I’m in a small, non-exclusive club whose members enjoy talking car rental. No, I’m serious; I really do get jazzed about hashing out the issues of this industry, from big picture merger stuff on down to how you solve car wash drainage issues on your lot.

To satiate this appetite, I produce Auto Rental News in print and online. But what really gets me going is to surround myself with car rental people to hear your problems, solutions, pain points, stories and triumphs in an intense few days — one on one and in group “therapy” sessions.

To this end, I selfishly created the Auto Rental Summit (ARS), with, I hope, some ancillary benefit to attendees. Our second Summit was held at the Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, Fla. I got back this morning.

Unlike the Car Rental Show, our agenda at ARS sticks to a universal theme of operational excellence, which allows us to appeal to car rental operations of all stripes in different corners of the world. We almost doubled last year’s total attendance, topping 200 registrants, so it appears that our event is resonating. As the emcee, it wasn’t easy to keep up with all the great information, but here’s a few salmons fished out of the fast-moving stream of seminars, roundtables, networking and exhibit hall action.

This year, I was struck by the relationship of how improving customer service will improve your revenue — especially using best practices that won’t cost you anything, or not very much.

We were delighted to have J.D. Power & Associates present the results of its 2013 Rental Car Satisfaction Study live at ARS. There was a shakeup in the rankings this year, with National Car Rental coming out on top for the first time. While a swing of 15 points is meaningful, National improved its score by an astonishing 21 points over 2012.

The good news from the survey, reported Dr. Rick Garlick, is that overall car rental satisfaction for both leisure and business transactions at airports has continued its upward trajectory since 2008. However, the “cost and fees” category remains a problem. Though improved, this category still lags behind the rest.

Similar to previous surveys, “lowest overall price” is still the primary reason renters choose a rental car company, and renters who indicated they chose primarily on price aren’t very happy. One conclusion is that a lower price equates to an image of lower product quality.

Speed is second to price in determining satisfaction. The longer a customer waits in any part of the rental process, the lower the satisfaction score dips.

When counter agents play the role of concierge to renters — offering them local entertainment and dining options — satisfaction levels reach close to 900 on the survey scale, a remarkable leap from the 779 average. The term “ambassador” came up in another seminar, which should resonate even more with rental companies catering to international renters. Why not be a local source of information for your renters and create a packet of attractions?

J.D. Power scores also increase when renters report being addressed with “genuine smiling and warmth.” How much will smiles cost your rental operation? Then again, how much will it cost you if your agents don’t smile?

Metrics from a new award presented at ARS, the Renter Rated Award by CarRentalExpress.com, back up aspects of the J.D. Power results. (And congratulations to the winner, Midway Car Rental!) Data from the Renter Rated system shows that “a fair price combined with excellent service (in the form of higher ratings) gets the most reservations,” while “the lowest price combined with the lowest ratings loses in every destination.”

Message to operators: competing on price alone is, and will forever be, a losing battle.

More on cost and fees: Consumer travel advocate Christopher Elliott said he gets an amazing 400 to 700 travel complaint-related emails a week. In a bit of good news for the car rental industry, Elliott’s top five complaints based on the travel sector are hotel, airline, cruise, car rental and “other.” However, when it comes to car rental complaints, Elliott says the top issues are “a fair price” and “no junk fees,” such as tire recovery fees, vehicle licensing cost recovery fees, energy surcharges, tourism commission assessments and the like.

Elliott said the Department of Transportation is moving forward on rulemaking for an all-in price for air travel. I say the car rental industry should take charge here before regulation.

The high cost of a car rental transaction due to excise taxes can certainly ding customer service when it comes to cost and fees. ACRA is facing this head on with a new tool rolled out at ARS. Renters who express sticker shock regarding taxes on their bill can be directed, hopefully right there at the car rental location, to www.rentalcartax.com. There, renters can use a quick form to produce a letter that can be sent to their senator or congressperson. This process aligns the rental agency and the renter on an important issue and can turn a potential customer service issue into a positive.

Frontline Performance Group (FPG) findings show that rental agents believe their location gets more customer complaints than they actually receive. While rental agents take complaints personally, it’s important to impart to your staff that customers are mad at the situation, not the agent.

FPG also maintains that a common customer complaint is that rental agents “don’t listen.” How easy — and cheap — is it to listen?

In a roundtable on equipping rental units for resale, all attendees mentioned that renters increasingly want to be able to recharge their electronics. Buying rental units with available USB connections will improve customer satisfaction and help on resale. (One exhibitor had a clever workaround: CMO America gave all attendees a car lighter plug with a USB connection that can retail at your rental counter for an ancillary profit potential.)

At ARS, Frontline Performance Group released the results of its study of the industry’s top performers, or those agents in the top 10% of their peer group who outperform the sales average by 30%. As a benchmark for you, this group’s average monthly incentive payment is $1,766 on an average of 369 transactions per month. A key takeaway from the study was that upon being hired only 17% participated in three or more interviews. Do you think your candidates want the job you offer bad enough?

Customer service problems are a business fact of life, and sometimes they turn into incidents that could lead to legal action. But that legal action may not come until months after the incident. In a seminar on avoiding discrimination, a key point was for rental operations to keep a standardized incident report form that can be used to record the details of an incident. Because details will inevitably become fuzzy over time, these details could be invaluable in portraying what really happened in a legal situation.

In the Hard Rock Hotel, you’re surrounded by music memorabilia. A lot of it reminded me of my younger days and how music is not only inspiration, but it’s also emotion, stimulation and motivation. That got me thinking — what if we could take the type of inspiration that music gives us and use it in our working lives to be more productive and to motivate ourselves and our team?

As the theme of this year’s Auto Rental Summit was “Ready to Rock,” I hope we imparted some of that inspiration.

Originally posted on Business Fleet


Chris Brown
Chris Brown

Digital Editor of Automotive Fleet, Fleet Forward, Auto Rental News

As editor of Automotive Fleet (digital), Auto Rental News, Fleet Forward, and Business Fleet, Chris Brown covers all aspects of fleets, transportation, and mobility.

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As editor of Automotive Fleet (digital), Auto Rental News, Fleet Forward, and Business Fleet, Chris Brown covers all aspects of fleets, transportation, and mobility.

View Bio