I’m going to tell you a story about a bad customer experience I had recently.
The point of this story is not to shame the brand or get some type of retribution. Rather, the purpose is to point out how in today’s marketing environment – where the customer is the be-all and end-all – it’s not good enough to do “business as usual”, because if you ignore the customer there are too many competing options at the click of a mouse or a swipe of the finger, and too many channels with which to voice and amplify our displeasure . . . all of which is bad for business.
In a recent blog post I highlighted 5 marketing predictions for the year ahead. These predictions were made by digital marketing luminaries such as Larry Kim, Brian Dean, and Aaron Orendorff. While each person had their own point-of-view, they all shared a common theme: the importance of the “customer experience”. More specifically, creating a better, more personalized user or brand experience. In short, practicing customer focused marketing!
Putting the customer in the center of your marketing is good for business. In fact, it’s one of the 9 essential keys to lead generation. Focusing on your customer allows you to introduce the human element into your marketing and sales. This personal touch is very important: people are too busy and distracted to respond to anything that doesn’t resonate on a personal level.
But the customer interaction I had was anything but personal. On the contrary. They didn’t seem to care about me or doing business with me in the future at all.
The background to my story is this: My father had sold his house and downsized to an apartment. As a result, he had some furniture from his home that wouldn’t fit into his apartment; he had to put in storage. I was going to take this furniture off his hands and save him money on the storage. I live in North Carolina, and he lives in Connecticut. So, I needed to rent a cargo van to pick up the furniture from where he lived and bring it back NC.
It was early November. The weather was brisk and getting colder as I drove north, so cold that I had to turn on the heater. Everything was going well on the drive, but as I was less than 100 miles from my destination I noticed the heater had stopped working. This was the beginning of my customer experience.
Here is the sequence of (bad) events:
10:30 AM on 11/11/17
With the heater not working, the temperature inside the van was getting markedly colder. I put on my jacket, but I didn’t have gloves, and I resorted to driving with one hand on the wheel at a time, the other tucked under my leg to warm. Recognizing a problem, (I wasn’t going to spend the next couple of days driving around in 30-degree weather without any heat!) I called Enterprise Truck in Durham, NC, where I rented the van. No one answered the phone, and I left a voicemail explaining that the heater stopped working and that I’d like to coordinate the pick-up of a replacement van when I arrived at my destination in CT.
Because no one answered when I rang Enterprise Truck, I called Enterprise Car Rental to learn if Truck was still open (the Car rental facility was located right next to the Truck rental facility, although they were two separate buildings). I spoke with the manager, Leslie, and explained my situation to her. She confirmed that Enterprise Truck was open until 1 PM and that someone would get back to me.
Unexpectedly, in heavy traffic on I-95, the van’s “Add Coolant” warning signal and red-light alarm triggered. As I scanned the dashboard, I noticed that the temperature gauge was pinned to HOT. I immediately pulled off the highway at the next exit. I smelled something burning.
I nursed the van to a safe spot and turned it off. I rang Truck in Durham again. Once more, my call went straight to voice mail. Ugh.
After leaving a second message with Truck, I called Enterprise Car Rental once more to see if they could help. After all, being right next to one another, I figured at the very least a representative from Car could walk over to Truck and have someone call me. I spoke to the manager, Leslie, again, and explained my now emergency. She told me that the Truck and Car rentals operations at Enterprise work separately, and that because she represented Car she would not be able to help. While flabbergasted, I calmly and clearly explained my situation once more: I needed to get in touch with Truck ASAP because my van had broken down. I told her that the people at Truck were not picking up or returning my calls. Could she or someone else from Car walk over to Truck and report my emergency; I just wanted a call back. Leslie reiterated that Car and Truck are two separate businesses and that she could not help. She then hung up on me. Hugh?!?
This is when things get ugly.
Getting nowhere with Enterprise Durham, I called a local Enterprise facility near where I was in CT. They informed me that because theirs was a Car rental and not Truck, they could not help! (at least they’re consistent). They did, however, put me in touch with Enterprise Roadside Assistance.
Turns out, it was the wrong Roadside Assistance. (They put me in touch with Roadside Assistance Car not Truck . . . Are you starting to see a theme here?). Roadside Assistance Car, in turn, put me in touch with Roadside Assistance Truck. But this connection was with Roadside Assistance for Fleet Trucks. Fleet Trucks is another organization within Enterprise that only works with companies that rent a “fleet” of their trucks and vans, such as a FedEx that needs more vehicle coverage in a certain geo to meet a spike in demand. Not surprisingly to me at this point, Fleet Trucks could not help me (“separate organization”).
