Friday, May 20

Operating Budget: How To Lose A Customer

Budget
When we returned the rental car to Tucson International Airport, we were feeling pretty bullish about Budget Rent A Car. The attendant who checked us in had even adjusted our contract because we brought the car back with a full tank, even though we had prepaid for the gas. As I mentioned before, that never happens.

Had Budget had its way, however, any savings could have been erased. Budget Rent A Car spoiled customer satisfaction by claiming we damaged the car three weeks later. You can read all the ugly details about what happened right here: It's why Budget sucks. Worse, we now loathe them and their company, with our resolve being to forgive and forget them permanently. Well, sort of.

Today, I'd rather talk about what might have happened. There are solutions on top of solutions.

Scenario 1: Assume Fault. Budget Rent A Car would have never lost a customer for life had it never sent us a claim letter. Please don't misunderstand me. Had we damaged the car, I would have paid for the repair. But we did not.

Had the car been damaged while it was in our possession, the attendant (per Budget policy) would have notified us at check in.

It is just as likely that any damage, which Budget later defined as "minimal" to the rear door, could have been done by the people who pulled up to us once the car was checked in. Or, maybe it was the attendant who had left the doors open. Or, maybe is was whomever is responsible for washing it. Or, maybe, who knows?

It's a sorry story to think that same attendant who wanted to "save" us money also tried to "stick" us with their mistake. But the solution here is obvious. Budget Rent A Car should have assumed their company, not the customer, damaged the car.

Scenario 2: Ask, Don't Tell. Conversely, maybe Budget Rent A Car wants to be operationally thorough. And upon discovering "minimal" damage to the rear door, wants to know if their customer might have noticed something.

Instead of sending an unsigned impersonal accusation form, they could have sent a letter. They could have included photos. They could have included a detailed description of the damage and asked had we noticed anything when we checked in the car.

Customer inquiries as opposed to accusations can go a long way. I practice the same resolve at my company. If an invoice comes due without being paid, we don't automatically demand copies of their bank statements. We find out if the check was lost in the mail. Of course, in this case, we wouldn't have been able to help because there was no damage when we left.

A phone call might have worked too. Paper is expensive and not always very responsible.

Scenario 3: Expedite Service. Even if the ineffective operational policy and procedure did not work, it would be prudent for Budget Rent A Car to provide a phone number that could be reached at their customer's convenience and not their own.

At minimum, even if nobody wants to work weekends at the Budget Investigation Unit and portions of their customer service department, at least give the working people enough information to answer basic questions. You know, like "What the flip are you talking about?"

The customer service crash was the worst display of general ineptitude that I've ever had the misfortune to experience. Even the customer representative who took ownership didn't keep his promise to call by noon. According to him, it took all morning to get any information from the Budget Vehicle Damage Control Department.

Seriously? I can't fathom how long it would have taken me. Is damage running so rampant at Budget that not only do they have an entire division dedicated to bilking customers, but they also have special divisional "units" to handle all of the details? Are they so busy that it takes half the day to respond to someone in their own company?

Scenario 4: Suck It Up. Budget Rent A Car accepted that they broke their own policy, admitted the customer service was shabby, and ultimately "waived the claim." Two representatives have promised to send formal letters of apology. And one offered a customer service certificate for the lies and runarounds we experienced with their staff. (I'm satisfied with the apologies.)

However, never once did the company acknowledge one of their employees or another customer damaged the vehicle. It's a small consolation, but one their customer service representative couldn't even grasp. He thought I would be appreciative that the claim was dropped.

And that's the rub. Budget Rent A Car maintains we were at fault and they are being gracious in all of their benevolence.

It's not about me anymore. It's about possible fraudulent insurance claims practices.

Since Monday, I have had several productive phone conversations. It seems that state legislators may be very interested in drafting consumer advocacy legislation for the State of Nevada.

At minimum, the legislation will require car rental companies to perform a walkaround with any customer before accepting the rental vehicle to prevent pass-on damage liability. Among other ideas, it may also include a non-insurance attribution process to ensure the abundance of car rental insurance claims do not drive insurance rates up, which impacts people who rent cars or not.

While my personal experience originated in Arizona, consumer advocacy laws also have a tendency to be passed from one state to the next. As soon as we can get a bill up in Nevada, the draft will be forwarded to legislators in Arizona and surrounding states.

As the bill passes, Budget and its parent company, Avis, will likely have to staff more personnel to accommodate, cutting into their recent profit surges. It may also help curb the recent consolidation of the car rental industry. Currently, Avis is attempting to work around anti-trust laws to acquire remaining competitors. There are only four national companies left.

Personally, I'm not very keen about regulatory oversight. But when companies "try harder" to screw customers, they earn it.
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