At the 2012 Auto Rental Summit, Oct. 29-30 in Hollywood, Fla., three car rental employees were announced as the winners of the first annual Auto Rental News Professional of the Year awards, sponsored by American Express. The awards honor car rental associates who demonstrate and promote outstanding customer satisfaction within the car rental process from companies worldwide.
The award is given to one associate from a corporate, franchise and independent location.
“The awards are a forum for the auto rental industry to celebrate its champions, enhance industry morale and promote its good works,” said Chris Brown, executive editor of Auto Rental News. “The three winners of our first-ever award not only exemplify the best in customer service, they also lead and inspire others within their companies and their communities. We’re delighted to give them the recognition they deserve and grateful to learn from their good work.”
The Winners Circle
From Midway Car Rental in Los Angeles, Elizabeth Alonso was declared the 2012 Professional of the Year for independent operators. Alonso is the area rental manager, in which she oversees four rental offices and 50 employees. She has worked for Midway for 10 years and has worked her way up in numerous roles with the company.
“I learned a long time ago that you have to work hard at everything you do if you want to stand out and make a difference,” said Alonso, who learned English as a second language.
Alonso is recognized for her work in front of and behind the counter. She goes out of her way to satisfy unit-specific, high-dollar requests, in one instance driving a car to Canada for a customer when it couldn’t be delivered quick enough by truck.
For her employees, Alonso leads by example. She sets a tone that emphasizes outstanding service, never turning away a qualified customer, while growing sales. She holds her team accountable with a hands-on approach to training.
“It’s not just me asking them to do it — I show them how to do it,” she says. “I enjoy being with customers and building relationships that last a lifetime.”
In two short years, Stacey Milliken, the night and weekend supervisor for Burgner Enterprises, the Thrifty Car Rental franchisee in Nashville, has proven her customer service skills to win the franchise category for the 2012 Professional of the Year awards.
“In our field of business, the customer is everything,” Milliken said. “Without the customer there is no revenue to be made or business to be done.”
Milliken is regularly recognized for the extra effort she gives to customer service through countless thank you letters from customers. The letters range from thanking her on her thoroughness in going over the charges with the customer, to clearly explaining fees and other rental options to just how she in general goes the extra mile.
“Every customer is different,” she said. “You’ve got the ones that are in a hurry, the ones that are already mad because they just came off a terrible flight or a long day of traveling and they just want to get their things and go. But I still find a way to make that rapport with them and make a connection with them to turn it around.”
Veronica Weston, director of vehicle damage claims at Avis Budget Group, is the winner of the 2012 Professional of the Year for the corporate category. Weston has been with Avis Budget for 11 years and has won seven CEO awards from her department.
“Employees can’t underestimate the impact they have on the customer,” Weston said. “Every interaction, every minute of every day can drive the experience from ordinary to extraordinary.”
Weston took the lead on many company initiatives, such as sending monthly customer surveys, implementing a FAQ section on the website and participating in the company’s mentoring program. She has also established a “Department Wall of Fame.”
“When we go above and beyond just renting a car and provide a positive experience for our customers, we create a customer who will be loyal but also influential,” she says. “In our organization we call them ‘customer enthusiasts.’ Recognizing the impact employees can have on the customer’s transformation is contagious and inspiring.”
Look for more coverage of the Auto Rental Summit and awards in our upcoming Fact Book magazine issue, as well as photo gallery of the event online.