Mad as #$%^ and not going to take it anymore!

Just back from a trip with a new dose of customer service frustration. I am reminded of the book by Ted Cohn, Why are you making it so hard for me to give you my money? His point isn’t that companies don’t want your money—they just don’t want to serve you to get it. No more private complaining. Let’s share our frustrations and influence the market together! This time Dollar Rent A Car was the culprit. So, follow along with me and weigh in…what do you think? {+}

Time and again service delivery at the point of customer contact leaves something to be desired. Is it the fault of the employee if they don’t deliver? Maybe. They may be well trained and just not care or may be having a bad day. More likely, it is the fault of the company for not properly training employees or having policies that limit employees’ response. Here is the Dollar story.

  • Had to make a quick trip for a family emergency, so I called my favorite airline, Southwest, to cash in Rapid Rewards, and they asked me if I needed a rental car. Usually, I use Enterprise Rent-A-Car because they are a service-oriented company, but I was in a hurry, so I let them book me on Dollar, one of their affiliated companies. (Good for SWA for making it easy.)
  • When I arrived on Saturday in New Orleans, I took the Dollar Rent A Car bus to the outpost, stood in line the usual 30 minutes and got my car. Although I asked for a compact, I am pretty sure I got an upgrade. They never said, so I surmise it was because that is all they had vs. a treat. (But, round one to Dollar.)
  • All went well until my return. I allowed 3 ½ hours for a 3 hour trip and 1 ¼ hours once I got to the airport since I had to turn a car in—otherwise one hour is my rule of thumb. I needed every minute as I ran into construction that delayed me about a half an hour—but still met my goal of 1 ¼ hours ahead. As usual, when I rented the car, I declined all coverages, gas etc. My plan was to find the rental car company upon return and then get gas; the car needed half a tank.
  • I followed the signs to the rental car companies and then looked for Dollar and didn’t see it. So, I drove back through. Still, didn’t see it. Now I had 50 minutes left until my flight, hadn’t yet gotten my boarding pass, and no idea how clogged the airport would be. I was starting to get concerned.
  • So, next move was to pull into a different rental car company to ask where Dollar was, and I found out it was approximately 2 miles away from the rest of the companies. Oh dear. I am pushing it. Drove to the Dollar Rent A Car return site. Now, 45 minutes to take off and no time for gas. I am the only car and there is an employee outside, eating. I asked if anyone could check me in. She said she would and finished her bite, took a sip of drink and walked over. I explained I was in a big hurry and that while I fully intended to get gas, it took me so long to find them that I was not able to. I asked her to please consider the circumstances when deciding what or how much to charge me for gas. She said she would charge me $8 a gallon for gas. She never said “thank you” for renting with Dollar. (I am not a happy camper.)
  • For the record: NO ONE mentioned when I checked in that they weren’t close to the other agencies; the bus I caught to their site was with all of the other rental car buses; and when the bus drove me to the rental car company to get my car I wasn’t aware of where we were relative to the airport or other agencies.
  • Next, I boarded the bus to take me to the airport—timeline down to 40 minutes. I explained to the driver what happened. She said nothing. So I asked her, out of curiosity, what they are trained to say to a disgruntled customer. She said, “It’s not my problem. You got on here with an attitude, and I don’t want to hear it”. I tried to play professor (not a good idea BTW) and suggest she represents the company, and if enough customers were upset, it could impact her personally. She assured me she would not lose her job because I was frustrated!
  • When I printed my boarding pass, the SWA agent could tell I was frowning and asked what was wrong. I told him highlights and HE said, “I’m sorry.” Unbelievable—Dollar couldn’t say it, but SWA did, just because he felt bad for me. It is called empathy and is so very rare! I wanted to hug him.
  • I felt my inability to get gas was directly linked to their unique location and lack of communication regarding where it was when I checked in. Is sharing that information a courtesy or an obligation? You tell me. I can only say that, had I known, my problem would have been avoided.

So what happened next? I decided to take a survey during the remainder of my journey. I asked the Starbucks counter personnel, “What are you trained to say to a customer who complains about something you didn’t do?” She said, “I don’t know. I would just say, hope your day gets better.” But she didn’t feel she was officially trained to respond. I next asked an experienced SWA gate agent. She said she would give me the customer service information. I asked her if she would say, “I’m sorry that happened” or something like that, and she said most likely she would before referring them to customer relations. Even the best companies apparently aren’t training first line employees to defuse upset customers—just passing the buck to customer service. That really surprised me! If you are listening, companies, share with us how you cover this in training. Shouldn’t every person be trained to start with EMPATHY?

When we work with clients on customer service, we start with the “Just Say Yes” philosophy of finding a way to offer a supportive phrase of empathy before offering solutions to their problem. Even if you can’t do what they are asking, they need to know you care.

So what is the rest of the story?

  • Of course, I have called Southwest customer relations and suggested that they not partner with substandard companies. They were empathetic, but couldn’t do anything but forward it to their Dollar liaison. They have promised to get back to me.
  • Next, I called Dollar and talked to Robert, (no last name or ID #) who was very pleasant, but said he was empowered to refund my fuel costs, but was not going to, because my contract said I would bring it back with fuel. I asked him to explain the rationale he was using to deny my request to refund fuel charges if he had the authority to do so, and he said it was based on my contract. I highly suspect they are subject to policy that prohibits them from overriding the contract. They would be better off saying so, because otherwise it feels like they are just saying my story isn’t worthy.
  • I asked for his supervisor, and she did call me back in a timely way. I explained the story again and she re-iterated that they would not refund my fuel expense. She told me it was my responsibility to know their location and bring my car back on time and with fuel. When I asked her if she could give me an example of when they would reimburse fuel charges, she said it was case by case. What if I had a flat tire? She said that would be my charge, because it was not their fault. I asked her again to name an example where they would use their empowerment to adjust the fuel charge, and she said only the local company could reimburse, otherwise they would reinforce policy. When I asked to speak to someone higher, she told me their CEO’s name, Scott Thompson. Well, Scott, maybe we can become friends, if you are open minded. Perhaps, Scott should go on Undercover Boss!

So now what? As Hertz just bought Dollar, it will be interesting to see what changes, if any, they make to it in terms of positioning, efficiences and policies that are reflected in customer service. For me, this blog. I would really like to hear from you regardless of your point of view. Agree or disagree. Share your nightmares or good experiences. Let’s all agree to support those that treat us well and not use services of those that don’t.  If Scott writes me back, I will share it with you! Go out there and expect quality service—remember you are paying for it!

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