Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Why Do We Hate Our Customers?


We're back in Chicago and already super busy. We're celebrating milestones, throwing together vlogs, doing fun stuff on our Facebook page and catching up on some long overdue reading.

Speaking of reading, I came across an interesting Wall Street Journal article about increased investment in customer service to help drive sales, market share and, generally, growth. Businesses are closely examining which activities can drive the most revenues to get a quick hit in the short term but also successfully differentiate themselves from competitors in the long term.  We also generally know that consumers are savvier and will switch if they are not satisfied. The article quotes an Accenture survey which showed a whopping 69% of respondents saying they had switched at least one provider in 2009 because of poor service.

So if investing in customer service to make it expand beyond the transactional and into the consultative, why do some companies revert to old (and bad) habits? If we are trying to find a loyal and evangelizing base why do we make the customer confused? Why do we enact policies and engage in behaviors designed to aggravate?

Case in point: we rented a car from Budget to get to the airport. The agent explained the extras which I declined. He also mentioned that if I drove less than 75 miles, there was a fuel fee of $13.99 but if the car was returned full with the receipts to show for it, I wouldn't be charged.  I said no thanks to the charge and was on my way.

We all know the adrenaline rush when you get to an airport. You're thinking about returning a rental, maybe checking a bag, getting a boarding pass, going through security where you're removing all extra items of clothing AND where they might open your bag, grabbing a bite to eat, using the facilities, etc. It can make you a little antsy so you're hoping that if you follow the rules, others will as well like a social contract.

So, keeping the adrenaline and the checklist in mind, try to live through my car rental return experience: 
  • When I got to Budget returns, it took a bit of time for someone to show up. He turned on the car, looked at the mileage and confirmed that it was full.  He printed my receipt and I saw the extra $13.99 fuel charge!
  • I asked about the charge and when I showed the receipt he said, "The machine did it."  When I asked if he could undo it, he said that I had to walk to the rental desk to talk to an agent.  I had to ask where that desk was located.
  • I found the Budget desk in the terminal and waited for someone to appear.  Someone at the next desk over said, "Oh, if you're waiting for Budget, you have to walk the other way to Avis."  Huh?
  • At Avis, I explained that I was charged the $13.99 though the car was full and I showed the receipt.  The agent said that it didn't matter, I automatically get charged.  I then explained that I said I didn't want it when I rented the car.  The agent again said that it didn't matter, I automatically get charged.  I then told her to remove the charge.  She grabbed the receipt, mumbled something under her breath at me and walked away to adjust the charge.
Friends, this is all sorts of customer experience wrong:
  • There was no acceptance of responsibility or "Oh, sorry about that" in any of these exchanges but there was a lot of defensiveness.  Saying "The machine did it" is likely accurate but something best left unsaid.
  • If you are in the car rental business with an airport location, you must know that people are dashing to catch a flight.  Confusing them about the final bill, making them waste time they might not have and making them undo the charge they never wanted does not endear them to you nor does it motivate them to give you repeat business (let alone recommend you).
  • If "The machine did it" why was it programmed in this way in the first place?  The only answer a customer can come up with is that this is a cynical revenue play.  And it lends the impression that these companies think they can get away with it - a big no no.
  • If someone doesn't have time to speak to an agent in the mad dash to check in and go through security, will they circle around after the trip is over, find the gas receipts and scan/fax them over to reverse the charge?  Maybe many will.  But many will also lose the receipt or forget to adjust the charge as they go back to everyday hustle and bustle of life.  The sum may be a pittance to many, but the aggravation and some sense of injustice will remain.
This anecdote makes it glaringly obvious that Budget does not train nor empower employees to deliver superior experience despite the WSJ article and despite the data that supports this type of effort.  In this post, I shared with you Bruce Temkin's data that for every 10 point increase in a firm's Customer Experience index, there was a +$284 Million benefit per $10 Billion in revenues.  Good service = higher revenues.  It's simple.

In my next post, I'll talk about accepting responsibility and how that can make a world of difference to your customers.  In the meantime, I'd like to hear your customer experiences gone horribly wrong.  Please send them my way!


Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef


  1. Customer relations also extends to making customers feel good about the choices you offer them. Funnily enough, my anecdote springs from Budget, too. On Budget's website, I reserved a basic car for my very basic needs. I was happy with the price and the convenience of the online form. When I got to the agent (after waiting in a ridiculously slow, long line), she asked if I'd "like something a bit more comfortable." Well, shoot. Is the car you are renting me uncomfortable? If so, why rent it to me? It was her round about way of trying to upsell me to a more luxurious car. No thanks. And now I feel badly about the choice I made rather than confident I had got a good deal. My opinion of the brand immediately went sour. And by the way, the car was comfortable, had satellite radio and A/C—it was perfect for the few hours I needed it for. But instead of feeling satisfied, I left feeling dissatisfied. Now that's the power of customer service.

  2. so did either of you report your sorry experiences to budget? if so, how did the company respond?

    and will you use budget again?

  3. Hey Shauna,
    No, I didn't. I should have. Would I use Budget again? I don't think so...unless it's a really good deal.

  4. Hi Shauna,

    I've been tweeting them using their @BudgetRAC Twitter ID but there's no response. I won't use them because I think that extra charge is anti customer and their employees were poorly trained.