Understanding Customer Satisfaction

J.D. Power and Associates’ Stuart Greif talks about the 2010 North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study, how RACs were graded and why brands achieved the scores they did.

J.D. POWER AND ASSOCIATES 2010 SATISFACTION STUDY: The 2010 North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study is based on more than 11,500 evaluations from business and leisure travelers who rented a vehicle at an airport location within the previous 30 days. The study was fielded between October 2009 and September 2010.

Overall customer satisfaction with rental cars has returned to pre-recession levels after declining to lower levels during the past two years, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2010 North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study released in November.

Now in its 15th year, the study measures overall customer satisfaction with renting cars at airports by examining six factors (listed in order of importance): costs and fees, pick-up process, rental car, return process, reservation process and shuttle bus/van.

Overall satisfaction averaged 750 on a 1,000-point scale in 2010. This is an improvement from 733 in 2009 and 734 in 2008, equal to the 2007 overall score, yet below the 767 score in pre-recession 2006. Satisfaction with the reservation process, pick-up process, shuttle bus/van and costs and fees achieved three-year highs. Each of the rental car companies included in the study has improved in 2010 compared with 2009.

Enterprise ranked highest in customer satisfaction for a seventh consecutive year and performed particularly well in all six factors. Enterprise is followed in the rankings by National and Hertz, respectively.

In addition to increased satisfaction with rental car companies in 2010, customer loyalty and advocacy have also improved from 2009. In 2010, one-third of business travelers and 28 percent of leisure travelers indicated they "definitely will" rent from the same brand again-marking increases of 2 percent and 5 percent, respectively, from 2009. Advocacy rates have increased by 3 percent among business travelers and 6 percent among leisure travelers from 2009. In 2010, 30 percent of travelers in both groups say they "definitely will" recommend their rental car company.

Stuart Greif, vice president of the travel practice at J.D. Power and Associates and the director of the study, spoke with Auto Rental News to explain the survey and put some qualitative analysis behind the numbers.

The Economy Matters

The roller coaster economy has had a huge influence on overall scores in the past few years.

"The macroeconomic conditions affecting both business and leisure travel as well as consumer discretionary spend have a demonstrable impact [on scores]," says Greif. "They pose the greatest challenge when revenue is down when [car rental companies] are looking at how to reduce operating costs and manage profit through a downturn.

"By quickly improving their operations as the market started coming back, rental car companies started reversing the negative impact on satisfaction that cuts and deferred investments had during the downturn," says Greif. "Satisfaction snapping back in 2010 is a testament to the industry doing its best to balance the tension between customer satisfaction and hard economic realities during this period."

Economic conditions affected satisfaction scores in other travel industries, says Greif, though scores in airline surveys were bumped up somewhat during the economic downturn. That's because lower airfares and smaller passenger loads resulted in less congestion at airports and on planes, as well as fewer checked bag problems and fewer complaints with baggage fees. Nonetheless, airline scores were still much lower than in 2006, before the onset of baggage fees.

CONTINUED:  Understanding Customer Satisfaction
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