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Friday, August 13, 2010

Does your service celebrate new customers or bemoan them?

On a recent trip, I unexpectedly needed to rent a car. The company I use almost exclusively was out of stock, and faced with limited options, I went with Dollar as a first-time user. As new service encounters go, I came away extremely frustrated by the experience.

I’ve been a National customer for years. Their Aisle services were truly innovative in a stagnant space, and I was an early adopter. The “skip the line” rental process is so familiar, I don’t know how the standard rental process works, with National or any company. For the occasional lost receipt, I also signed up some years ago for automatic email distribution of all receipts. I’m a high-productivity user of National services - convenient for me and lower cost for them.

The first noticeable difference with Dollar was the price – unbelievably high, no doubt driven by their dwindling stock. While a company has a right to re-price service capacity as it becomes scarce, a customer’s first experience with your brand shouldn’t invoke reverse-nickname irony.

If the price was a turn-off, the experience was worse. Already annoyed at having to re-learn the counter check-in process, I was greeted by a service agent equally annoyed to be serving me.

Because I wasn’t a returning customer, he had no prior information to use in setting up my rental. Our annoyance build together as he asked enough questions to buy a house and he entered my endless details into their system. Asked when I would be dropping off, I replied that it would be about 5:00 AM the following day. My agent replied they wouldn’t be open, and that I would have to use the overnight drop box, a process I asked for clarification on.

As he dismissively handed me the keys and motioned me to the lot, he quipped that I must not rent cars too often.

It amazes me how companies treat a new customer.

Some roll out the figurative red carpet as if to say, “Thank you for giving us a try! We’re going to make this go as well as possible in the hope that you return.”

Most, however, provide a more or less extreme version of what I encountered with Dollar. Annoyance at having to create a new relationship, a lengthened initial service process, the highest possible price because they’re not a returning customer, and an overall experience that is singularly unspectacular.

Ironically, Dollar will see the profit from my one encounter spend resources trying to determine whether they can create a loyal customer out of me. They’ll likely conclude that I’m not worth pursuing because I don’t book cars that often, not sensing that I have a biweekly relationship with the company 3 counters down.

Most of it wouldn’t be needed if they put energy & process into new customer indoctrination, rather than treating it like a new customer is the last person they’re happy to see and ensuring a first encounter memorable for the wrong reasons.


忠姜姜姜蓮 said...


Anonymous said...


Jed said...

Great post, and great example Chris.

I'm astonished at how this service provider managed to create such a bad impression with you over a single, first time encounter. I have been thinking a lot over the past few days about how common it is becoming for companies to treat customers well and deliver a good (if not excellent) experience at first, only to drop their standards once they think they have 'locked' you in, but it seems even more unthinkable to treat a first time customer like this! It can't come as any surprise to the company that their stock is dwindling if this is how they treat all of their first time customers.

It sounds to me that you were greeted (or not as the case may be) by a service rep who doesn't enjoy their job, doesn't want to be there and doesn't care about the organisations well-being. It would be interesting to find out whether other people have had a similar experience to yours, to find out if this is a common issue for the company, or whether you just came up against a particularly demotivated employee. This company would benefit from putting more effort into new customer indoctrination and, just as importantly, their own staff.

Thanks for sharing a great example of how-not to treat first time customers.