How to Deal with Customers Who Love to Tell Stories

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I love my rental car customers. I really do. 

One of the most rewarding parts of this business is hearing what people are up to — newborn grandkids; cruises; Florida for the winter, back from Arizona for the summer; here on a honeymoon. You get the drift. 

It’s a perk that small locations have and should take advantage of. These are seasoned renters who understand the drill. If they’re renting, they have their necessary documents in order and ready. If they’re returning, the fuel tank is full, they have the vehicle mileage, and they’re back on time. 

We always have a few minutes to chat. I hope they enjoy it as much as I do. I’m not writing about those people. 

I’m writing about the ones who need to “tell their story.”

Good people, but needy. Sometimes very needy. Usually these folks have not rented before or if they have, only a time or two. Their focus is not on the rental, but on their situation. They ask us questions that we can’t possibly know the answer to. 

Here’s a sample exchange:

Customer: We’re thinking of driving to Chattanooga to visit my brother who was in a car wreck. Another car ran a stop sign and Brad saw the car and tried to swerve, but it was too late. He has a broken arm and some cuts, but thankfully that’s all. His wife Margaret was only shaken up, but she’s pretty shaken up anyway without the accident, so she’s OK.

Me: Sorry to hear about the accident. When do you want to leave? Are you returning the car here or in ---

Customer (interrupting me before I finish): If Brad gets out of the hospital tomorrow, we’ll leave on Friday.

Me: So you want to pick the car up on Friday?

Customer: I don’t know for sure. How much will it be?

Me: I need to know what you want to do with the car and what size car you want before I can get you a price.

Customer: I think Friday will work. Our plans are still up in the air.

(Who hasn’t heard that one?)

Me: OK, so pick up on Friday. How long will you need the car, and would you be returning it here or leaving it in Chattanooga?

Customer: I think we’ll be returning to you, unless...

Me: Unless what?

Customer: Unless we get our new car by then.

Me: When? When are you going to be done with the car?

Customer: A week. We’ll need it a week. Unless we leave early.

Me: OK. Let’s do a week, returning here. I’ll quote that for you.

Customer: If Brad is recovering well, we might leave before the week is up. Do you know how long a broken arm takes to heal? Brad is a quick healer, I know that. One time in high school he got a knee injury playing football and even though they thought he would be out for the season; he was back for the playoffs and they won. That was awesome.

Me: Good to hear. So, we’ll price the car for a week and if you return it earlier, you will get credit for the unused days.

Customer: If our new car is ready, we’ll return the car to you. My husband hit a deer two nights ago and totaled our car. We didn’t have collision but were saving for a new car anyway. He was on Route 17 by the transfer station and he hit a deer. The deer are in the road there all the time. It took the police forever to get there. The deer wasn’t dead, and he had to sit there and watch it until the police came and put it out of its misery. Fortunately, we found a late model at Pete’s Peak Autos and it should be ready for us before we get back from Chattanooga. We’re just waiting on our credit approval.

Me: I’m sorry. Where were we?

Customer: Let me figure out what we’re going to do and I’ll get back to you.

Me: Sounds good.

By this point in the conversation, I need a nap. Point of the story, don’t let people tell their stories.

Bill Packard is an Avis Budget Agency Operator with a long history of entrepreneurship focused on customer service. Packard also coaches small businesses on the significant value of increasing their retention rate. He can be reached at can be reached here.