Rental Cars

Hertz is Running with Scissors

I arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport 1 hour and 30 minutes late, due to mechanical problems in the “equipment” coming out of La Guardia. After the requisite bag drag to the rental car bus, I was deposited in front of the Hertz Gold board, ready for my car. For you less-than-frequent travelers, the Gold board is a bit of marketing brilliance. In lieu of the typical wait at the counter, Hertz has a large board which displays your name and stall number. Find your name, walk to the stall, drive to your destination – no wait, no fuss, a beautiful thing.

Today, instead of the customary stall number, I was greeted with the letters “XXX”. After a 20 minute wait in line, the Hertz agent dismissed the problem with “your flight was over an hour late”. A short conversation with the manager revealed that this was policy; dare to be late and you may be sentenced to the dreaded rental car queue.

Post 9/11 travel cannot be defined as fun. Travel hassles are part of the road warrior’s life; sweating the small stuff will only lead to more stress. My personal delays have ranged from the mundane to the highly unexpected. The most incredible was a bathroom door that only worked from the outside; upon closing it, I sealed myself in – one hour later, I managed my personal version of the great escape. While I am robust to these problems, I am always on the hunt for something that will make travel less painful, which is why I joined Hertz #1 Club Gold to begin with.

Here’s my problem with Hertz’s policy. I joined their Gold program to avoid delays in the car rental process. However, when my flight is late, Hertz compounds the problem and makes me even later. I attempted to make this point to the manager, a futile endeavor that was less than successful.

The manager’s response was that they needed the car stalls for the other Gold members. Whether this statement is a logical explanation is irrelevant for this article, although I have my doubts. What struck me is that Hertz has chosen to elevate their operational processes above the needs of the customer, a practice that is far too common in industry. Hertz’s solution to the late traveler problem is to temporarily suspend their Gold privileges. Marketing genius summarily dismissed by a branch in their flow chart.

The pessimistic reader might be wondering if there are alternatives to Hertz’s policy. I can think of a few.

  1. When boarding the Rental Car bus, the driver could collect the names of the Gold members and radio them ahead, giving Hertz time to ensure the cars are ready. Too hard you think? Other Hertz locations already do this.
  2. Use the flight information entered by the customer at booking to predict the arrival of late flights. It is called the “I N T E R N E T”, learn to use it.
  3. An impressive solution, turn the negative (late flight) into a positive. For travelers who are late, shift them into the “Express Lane”, assign cars close to the bus, and expedite their departure. Even if it wasn’t much faster, I would be impressed that they knew I was late and were doing their part to help.

What makes Hertz’s current policy particularly stupid? The likely victim is their most lucrative customer. Hertz calls me a “President’s Circle Member” which frankly means I rent far too many cars. With 40+ rental weeks per year, Hertz should be sending me birthday cards rather than finding ways to send me to their competition. If anyone from Hertz is reading this, let me make one key point. The mid-size sedan I rent from you is no better than the one I could get from National, Alamo, Dollar, or my Aunt Betty. I use Hertz to avoid the rental car queue. My motivations are not founded in carrying the shiny gold card or even complimentary car upgrades. I want to be on my way as fast as possible. In my industry, this is called VOC or Voice of the Customer, something you discovered when you created the Gold program and summarily destroyed with your operational policy. National’s Emerald Aisle is starting to look good.

If you, the reader, are ever good or lucky enough to discover and meet the Voice of the Customer, don’t let legal, operations, manufacturing or any other part of your organization destroy your efforts. Large corporations are like Kindergartners, they must be monitored to prevent them from hurting themselves and others.

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