customer service focused way. Nothing if greater than hearing “this is covered under the insurance that you purchased and so there will be no additional charge”. Not as nice, but still better than getting an unexpected bill later is “We’ll get someone out to you right away. There is a small charge for changing the tire for you, and we’ll get you on your way asap”.

    So as providers we need to charge enough for the services customers may want, to make sure we can happily and quickly provide it. A missing part of the much customer service training is how to talk about pricing. Being honest and up-front; “the charge for this service is X$” generally works. When we apologize for pricing, or omit the conversation about cost, I believe the customer service experience suffers.

  2. Wow! The fact that the initial person told you to fix it yourself is really bad. I understand that they probably have a process for dealing with that one issue. However, it seems that process is flawed. What person is going to rent a car and want to deal with a flat tire on it? Whether it’s a business trip or vacation, many of us don’t want to lose that time and the inevitable grunginess that follows. To me this is a process that Avis should re-evaluate and see from the customer’s perspective. Especially considering that many people have no clue how to change a flat and would panic in your situation.

    This would’ve been a great opportunity for Avis to show some forethought in their customer service instead of pushing the customer away. At least they solved things in the end, but it sounds like a lot of work on your part was the reason things got solved.

  3. Too many scripts for telephone operatives to read from and no human interaction. There’s no job satisfaction for them so they shift you through like a conveyor belt because you (and therefore “we”) are purely a means to an end (Money being the end)

    Customer Service RIP

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