Saturday, June 24, 2017

Customer Loyalty or Short-Term Profits

I’m fortunate that I’m very busy these days (and looking for partners with the right mindset/chemistry to help us out) but a downside of it is that I’m now making last minute travel decisions, which inevitably lead to mistakes done on my part. So what should travel companies (airlines, hotels, car rentals, etc…) do when I make these mistakes?

For example, I booked myself to flight out of EWR to TPA in two different flights four hours apart. I didn’t notice this until I had to check in last night, so I called United to inquire about this. The lady that answered my call confirmed that I indeed had two flights, asked me which one I wanted to cancel and provided a refund. I’m sure that my status with the airline played a role in her decision to provide the refund but she could’ve read me the EUA and claim that I was at fault or partially at fault for being too stupid to book two flights out of the same airport four hours apart. They also waived a change fee of $200 in May when I mistakenly booked a different flight for the wrong days and noticed after 24 hours have elapsed. In any case, United decided to sacrifice short-term profits (twice) for customer loyalty. You bet that I will continue to flight United.

Which leads me to Avis. I’ve been booking with Avis for years and only booked with other car rentals when Avis was not available. Earlier this week on my way back from Toronto (en route to NYC), I stopped for the day in Philly to present at the VMUG UserCon. I reasoned that it would be more efficient (and less costly) to rent the car for a day than it would be taking a Lyft (I avoid Uber as much as I can; I haven’t liked their business ethics for a long time). I needed to go from the PHL to the VMUG (about 35 miles) and then to the Amtrak station in Philly to catch the train to Penn Station (about another 30 miles). So far so good.

While at the VMUG Michael Fleischer (@michaelfleisher) tells me I could just go over the border to Trenton (about 30-40 miles from the VMUG, about same distance to the Amtrak station in Philly) and catch the NJ Transit train for about $16 (versus $112 for Amtrak). Thinking that was a no brainer I did just that (while in the process calling Avis to confirm the location of the Avis office in Trenton) and dropped off the car to then be given an over $300 bill. My first thought was “This is a mistake” so I asked the guy at the counter to explain the bill and he tells me that I was charged for miles ($201 plus taxes), and that I needed to call Avis customer service if I had further questions. I thanked him for his time and left to catch my train.

I called Avis (billing department), provided the rental agreement number and asked why I was charged for miles. The lady that answered my call proceeded to explain that per the EUA that if I change the drop off location (no mention that the drop off location was in another State) I automatically get charged for miles (which later she clarified by stating the rental rate could change in such cases). Throughout the entire conversation she was very professional and respectful. I acknowledged that I didn’t know what the EUA said (or that I had read it for that matter…I never do) and that now I understood that per the EUA I was fully responsible for the charges. I then asked her what could be done to remove the charges (I have rented one-way before with Avis and I have never been charged by the mile). She proceeds to quote the EUA again.

Then I decided to explain to her (or remind her I suppose since she had my account info in front of her) that I was a long time Avis customer, only rent cars with them and I would’ve expected, since this was a first time occurrence, the per-mile fees would be waived. She said no they won’t be waived because…the EUA. Sigh.

I asked her if I could speak to a supervisor and to my surprise, she was it (or as she stated it “I am in the line of escalation”). At this point she offered to refund 25% off the per-mile charges. I politely refused, acknowledging again that I was liable for the charges per the EUA (really, who reads the travel companies’ EUA anyway?) explaining to her that my expectation for being a very long-term loyal customer of Avis is that Avis would forgive this one-time occurrence. She said no that she couldn’t and then proceeded to quote the EUA again (and no I’m not about to start reading travel companies’ EUA; I have no time for that. I will continue to “initial here, here and here, sign here”).

Somehow she thought I was still claiming that I was not responsible for the charges and offered 50% off so I could still pay for my part of being not-too-smart-for-not-reading-the-EUA (my words, not hers). I politely refused and I explained myself again: I was not looking for a discount, I was looking for Avis to show me they value their loyal customers and if this was Avis position (to fall back on the EUA for minor things) then I would be electing not to do business which Avis (why should I do business with such a company?). Guess what she said now? Exactly, she proceeded to quote from the EUA. After she finished quoting I thanked her for her time and wished her a great day. The call lasted less than 8 minutes.

After the call I emailed Avis customer service asking them what the process is to cancel my account. I didn’t include in the email the reasons why I want to cancel the account hoping someone from Avis would reach out, hear me out and tell me that I had a bad dream, yes Avis values customer loyalty over short-term profits, wash and vacuum the cars after each return, and they will reimburse the mile charges (I hate breakups so giving them one last chance). We’ll see what happens. They are supposed to reply to my email within 3-4 days (no, I didn’t get this information from the EUA J; I got it from their automatic email acknowledging they received my email).

Elver’s Opinion: Avis is choosing short-term profits (very SMALL short-term profits) in lieu of customer loyalty. Which is fine by me. That's not how I run my business with my customer but the Avis execs run their company however they think is best. I spend my money where I feel valued.

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