The success behind every outstanding car and truck rental operation is always found in the smallest of details. The best team members approach every detail as though it were the greatest piece of the operational puzzle.

It is critical for your frontline team to understand the importance of their words during those critical five minutes in the rental process. Creating an awareness of how the "little things" add up and how words matter will enhance your customer's experience and lead to a stronger bottom line.

The Power of "We"

When pricing a reservation rate, walkup or an upsell, it is critical that the frontline associate always use the pronoun "we" instead of "I."

If an associate says, "I can get you a rate of $49 per day on that," it implies that the frontline associate solely controls the pricing scenario. In many cases it will open up further negotiation with the customer. This effect is magnified if your sales team is much younger than their average customer. By utilizing "we," a "strength in numbers" perception is created for the customer because it implies that the perceived entity of the car rental company is behind the frontline associate as well.

Using the word "we" instead of "I" is always more effective in a customer service redemption scenario as well. Saying to an upset customer, "Mr. Smith, I understand you have a concern, let me listen to it, so we can get it resolved," creates for the customer an environment of collaboration.

Measurable Impact: Operators who have a strong service-based sales process in place with follow-up training and coaching can expect to have a stronger upsell conversion than their competitors. They will also have a stronger rate per day on their walkup rentals and a higher reservation conversion rate.

Avoid Passive Talk

Implement a defined coaching process that stresses strong, confident dialogues and closing messages. Train your frontline team to avoid using passive phrases such as "We have," "Do you want," "We offer," "Would you like, "Do you need." Replace those passive messages with strong words and phrases such as, "recommend," "suggest," "we encourage," and "many customers prefer."

Successful sales people are advocates of their products and services; utilizing this dialogue technique will make the rental process more professional for your customer and will increase the confidence level of your frontline sales team.

Measurable Impact: Eliminating passive talk in your frontline team will increase your coverage and product sales conversion as well as lower customer complaints.

Using "Empty" Lowers Profits

Telling the customer to return the vehicle empty not only lowers the ability to sell your fuel service option, it also increases the customer's apprehension that they will run out of gas prior to returning. The margins on fuel are thin to begin with, encouraging the customer to push it will only make them worse.

Replace the "empty" phrase with, "You can return the car with whatever amount of gas you are comfortable," or "You can return the vehicle without refueling." This will lower your customer's apprehensions about fuel.

This dialogue and benefit to the customer is only effective if the customer is aware of the convenience of the fuel option and is informed that they are purchasing the entire tank.

Measurable Impact: Based on a recent study, the average profit margin on prepaid fuel services is 11 to 14 percent. Avoiding the word "empty" will not only increase your fuel margins on returned vehicles, it will lower your sales-related complaints and increase the conversion on fuel option sales.[PAGEBREAK]

Control the Call

Rental operators spend millions on marketing to make the phones ring. It is critical that their frontline sales teams be prepared to answer those phones in a polite and professional manner.

The most effective frontline team member answers the phone by thanking the customer immediately. The associate will then state the rental office's geographic location, offer his or her name to the customer and then solicit the name of the customer.

For example, the strongest greeting is, "Thank you for choosing ABC Rent A Car at Fourth Street, my name is Ann. May I have your name please?" This technique conveys appreciation immediately to the potential customer, and by stating the location, the associate is often answering the customer's first question. This technique also quickly transitions to the relationship aspect of the associate's name and the potential customer's name.

Time is money, and competition for that potential customer's attention is fierce. Ensuring that your team utilizes this strategy will lead to greater call efficiency and new bookings.

Measurable Impact: To measure your team's follow-through, have your team test call their neighboring locations and your competitors. The impact of using this technique can be measured by the increase in local reservations made compared to the 800 number reservation channel and the decrease in reservation cancellation rates.

Ask Open-ended Qualifying Questions

In gathering information from the customer, it is essential to use open-ended questions to determine his or her needs. Asking closed-ended questions usually results in a "yes" or "no" response and doesn't allow the associate to gather necessary information to make sound, needs-based recommendations.

Although using open-ended questions will take more time than closed-ended questions, the results can be significant. Open-ended questions are more useful in gathering information, because responses are not as limited. These questions are also perceived as less threatening and foster a high level of trust.

Measurable Impact: If associates use only closed-ended questions, they will reduce most product penetrations (namely, upgrades and coverage) by 20 to 30 percent - thus hurting the operation's bottom line. Conversely, if associates use open-ended questions, sales penetrations increase dramatically and certain customer complaints are reduced as well.

"It's the little things that are vital. Little things make big things happen," John Wooden, one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time, once said.

Take stock of those little things that can make big things happen for you, your operation and the team that you entrust to take care of your customers. 

Ken Stellon is a managing partner for the Frontline Performance Group (FPG). Stellon and the team at FPG are frequent contributors to Auto Rental News. Contact Stellon at (630) 788-2879.