What a Positive Experience Can Mean


When you travel for business, details can make a difference. One of the little bits of Russian roulette which often makes trips better or worse for me is the rental car experience. In the past, it’s almost always been a bad experience. I have not-so-fond memories of a Chevrolet Cavalier in which the center part of the steering wheel fell off in my lap. Then there was the Toyota Yaris which had the cup holder in the back of the center console. It looked like it was designed to be as cheap as possible so the front could just be flipped left or right drive with no consideration for the driver. I’ve got numerous base Corollas, look-alike GM cars, and plasticky Dodges in my past. Almost none of them gave me much pleasure much less loyalty to the rental car company or car manufacturer. Cost was the only part of the equation for both of those parties.

Yaris Cheap Car
This car clearly wasn’t designed to wow.

That story seemed to change some last year. My manager was renting from different company and had picked up a car in San Francisco to shuttle me and a coworker around in for a week’s worth of meetings. He picked us up in a loaded Ford Fusion hybrid which really took me aback. The car had plenty of room for us, a leather interior, sunroof, a slick electronics package, and more. He hadn’t reserved an upgraded car, it was just what he was assigned. The three of us had fun in the car all week long while riding around in style. It made such an impression on me that I switched rental companies and haven’t been back to my original service since. While the Fusion was the nicest of the vehicles I’ve been in for business, everything I’ve gotten since has been worth driving, not just basic transportation. Since I can be on the road 3-4 times a month, this means the new company I do business with has gained a good customer plus I’ve given some similar referrals to other people I’ve driven.

Fusion Rental Car
This certainly beats your average rental car.

A couple weeks ago, I’d just finished a MS 150 bike ride in another city – 150 miles over a weekend – and was swapping a personal rental I’d gotten to carry a bike in for a corporate car I’d be expensing. I actually rolled a suitcase and a bunch of gear while wearing the same clothes I’d just risen 67 miles in. All I asked for was a car with Bluetooth and air conditioning. I was a little underwhelmed when I was told the best thing they had was a VW Jetta with 1,000 miles on it since I had images of a stripped Corolla in my head. When I got in the car, I did notice it was much better put together than what I’d been expecting. Then I merged onto the highway and realized it was a model with a turbo that was pretty fun to drive. I ended up driving my boss (the same one who’d rented the Fusion) and another colleague around for a couple days and probably burned more gas than I should have. The weekend I got back, I took a VW GTI on a test drive and am busy talking myself into one for my next car.

A little bit of surprise and delight goes a long way. I don’t know if there was an effort by the company I use to up their offerings or by the fleet providers to put better representations of their cars on the road. What I do know is that it’s influenced me in a positive way. I hold the rental company in higher regard and am shopping for cars from some of the same manufacturers I’ve experienced while traveling. Chevy and Toyota still have negative connotations in my mind from some of the down-market vehicles I’ve been in even if they weren’t typical of what I’d buy. I no longer dread the rental notification. The moral of the story here is that putting your best foot forward, pleasing the customer, and showing a better track record over time builds loyalty while saving a buck can have a lasting impression due to even an ordinary experience.

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