Thoughts on Driving Performance (While Not Driving a Rental Car)

I recently had one of my worst-ever service experiences.  If you want to know how to improve performance, pay attention to the service you get everyday.

My vacation began with a two-hour flight delay.  We had planned to get in early enough for dinner, but oh well, what can you do? Stuff happens, and as a veteran traveler I took it all in stride with only a tinge of disappointment, an extra cocktail, and a nice long nap on the trip east.

By the time we landed, it’s fair to say I was more than ready to head for the hotel.  So we nabbed our luggage, and set off to get our rental car from the stall where my mobile device suggested I would find it, but what awaited us was an empty spot, with no sign of my name in lights above it beckoning us to start off on our summer adventure.  U-turn. About-face. We hauled our luggage inside to the “special status” desk, reserved for those customers with an established relationship (just for context, my special relationship spans 10+ years.  But who’s counting?).

There were a few people in line but only one agent.  I saw my name on the inside board, but with stars rather than a number to indicate where my car would be.  I released an internal moan, maybe an expletive thought or two, but I was still okay…mostly.  Stuff happens. I get it.  Been there, done it all before.

Finally, I got to the front of the line where a thirty-something guy name-tagged Jason asked how he could be of service.  Jason was apologetic and told us that because of our delayed flight, the rental company had given away my original car, but he assured us that he had it under control.  Explanations out of the way, he directed me to a new stall, where my new rental car should be awaiting me and mia familia.

Let me set the stage with a bit more detail:  Although it was after 11.00 p.m., it was hot and humid, and we were each hauling a couple of bags through a relatively large parking garage.  We trekked what felt to be a fairly significant distance to where we discovered yet another empty stall, although this time to Jason’s credit, my name was lit up over the empty spot, mocking the very idea that a week of leisure was even a possibility.  Now, I was getting tense, and my family was getting cranky.  I suggested that they stay there with the luggage while I went back inside to see what was going on.

Back inside, Jason was with a new customer.  I told him there was no car waiting for us, to which he flashed me a look of sympathy (tinged with annoyance) and told me that he would help me when he was done with his customer.  The thought crossed my mind that he never finished with me, but I bit my tongue, grinded my teeth, and waited a really long time, which might have been 5 minutes, but it felt like 15.  I am sure by the time I approached the counter my eyes were like two burning coals and steam was coming from my ears.   I am not someone who blows a gasket, but I do know how to share my frustration and disappointment in a direct and civil manner.  Trust me, my impact was felt.

Jason became anxious at this point, and he kept saying something about “them” taking away the radios.  When all else fails, blame “them.”   He asked a co-worker to go out and help him check to see what was happening with the stalls, but his slow moving, poorly groomed, colleague acted as if he didn’t hear him and this only added to his angst.  I felt bad for me, but I began to feel even worse for poor Jason. Maybe I had been too hard on him?  I tried to calm him down a bit, partly for him, and partly because I really wanted to get the heck out of dodge.

Empathy seemed to work, and soon I had a new stall number with a car apparently awaiting my arrival.  I walked back out to find the family, and voila, there is a pretty red car in the stall as Jason promised, my name lit up in lights above it like the star on top of the tree.  This was not just any car, it was a really nice luxury car.

I said to my husband, “This doesn’t seem right.  Do you think they are going to try and increase our mid-size contract?”

“No,” he said, “I think they are just out of cars or trying to apologize for the mix-up.”

I was feeling pretty special at that point, driving this beautiful car, but as we tried to exit the garage, the employee at the gate said that he couldn’t pull a contract and we would have to circle around and go back inside.  I explained that this was the third attempt to get a car and he said very matter-of-factly, “I can’t help you.”

I thought to myself that no truer words were ever spoken, and you can’t, after all, argue with the truth.

I parked the car, leaving the luggage in the trunk, and went back in to see Jason.   He sheepishly went over to talk to a manager to see about keeping us in the luxury car, but that didn’t happen.  The other thing that didn’t happen was any interaction, acknowledgement, or apology from a manager regarding the level of service we encountered. There was no offer of a discount, a coupon, or any attempt whatsoever to make amends. Were they trying to break up with me?

It has been said that truth is stranger than fiction, and I agree.  I have wondered about this encounter over the course of the past week.  What should I do?  Let it go?  Complain?  Should I put more negativity out in the world?

And then today we went out for breakfast, just my husband and I.  Young Bjarne wanted to sleep late, “but bring me a breakfast burrito.”

We Googled breakfast burritos, and couldn’t find any place nearby, “we aren’t in Kansas (Colorado) Toto,” ran through my mind.  We ended up at a really cute place on the beach for omelets.  I casually asked the waitress if she knew where we could get a breakfast burrito for our son.

“No,” she said, “but let me ask my co-workers.”

Later, she came back and told us, “We don’t know of any place for sure, but you might try (here) or (there).”

We thanked her for checking and went about our morning breakfast ritual.

A bit later she came back and said, “I talked the cook into making you a breakfast burrito, what all do you want in it?”

Service is really simple.  The best things always are. Simple service is about ensuring people feel seen and heard.  That day at breakfast we knew that we mattered.  A waitress, whose name I am ashamed to say I don’t know, both surprised and delighted us by treating us like we were special.   Simple.

I decided to send this post to the car rental company. How can we collectively build a strong economy if we allow this kind of service to be acceptable?  We -the consumers- must support managers by holding them accountable for the customer experience.  Managers must drive performance by expecting connected customer interactions.  It really is that simple.

If you like this blog, I think you will like my book The Cycle of Transformation. Available now!
Deb Siverson is a seasoned executive coach, certified as a PCC through the International Coach Federation. If you want to schedule time to discuss how you or your organization can increase engagement by having a different conversation at work, contact us now.

6 replies
  1. MJT
    MJT says:

    You should name names.. Who was rental company that was horrible, and which cafe went out of their way to give you great service?

    • dsiverson
      dsiverson says:

      I thought about naming names. But then I decided to speak my truth directly to the rental company and not attempt to smear their reputation. Truth is, I have had incredible service from the same rental car company on other occasions. That’s why I think it lies with managers being leaders of the customer experience at the front level. I will say the cafe was called Aruba, and it is on Commercial near Fort Lauderdale.

  2. Loexy
    Loexy says:

    Sounds very similar to what happened to us at Denver airport. 2 hour delay due to snowstorm. Our car was there, but it was not the car I remember ordering/paying for. Well, our name was on it. The attendant did not tell us that the infant seat was already in the car, so we waited for quite some time in the booth before going out to the car – it was freezing/snowing/blizzard! (because ‘someone’ was going to bring the seat to us to the booth). We decided to head out and start packing our luggage in the car – and behold, the car seat was there all along. When we finally were ready to leave, the gate keeper wanted to charge us a significant amount more, because this was not the car we rented (BUT it was the car that had my name on it!!). With a screaming infant and a journey ahead of us through a blizzard, we really did not want to go back and change cars and we got upset and clearly demanded a discount to reflect their failure not ours. Fortunately, we did get that, but still ended up spending 200 odd USD more than budgeted for our trip…no apologies.

    • dsiverson
      dsiverson says:

      It can be so frustrating, especially as you describe it, when you are traveling with young children, weather, etc. It comes down to empathy and really seeing others and what they might need. I’m glad you were able to get some compensation for your trouble, but what I hear you really wanted was acknowledgement of the difficulty this situation caused you and your family.

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