Customer service isn’t just limited to the rental counter and face-to-face client interaction. Social media allows the conversation with customers to continue after they return the vehicle — or to start a new relationship with potential clients, as well.
“Social media is a conversation where you have the opportunity to reach a lot of people,” says Carrie Kelly, director of marketing at U-Save Car & Truck Rentals. “For a business, it’s all about building relationships.”
Being active on social media doesn’t mean logging into your account a few times per week. The trick is creating engaging posts.
“The posts are important because it shows that you are active,” says Doris Morningstar, senior media consultant at Hibu, an online marketing agency. “In a perfect world, companies should be checking their social media pages daily and posting a few times per week.”
Similar to a two-way conversation, social media provides a platform for customers to post reviews or comments and for companies to respond.
“Word of mouth is still the largest form of marketing,” says Kelly. “People are talking on social media, and my philosophy is if they are talking about your business, you should be part of the conversation. Don’t ignore reviews; encourage them and embrace them.”
No matter what social media platform is used, it’s important to find engaging posts to start conversations. Morningstar recommends holding contests or posting industry-specific articles, such as a checklist of what you need to travel.
“One car rental company held a contest where users had to tag five of their friends to be entered to win a free Garmin GPS system,” says Morningstar. “Some companies will have a contest to win tickets. Users have to tag photos from their rental experience and share them on their social media pages in order to be entered.”
Leisure Car Rental on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten focuses its social media platform on Facebook but also uses Twitter, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.
To maintain engagement on its Facebook page, General Manager Jimmy Fitzpatrick has reworked his types of posts over the last few years. Five years ago, 80% of Leisure’s posts featured photos of happy clients with their rental vehicles.
“Many of our competitors started copying us by posting pictures of their clients with the rental vehicles,” says Fitzpatrick. “It forced us to think outside the box and come up with more creative ways to engage users.”
Currently, Leisure is still posting photos of clients but has reduced these photos to 40% of its overall social media posts. According to Fitzpatrick, another 40% of its posts focus on travel and news about the island of St. Maarten, including events, photos of beaches, and live videos. The remaining 20% of posts revolve around Leisure’s brand and its offering of vehicles.
“We noticed that many clients miss the island after they leave, so we post photos of St. Maarten’s beaches and hotspots as well as trending news about the island,” says Fitzpatrick. “It keeps users aware of what’s happening here.”
At U-Save, Kelly helps franchisees maintain their social media pages. “We have a system where the marketing department will be able to post on the franchisees’ behalf,” says Kelly. “Most of our franchisees are small business owners with small staffs; they usually don’t have the time, interest, or expertise to do marketing themselves.”
Hire a Professional
Some small operators hire an outside source to help maintain their presence on social media.
International Franchise Systems (IFS), owners of the Rent-A-Wreck, Priceless, and Nextcar franchise brands, works with Morningstar at Hibu to maintain its social media pages.
“We work with a lot of small- and medium-sized companies,” says Morningstar. “We post on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages for our clients. You hit a different age group with each platform.”
When partnering with companies like IFS, Hibu will first help their clients set up social media pages — if they don’t have them yet, according to Morningstar. Then Hibu will develop posts for their clients; the same post is pushed out to the client’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages. Clients have control of their dashboards and can look at upcoming posts and edit or delete them.
“A lot of companies have really good intentions and want to post on social media,” says Morningstar. “They will do it consistently for a little while, but then something happens and they have to get back to their daily operations. The posts are important because it shows that a company is active and updating its social media.”
Don’t Ignore Online Reviews
Customer reviews are a big part of your company’s online reputation, including how you respond to them. It’s important to respond to comments on review sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor, especially those that are negative or address a concern. Responding can have a positive effect on a company’s brand.
“When businesses don’t respond to negative reviews, it seems like they are trying to brush the complaints under the rug or that they don’t care,” says Morningstar. “When they respond to negative reviews, it shows that they have taken the extra step. It is also comforting to clients when they see that the issue has been recognized. People want to be heard and want their issues addressed.”
Speed Auto Rental will respond to negative online reviews in a timely manner. “The negative reviews that point out something that can be improved must be addressed,” says Juliana Ely, owner of StartUPing.US, the consulting agency in charge of Speed Auto Rental’s social media program. “Acknowledge the problem, offer a solution, or show how you will improve.”
What’s the best way to respond to negative reviews? Reponses should always be done in a professional manner, but it depends on the situation whether you want to go into full detail on the social media site or contact the customer offline.
Morningstar has seen some rental companies leave a quick reply on the social media page — “I would like to contact you to discuss this further”— and then reach out to the client via email or on the phone.
Peter Chapman, general manager of Alaska Auto Rental, responded in more detail to a negative one-star review on his company’s Yelp page to clarify that the review of events weren’t true. The reviewer claimed that the counter agent overcharged her and wouldn’t let her keep the car an extra day. She also claimed that a tow truck took the vehicle and kicked her and her child onto the side of the road.
Chapman read the review, and through his response, he was able to clarify that she didn’t rent a vehicle from his company. In fact, the vehicle she was driving was rented by someone else and she didn’t have authorization to drive it. Additionally, the person who rented the vehicle had stopped paying for it and refused to return it as required by his rental agreement.
“After reviewing our call log, I found that the staff member who assisted you was courteous and respectful in his responses to you,” Chapman wrote in his response. “During your conversation, you became agitated and hung up on him. Our goal is to be polite and respectful to every customer. While you may not have appreciated the fact that we did not allow you to continue driving a vehicle that you did not rent or pay for, our staff informed you of the circumstances in a polite and respectful way. After you and the legitimate renter refused to return it, we located the unoccupied vehicle and recovered it.”
In his response, Chapman explained what really happened in this situation and was able to emphasize that his company still treated her with respect — even when she wasn’t a legitimate renter. He also told her to contact him directly if she had any questions.
The problem with Yelp, says Chapman and others, is that there is no system yet to remove demonstrably false statements. Those reviews can be disputed in writing to inform readers, yet the one star is still counted toward the average.
One countermeasure, at least, is to maintain quality service to drive positive reviews, to dilute the impact of negative ones.
Reputation.com, an online reputation company, helps car rental companies enlist reviews from their customers. It offers a platform that makes it easier to request reviews.
Reputation.com requests reviews through email and SMS messages to customers' cellphones. In addition, it can also develop a review template at a rental counter kiosk — customers can then leave a review right after returning their rental, according to Mark Lange, chief marketing officer at Reputation.com.
“More reviews will help drive up a rental company’s average star reviews,” says Lange. “The volume of reviews you get, and the sentiments of those reviews, have a huge impact on page rankings.”
Google rewards a company when it comes to reviews. The first 10 reviews you get will likely move your company from the second Google search page to the first, according to Lange. On Google Maps, a company’s position on the map — a big dot versus a small dot — is driven by how many reviews it receives and how positive they are.
“Reviews have a big impact on business traffic,” says Lange. “If your company gets 50 reviews, your click-though rate nearly triples.”
Reputation.com customizes review templates for each company, according to Lange. By wiring the platform into a company’s CRM system, any responses to reviews will be automatically posted to the company’s social media pages, its review sites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor, or wherever reviews are happening on the web.
Companies can use online reviews to improve their customer service process.
“Social media is a key driver of the customer experience,” says Lange. “It’s like a stethoscope. You get a clear signal from individual customers about their experiences. Companies are realizing that they can assess that signal and use it to improve the way they run their businesses.”