6 Suggestions to improve Customer Experience for Car Rental Companies (…that won’t break the bank)

The following illustrates lessons learned from implementing Customer Experience management solutions in the Car Rental Industry by the CX Group, a CX software and services vendor (www.cxgroup.co). The author, Ken Reimer is a former VP of Sixt Rent Car of Asia Pacific and used to own the Sixt Franchise in Singapore.

Car Rental is largely a commoditized business: the rental fleet is mainly determined by residual value development of the vehicles with many of the suitable vehicles being used by most rental companies. Rental locations are typically lined up side by side along the same street or neatly in a row at the counter at the airport, and rental rates are pretty much all aligned. From where the customer stands, there is little difference besides the corporate color the car rental company choses to use. In line with other businesses where commoditization is a driving factor (such as banks), creating superior Customer Experience becomes the last frontier where the battle for market share takes place.

Here are a few ideas from our CX treasure chest that might prove useful and that might stimulate your creativity and inspire to service your customers in a memorable way:

 

1. Impress early on

Customer Service is mostly a subjective matter. Take waiting time. How long ‘too long’ is, depends very much on a number of factors that determine the customer’s perception. (check out this research). From our client projects we’ve noticed that it pays off to impress from the earliest touch points with the customer. This creates a more tolerant mindset and a like-ability that the customer ‘defends’ even with the onset of some minor incidents at a later point in the service cycle. Our numbers suggest that it is difficult for customers to dislike a vendor that had impressed them from the onset.

Take one of our early projects with a smaller Car rental company with 6 locations in New Zealand where we implemented a pre-arrival request process. Customers were sent out a quick email 24 hours prior to the planned pick up time asking them if there is anything we can help with and provide for them before they arrive. They were given the option to select from some chargeable items (child seat, navi system, etc) and free items (iPhone charger, etc).

Participation by customers was as high as 38% at some branches. Not only did this increase up-selling volume but it also kicked off the customer’s journey in a most positive way. We avoided on purpose any payment processing, but simply allowed the customer to select the additional service items they were interested in. Pricing and commitment then occurred at the counter during vehicle pick up.

In post-experience surveys we later conducted, ‘charger’ was one of the most common phrases used in a positive context. The total cost of each charger was only $3 a piece (from alibaba.com) and the chargers are reusable.

With the pre-arrival request, we ensured that our customer leaves the counter fully satisfied and is ‘tuned’ positively for the remained of the trip.

 

2. Personalize the invitation to engage. …No, really do!

Imagine you receive two different messages from the rental location a few hours after you picked up the car. One reads: ‘We hope you are enjoying your drive. Should you need assistance, please feel free to contact us by replying to this message’…the other: ’Hi Alex. I hope you are enjoying the car. If you need any assistance during your trip, please feel free to contact us by replying here. Have fun with the City & Sea museum later today!’

The second message is the type of message that impresses customers. It addresses them by name and relates back to a brief conversation the staff member had with the customer.

Besides the customary address by name, we implemented the second type of message simply by popping up a screen during check out, where the counter staff can add a single sentence to the default message template that is being sent out. You’ll be fascinated with what difference a such a little add-on sentence can make! Not only does it take on an entirely different tone when communicating with the customer but it also sets up the right mind set with the service staff to look for a personalized conversation over the counter (so they have the material to type that sentence).

If you look at the word cloud derived from all positive customer feedback collected over time, you will see that ‘personal’ comes out as one of the strongest impressions left on the customer.

 

3. Ask what you can do… not how you did (and see online referrals grow)

Collecting feedback from customers can serve entirely different purposes. In most companies, feedback is considered as something you ask the customer after the completion of your services. Many businesses also are satisfied with a participation rate of approx. 2% of the entire customer traffic. (As a rule of thumb, 2% typically often suffices to spot larger issues within your business). To really derive value from this process, projects need to be launched to fix a selected few issues that were detected through the surveys.

In contrast to that, feedback can take on a much more pro-active and preventative nature: rather than asking only after the vehicle return process, offer the customer to share before and during the rental how they want to be served or if there is any issue they are experiencing. Asking for feedback ‘in-the-moment’ will lead to customers appealing to you with 1 or 2 particular issues that you can focus on to resolve any issues the customers may be experiencing.