During these calls I learned that, with very few exceptions, all Enterprise locations close at 1 on Saturday. Naturally, with less than 45 minutes to find a replacement vehicle of some sort, I was getting a little bit anxious that I was going to be left on the side of the road, having to spend a weekend in Connecticut as opposed to picking up furniture and driving back to North Carolina.
Fleet was able put me in touch with the right Roadside Assistance – finally! A woman named Alicia explained that she could not authorize a replacement truck over the phone (only the location where I originally rented the van could authorize a replacement sight unseen), but she put in a request for a service person to come out to where I was and inspect the vehicle. After inspecting my van, the service person would then be in a position to authorize a replacement if a repair could not be made on the spot. Alicia told me the ETA for this service person was 1 hour and 40 minutes, or, according to my watch, 1:58 PM. I explained to Alicia that this would not work – Enterprise locations close at 1 on Saturday, and I needed a replacement van, or a car to drive, prior to 1. Alicia was not sympathetic to my emergency. I asked her to put me in touch with a local Enterprise facility so I could at least secure a car before 1. She was unwilling to do this – again, separate business units – but with some persuasion I convinced her to make the connection (at this point it was 10 minutes to 1). I spoke with the first person who answered the call and explained my situation. He agreed that mine was an unusual case, and that he would get his Manager on the line. The Manager, whose name I can’t recall, explained that he was car and not truck, and that he could not help. He hung up on me. (Second time today that an Enterprise rep had flatly hung up on me.)
You would think I’m making this stuff up, but I’m not.
I called Roadside Assistance Truck back and FINALLY spoke to someone who was helpful, Jareka. She was the first person to seemingly listen to me and care about my emergency. Jareka located a branch that was open until 4, in Stamford, CT, not far from my location. She herself spoke with the branch, and in a couple of minutes was able to secure a car. It wasn’t a replacement van, but at least I had something to drive!
I spoke with Larisa of Enterprise Stamford. She was very helpful and confirmed my car reservation.
When the service person arrived on scene, he confirmed that the van was not repairable and that it would have to be towed.
I called Enterprise Stamford to confirm that I would need to keep the car to drive back to NC. They suggested that I may be able to get a van first thing Sunday morning, if that would help, and put me in touch with a national agent who could identify one. I spoke with a rep and explained my situation. She decided to “escalate” my case and put me in contact with this escalation person (finally, some attention!). I explained my situation (once again), and in the middle of my explanation, without warning, I was put into an automated voice system whose options were to “press 1 for Roadside Assistance Canada”, “press 2 for Roadside Assistance United States” . . .
Needless to say, I drove back to North Carolina on Sunday in a rental car and not one piece of furniture.
Despite the several violations of common courtesy, respect and basic job obligations, what I want to emphasize is Enterprise’s failure to live up to its brand expectation.
Countless times during my experience I heard the term, separate organization. How can this be? Isn’t it all Enterprise? (The description from their Google search result says, “Always nearby. Always standing by. Committed to customer satisfaction” Hardly.)
Listen, I like Enterprise. I am a loyal customer. And despite this poor experience I have since and probably will rent from them again (which says something about the general state of customer service in our society, but that’s for another post). However, my bad experience was not an isolated incident with a single employee or just one Enterprise location. It was across their entire organization. And that’s really the problem.
I spoke with numerous Enterprise employees from numerous locations. In theory, each person and location should treat me the same – as an Enterprise customer. Because, from the customer’s point of view, Enterprise is Enterprise is Enterprise. I rented from you. I am in trouble. I need help. I don’t need to be handed off from one person to the next, each person more eager to pass the problem on than the last.
The point is, just as the brand is the brand is the brand from the customer’s perspective, from Enterprise’s point of view, the customer is the customer is the customer. Point in case . . . me. I have always been a customer of their car rentals. But in this situation, I rented a van. (Ironically, when you go to Enterprise's website to rent a car, they list cargo vans as an option. So, the create the brand expectation that it's all one organization when in reality it is not). Regardless, I’m a customer of Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Period. And I need a customer experience from Enterprise that treats me as such. Throw in the fact that I was in an emergency, and the fact that individuals at Enterprise were unable, and in some cases unwilling, to help, is inexcusable.
Referring back to my Rock Star Predictions post, one of the panelists, Aaron Orendorff, Founder of Iconic Content, predicted that brands have to become more transparent going forward:
“Marketing will continue to get more personal. Authenticity and transparency are the keys. The brands that present their leaders as individuals, as real human beings, on social and other personal platforms, including developing their own email lists or followings, will reap the spoils of personalization.”
Aaron’s advice: create authentic experiences.
This is the current consumer expectation. That brands will be transparent, and that the customer experience will be seamless, from online to on the phone, on social media or in the store, from one store or department to the next.
Today, where the customer drives the marketing equation, maintaining the type of disjointed, silo experience that I had with Enterprise will be at your businesses own peril.