How important is customer service today?
In an industry quickly becoming commoditized, the difference between smaller franchisees and independents from the majors is customer service. An owned and operated location affords frontline staff the flexibility to go out of their way to help the customer and be better positioned for a “high-touch” transaction.
The philosophy that “customer service is the new marketing” is also relevant to the local operator, especially in an era of nonexistent advertising budgets. From sending birthday cards to frequent renters to printing out MapQuest directions, here are some low- or no-cost ways to build relationships and gain repeat customers.
Arthur Vercollone, Verc Rentals (Weymouth, Mass.)
• We print up wall calendars with classic cars on them and give them to the body shops and mechanics. There’s space to write on them, which helps the shop guys keep track of stuff. They cost us 70 cents each and it really helps market our business.
Jack Vercollone, Verc Rentals (Plymouth, Mass.)
• We run new cars now. It improves our image, and customers are happier in the car. Our numbers were dropping as a used car company. It costs a little more on interest and depreciation but significantly less on maintenance. When we were running used cars we had to be significantly cheaper than the name brand competition — now we can be in the same price range, or a little lower.
Wendy Livy, U-Save Auto Rental (Ames, Iowa)
• We’re also a used car dealership. When we sell a car in the winter, we give customers an ice scraper with the U-Save Auto Rental logo on it. It costs us 52 cents.
• We have a frequent renter card that gives a free rental after 10 rentals.
• We send all of our frequent renters a birthday card.
• If we see that a customer’s license is coming up for renewal soon, we’ll mention that to them.
Bill Landstra, Rent-a-Wreck (San Leandro, Calif.)
• There is such phoniness to customer service these days: “Your call is important to us; press one or press two.” My angle is being a human being instead of a clerk. I know how to listen and make decisions based on who I’m talking to. We’re not corporate. If you ask me something that takes a little more effort, I can do it because I’m not locked behind the counter. You’re dealing with a human being who owns the business. I’ve actually said, “Thanks for feeding my kids,” and it makes them grin.
Kevin Damrell, Budget Rent A Car (Richland, Wash.)
• Greet customers the second they walk through the door, even before the door closes behind them. Make them think they’re the first thing on your mind.
• There are little extras we do with truck rentals, such as telling them to wait a minute to let the glow plugs warm up on the diesel trucks. We’ll help them adjust the mirrors and generally make sure they are comfortable before they drive off.
• We have to work harder on communicating our policy of hourly late charges. If we did a better job up front, it would head off complaints down the road.