Is the added effort of constantly listening out to the customer during the experience worth it? You judge: our customers have experienced a reduction of their negative online reviews by 54%, with strong results visible just within 6 weeks of implementing a pro-active experience tracking program and a boost of positive reviews by a factor of 1.8- 9.0 times! (Customers that send in positive comments were made aware by the system that the business is featured on sites like yelp with a specific link to the outlet’s branch listing on yelp). Throughout our projects, we also found that the added effort you will incur by being interactive and responsive is very manageable, often not incremental but always very much appreciated by the customer. Do note though, that if you are offering to engage your customers through social channels you will have to respond quickly to requests. A number of reports show varying expectations by customers, however, all reports agree that roughly half of all social media users expecting to be replied to within the hour or at least just a few hours after their post was made.

 

4. Asking for feedback: make it useful & worth your customer’s while

When companies implement customer experience or customer feedback programs, the concept of asking customers across multiple steps of their customer journey is a growing and readily accepted concept. However, companies often struggle with how to best involve customers into the process without becoming annoying to the customer and constantly asking to rate your services.

One of the best ways to avoid ‘Survey Fatigue’ or ‘over-surveying’ is simply not to ask plainly for feedback but to direct your question to a more utility-type transaction and make it part of the transaction. One such example is the pre-arrival engagement invitation that we explained above (‘how can we prepare your rental…’). Other ideas for rental car companies are e.g. to provide simple links in reservation confirmations or in post-rental billing confirmations that are sent via email and ask the customer to get in touch through those links in case there are issues with these processes. You may also just add an additional ‘what have you liked most about our services so far’ question as an additional field during a frequent driver membership sign up. In other words, instead of asking the customer to fill out lengthy surveys that cover your entire service spectrum, you may ask them in each step of the process if they are experiencing any issues within that process step. As you aggregate all responses collected from your customers, you will be able to develop categorized reports using appropriate text analytics solutions. In other words you don’t need to ask customers to rate your service all the time, instead, you can just include their trouble tickets into your customer satisfaction reporting. You need the right tools do so, but, with you will be able to find ample options for minimal costs in today’s SaaS markets. You can probably also ask your customer about once in the rental cycle to give you feedback about their services in general. If you want to boost participation, it might be a good idea to offer them a reward for sharing or to make a small donation to a charity for each feedback they send. Rewards that work well are loyalty points, free upgrades to the next car category, or even just an upgrade discount for their next rental. Not only will it get the customer talking, but it also makes them return back to your organization and finally increases your rental income per customer.

5. Be compellingly easy to talk to

One of the things we educate our customers on most of our projects is that customers are extremely selective with how they spend their time interacting with companies. If they feel that sending information to you is just a little tedious, they will immediately punish you with low adoption rates. Our most successful methods of communicating with customers are texting (SMS) or simple 1 field or question surveys. Such broad based, compellingly easy communication channels are essentials to a much larger participation rate and build quality experience profiles and knowledge about a large share of your customers (‘demographic of one’). One communication channel that still works surprisingly well is voice based feedback, where customer just leave a voice message with their opinion. Again, there tools in the market that will allow you to cost effectively collect such data and have them analyzed automatically.

6. Let your branch managers and team members know that you are interested and aware of customer feedback

One common trait that all our most succesful customer experience projects have is that managers (e.g. territory managers) get involved and show that they are taking notice of front line effort of their staff. There is a very different motivational result if you review a quarterly ‘Score’ in a formal review meeting, vs sending a quick comment to the front line staff that was complimented by a customer just a few minutes ago for her out-of-the-way service style with customers. Some solutions allow you tune notifications settings in such a manner that senior staff managers only get notified about the severely positive or negative feedback so that they aren’t swamped with alerts and comments and can get involved in the really interesting cases. What is important here is to show appreciation to the staff and to let them know their effort is visible throughout the organization. We have seen this simple process form strong habits on a branch level and create a renown sense of joint attentiveness toward the customer. Simply stuff that makes your customers remember and prefer your organization over others in a seemingly commoditized business.

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