Am I the only one who has troubles with the process of picking up a rental car? I’m not a heavy user, but as a frequent traveller with about 6–7 rentals a year (across all the major brands) I do consider my sampling to become representative. And I must say, I'm not too impressed with what I see.
Still, as my life's philosophy is to be part of the solution, rather than the problem, I don't want to be one of those people who write about all the things that are wrong with the world. Instead, in this post, I’d like to offer up a few suggestions to make the handover experience in automotive rentals a little more agreeable from the customer side. If you know people in the industry, feel free to forward them this article. Also, if you know of any rental company that actually does the below, please tell me … I’ll become their client tomorrow.
#1 Provide your people with better user interfaces
No matter how extensive an online form you fill in as a client, there always seem to be a whole battery of buttons the people at the desk need to push. The result is 5–10 minutes of awkward client waiting time which typically leaves the rental car agent pro-actively apologising and making jokes about “the system”. While I can imagine that for clients without reservation there is some complex inventory checking and information gathering to be done, there must be ways to simplify the process which desk agents have to go through, even with legacy system issues.
#2 Give clear directions on where to find the rental car office, where to pick up the car (and what ever else is relevant).
Most of the time — when you’re travelling — you're not intimately familiar with the environment you need to navigate. Especially at complex airports finding the office/courtesy van or picking up your car can become somewhat of an adventure. Provide clients with (previously e-mailed) mini-maps that clearly indicate where what can be found, can do a world of miracles. The same can apply to other pieces of relevant driver info. What are nice places to stop for coffee? Which museum should you add to your trip if you've got an hour to spare? What are the traffic regulations of the country you'll be driving in ? The rental car experience isn't just about booking and collecting, there's the finding, driving, returning and all the other steps. Simple guidance on each of these, can make a world of difference.
#3 STOP THE UPSELL RACKET. Seriously, STOP IT!
Every business needs to up-sell, I get that. However, in most car rental pick-ups I have encountered, the up-sell techniques cross a line with attempts for creating fear (you really need this insurance), funny maths (if you buy our full tank refill service it is cheaper than filling it up yourself) or other questionable sales tactics. My personal favourite was a Sixt sales agent at Los Angeles Airport which tried to guilt me into a $650 upgrade by stating that “if I was happy to drive around my family for three weeks in a small Volkswagen Passat, that was my choice”.
While I totally understand the need to make money, and accept giving it your best pitch, badgering clients doesn’t get you loyalty. There are other ways to make the same margin on clients without resorting to bad profits.
#4 Provide an optional car handover
Often, when you rent a car, you drive a model that you haven’t driven before. This means the buttons may be in places you don’t expect or interfaces just work that little bit different from your car at home. Doing an optional car handover to explain how to connect a mobile phone, or where to find the gearbox on a Mercedes C-class could both improve the confidence (and safety) of drivers while also vastly improving the customer’s driving experience.
If it's too expensive to do this through staff (which I could understand), use technology. Most renters have smartphone's these days, so a very simple QR code in the car with some form of Wifi access can give them access to videos explaining everything before they turn the key (or hit the start button, or ... what ever it may be their car does).
BONUS: Actually, just sort out your customer experience
While they would address some of my personal pet peeves, I realise all the above are just incidentals in your customer-lifecycle. But I’m afraid they are indicative of an industry which is caught in orthodoxy and ripe for disruption.
It’s only a matter of time before the car industry figures out the rental value of all the unused cars on their lots or some Silicon Valley whizkid comes with a truly viable way of shaking up the industry.
Before that happens, you want to have an army of loyal customers who will not switch away. This means looking at every aspect of your rental experience and making sure it not just meets, but exceeds customer expectations.
Or get ready to move to another industry.
PS. I must be honest
I did have one handover experience in Croatia which ticked all the above boxes. I will not name the gentleman as he’s bound to get fired over it, but in addition to a personal handover and an introduction to the region he also told me where to get cheaper gas than that his company was selling. Finally, he advised against taking the ridiculously priced GPS option, as all I needed to go to my destination was to follow the road outside the airport. To make sure I didn’t get lost, he gave me a map and even indicated the route to my hotel. Guess who’s cars I will rent again next time I’m in town?
If you would like to talk customer experience/customer-centricity in car rental or other industries, feel free to get in touch, ask my colleagues at Futurelab, check out my book "So You Want To Be Customer-Centric?" or join the Linkedin group by the same name. I look forward to hearing from you!