As this issue of Auto Rental News lands on your desk, most of you will be in the midst of your busy season. Hopefully this summer marks a period of heavier rental volumes, higher rates and a renewed sense that “things” are getting better. Having a clearer picture of the General Motors situation along with some recent slightly positive economic news may help your perception, your marketplace and the industry overall.
For some operators, the economic storm has passed; for some, the storm is still there; and for a very small portion of operators, the forecast was wrong—the storm did not hit.
Regardless of your position and outlook, the economic storm and its aftermath have created a convergence of factors that are changing our industry:
- Welcome to the age of Car Rental Customer 2.0. Customers are leaner, hungrier for value, more vocal and frustrated.
- Frontline associates and management are maxed out. They have endured reductions in workforce as well as upset customers, and they have evolved to multi-task at a higher level.
- A weak U.S. job market—combined with industry layoffs and a strong pipeline of candidates—equals a buyer’s market for talent. The war for talent is over! Many operators are apprehensive about adding labor to their P&L in these uncertain times.
Evolution of “Car Rental Customers 2.0”
In the airline, hotel and car rental industries, the words customer experience and service represent urgency and focus. Yet, because of the car rental industry’s move to higher mileage units, lower frontline staffing levels and less management presence at the counters, to many customers, those words are evolving to represent settling for mediocrity and inconsistency.
Added pressures with corporate travel cutbacks, higher airline capacity and the traditional frustrations that go with travel have carried over to the customers’ perception of their experience at the rental counter. According to a JD Power study, all three travel-related industries posted declines in general customer satisfaction in the past two years, which hasn’t happened since 2001-2002.
Because of the current climate, many customers have evolved to adopt the following traits:
- In their minds, service has been diluted and perks for loyalty have been cut, so price matters. As a result of these changes, they have been less loyal to specific brands.
- With less management presence at the counters, customers rely on frontline associates to make critical decisions that impact their experience.
- Smart phones and wireless technologies have allowed customers to become ultra informed about rate changes and availability.
- Because of Internet booking portals, customers have become “price predatory” to find levels of new low rates.
- Social networking and popular consumer sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Trip Advisor and YouTube have intensified the customer’s feedback.
- Some have accepted longer line waits at hotel, airline and car rental counters as the status quo.
- They have accepted higher mileage on rental vehicles. Implementing the following techniques with your team will help you improve the customer’s experience and their perception:
- Implement a service-based sales training program for all team members. Support it with consistent coaching.
- Empower your frontline associates to handle customer complaints with a “first contact resolution” policy. Adopting a “no one leaves unhappy” mindset only starts when your team is fully trained and has customer resolution techniques and dialogues.
- Demonstrate to frontline associates the power of the Internet and the impact a negative report can have on travel or social sites. Ask yourself, “What happens when we Google our location about our service?” or “Do we have friends or foes on Facebook?”
- Encourage loyal customers to share positive feedback about your location on their social networking Web site. Establish an online ambassadors’ discount program.
- Coach frontline associates to acknowledge customers in line with a positive and appreciative method. Identify high volume hours that call for a management presence at the counter.
- Coach your frontline never to begin their rental process with “How was your flight?” Why open up a can of worms?
- Coach your service agents to spend additional time cleaning door jambs, cup holders, windshields and radio displays. Not only does a dirty car get driven harder, it appears older to the customer. The higher the mileage, the more attention it deserves.