Your company has most likely received an e-mail or phone call - or several - from Christopher Elliott.
He is a journalist and consumer advocate for travel-related matters. He is National Geographic Traveler's ombudsman, a nationally syndicated columnist through Tribune Media Services and a columnist for MSNBC.com and The Washington Post. He has been featured as a travel expert on numerous television and radio networks.
Though car rental represents less than 10 percent of his coverage, Elliott has heard and acted on thousands of consumer complaints related to car rental companies. Here are his views on the car rental industry and how he believes it can improve.
ARN: How would you best describe what you do?
Elliott: I'm an advocate for travelers. My formal title is ombudsman, which is a Swedish word for "agent" - someone who is an intermediary between the public and the travel industry. I prefer the term reader advocate, because everyone seems to understand that. Basically, I'm here to help your customers.
ARN: How did you get into the area of consumer advocacy?
I was an editor for a travel trade publication back in the mid-90s, and I had an opportunity to see the way the business worked from the inside out. When customers began reaching out to me for help, I started posting their questions and my answers online. And then I started advocating for them. Next thing I knew, I had a syndicated column, a blog and an appointment as ombudsman for a national magazine.
ARN: How many customer service queries or complaints regarding car rental do you receive on a weekly basis? Do you respond to every complaint you receive? What percentage do you publish?
Elliott: I don't really track it in a scientific way, but if I had to guess, I'd say I get between 10 and 20 car rental requests in an average week. I try to respond to every one. I publish maybe one in 100 cases.
ARN: Where do you see the car rental industry failing in its customer service efforts?
Elliott: Let me start by saying I think the car rental industry does very well by its customers, especially when compared with other industry segments such as airlines and cruises. Most of the complaints I get are related to damage claims and surprise fees. So in those two areas, I think there's room for improvement.
ARN: In what areas does the car rental industry do well when it comes to customer service?
Elliott: That's a hard question to answer apart from my own experience, because I only deal with complaints. But generally speaking, I think the car rental industry delivers a reliable product at an affordable price.
ARN: In your estimation, how does the car rental industry stand in its customer service efforts compared to other industries?
Elliott: I think it's holding its own.