Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My @BudgetRAC Tale of Woe


It's a glorious Tuesday in Chicago!  The skies are blue, it's already quite warm and I can see the swimmers getting their morning workouts at the East Bank Club rooftop pool.

So, remember that ludicrous Budget car rental story I told you about?  Brief synopsis: I rented a car, returned the car with the tank full but was charged $14 fuel charge.  I mentioned the billing error to the person on duty and the answer I got was "The machine did it."  I was also told that he could not undo the charge and that I would have to go speak to an agent to request a fee adjustment -- not necessarily something you have the time for when trying to catch a plane.  All in all, the whole experience was textbook example of what not to do when managing customer relationships.

What I haven't told you is about my little experiment that I was conducting while this was going on.  See, I was tweeting @BudgetRAC quite a bit during the week of June 7.  I would try different ways of getting their attention with and without the link to that first post.  When I didn't get a response to the first one, I wrote another one about accountability with @BudgetRAC in the title (here) with broad hints that I would write about positive customer service oriented enterprises like JetBlue (here) and Zappo's (here and here) in subsequent posts -- which I clearly did!

I know I don't have the following of a Kevin Smith or of a Dave Caroll so I wasn't expecting an overwhelming or even gracious response.  But, I was expecting some sort of generic response after the first tweet or two.  After all, if you are @BudgetRAC on Twitter, you must want to engage on that platform.  Silly me.

Friends, if you can believe it, I did not receive one comment from Budget until Friday, June 11 or after a whole business week worth of tweeting and two blog posts.  Below is the email I received (I'm blocking the full name and contact information) including a nice little quote from Emerson:

"Dear Ms. Behnia,

I'm A.R., from AvisBudget Group.  I am very concerned about your recent experience with us.  Can you please provide me with some information so we can resolve any issues you are having:

-Full name on the reservation
-Location in which you picked up the vehicle
-The date of pickup

Please forward the information and I will have someone contact you as soon as possible.

I look forward to hearing from you,

A.R. Social Media Specialist

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. - Ralph Waldo Emerson"

I was torn.  I was glad that someone finally paid attention but there was no acknowledgement of the personal experience I wrote about in my post and tweets.  It made me wonder if this "social media specialist" read the post or the tweets.  Also, this answer of "someone contact you" is different from other companies who empower their employees to fix issues as they see them (e.g., JetBlue, Zappo's, etc.) or in other words, ownership to act as company ambassadors.

Nevertheless, I responded to this person's email that same day with the answers to her three questions.  This is what I received in response fairly quickly -- I've underlined the typo:

"Thank you, Ms. Behina.  I have forwarded your information to our customer service specialist and you should receive a call shortly."

I forgave the typo because she got the name right in the first email and because I had a more pressing question.  I thanked her in a reply email shortly thereafter (around mid day on Friday, June 11) and asked how she found me.  My question posed to the "social media specialist" was met with silence.

What?  Yes, silence.  I never did hear an answer to that question of mine.  And it makes this tale woefully even more comical than before.  Even more so if you consider two things: that she is Budget's social media specialist and the Emerson quote that is used as part of her email signature.  That quote is essentially about being distinctive and independent but the behaviors from Budget at the airport and the silence from its social media specialist makes them distinctive and independent in bad ways.

This speaks to the importance of strategy.  This speaks to the importance of process.  This speaks to the important of ownership of one's role and acceptance of a great existential role as brand ambassador regardless of one's role.  This speaks to why and how it is that JetBlue and Zappo's both get it right and just "get it" in contrast to what my interactions were with Budget.

And yes, like all good stories, this one does continue.  In my next post, I'll talk about what happened next in my interactions with Budget.  In the meantime, please do send me your comments.  I enjoy reading all of them!


Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef


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