Tuesday, May 31, 2016

My Trouble with Enterprise Car Rental: The Funniest Part

Last week I told you the complete story of my trouble with Enterprise Car Rental.

First, an update. On Thursday, I began a series of follow up tweets on Twitter and on Friday morning, Enterprise Customer Service again reached out to me to let me know that they had resubmitted the case. Yes, they do have software to track these kinds of customer service issues and yes they do have a system to escalate those cases, but as of yet, I've only been contacted by the Twitter-monitoring branch of their customer service organization.

While I revisiting the story, certain parts seemed to me to be particularly funny.
  1. The subject of the dispute. This is not a dispute over damage to the vehicle. It's not about how much gas was in the tank. This issue came about after I dropped the car off at one of their locations with more than the needed level of fuel, and they didn't credit that drop-off until over a day and a half later. That is more like an internal  business process error on their part. And yet, they put the customer on the hook for their internal process.
  2. This whole thing issue revolves around $30. Nearly three weeks prior, I rented a car from Enterprise in a different city for probably over 3X that amount. 
  3. I've been part of Enterprise Car Rental's loyalty program for many years, renting from them almost exclusively for far longer. 
With all of these things, you might expect someone would simply say, "you're right. I'm waving the charges right now and I'm sorry for any inconvenience that this might have caused you." But they haven't.

It goes to show you that you can put a customer service organization in place, you can train your front line employees to be pleasant and friendly, you can pay for service CRM software, you can do customer surveys, everything they tell you to do to deliver better customer service. And yet, whether it's bureaucracy or process or some other reason that something like this -- that should be a joke -- something so inconsequential that it shouldn't have gone on this long, could prove to be such a problem for your customer service processes to handle.

Monday, May 30, 2016

One Great Marketing Story: Subaru Markets to Lesbians

I just came across this article from the Priceonomics site, How an Ad Campaign Made Lesbians Fall in Love with Subaru. It's a wonderful historical study of how Subaru began marketing to lesbians along with targeting several other niche demographics. I'll let you read the piece as it's really good. As someone who has worked with Japanese businesses, it's also amusing from that angle as well. Definitely a must read.

Friday, May 27, 2016

My Weird Bad Experience With Enterprise Car Rental

So I just wrapped up a busy two weeks of travel, mostly business, but some vacation. Travel seems to bring out lots of terrible customer service experiences. There are probably a number of reasons for this. When you're at home, you have routines and you probably frequent known businesses that deliver a predictable level of service. When you travel, you're probably dealing with new places, new businesses and your dealing with reviews, reputations and brands that you hope can ensure that you have quality experiences.

In many ways, this is where brands are supposed to thrive. If you're at home in the bay area, you can count on Philz, Peets, or Blue Bottle for quality coffee, but when you're in a town that you don't know, if there is a Starbucks, at least you can count on getting coffee that doesn't suck. Brands are brands because the commit to ensure a level of service and quality -- or that's the theory.

My Crazy, You-Don't-Want-This-to-Happen-to-You Enterprise Car Rental Experience
I've rented from Enterprise Car Rental many times over the years, probably back as far as the early 1990s. While my business travel has had me renting from many companies, I often found myself gravitating back to Enterprise for the lower prices, car offerings, and sometimes they even used to pick you up. One of the things that I was always disappointed with them for was that, for many years, I don't think they had a loyalty program. Several years ago, I finally found their loyalty program and signed up. With many of these things, I never wind up actually using the points, but often the business treats you a bit better because you're signed up.

So anyway, last week was Miami, with a long drive up Florida to visit Jacksonville with my wife. My wife's corporate rate with Avis is really good, so we were surprised when I got a car rental rate that was WAY lower from Enterprise. Enterprise was offering an $7.95 per day rental for a pick-up in Miami and drop off in Jacksonville. My three day rental with unlimited mileage was under $25. Whenever I told anyone how much I was quoted, they were also shocked. It was one of those rates that made me happy -- thrilled -- to be renting from Enterprise.

So we picked up the car on Thursday. It was the usual process of attempting to upsell me on insurance and Florida tolls, but other than that, nothing different from any other car rental that I've ever done. Then the quick inspection, and we were off in a nice new Toyota RAV4. Leaving the Miami metro area, I was halfway kicking myself about not spending the extra $4 for the automated toll coverage so I could escape a little bit of the traffic on I-95, but other than that, it was a pretty uneventful drive.

Fast forward to Saturday morning where we dropped off the car with way more gas than we needed to (only needed half a tank, but the RAV4 gas tank is actually kind of small). Through the usual drop off line at the airport, then the attendant asks if I'd like a copy of the receipt. I said yes, at which point she told me I needed to go the attendant in the Enterprise office there -- something we didn't really want to do since we were anxious to get through security and be ready for our flight. Thinking that it wouldn't be a problem -- I've had car rental receipts emailed to me on many occasions -- I asked if she could email the receipt and she said yet.

Two days later, Monday, May 23 at 6pm I finally received my receipt. The receipt claimed that I had had the car until nearly 2:00pm that Monday, putting me in a five day rental at $55. It goes without saying that my wife and I, having dropped the car at the airport, had been in New Orleans since Saturday, so the idea that I was being charged for two days that I didn't use the car was, in a word, bullshit.

Now, if you aren't really too worried about it, you might think that $55 was a reasonable amount to pay to drive a rental car from Miami to Jacksonville. You might be willing to let the $30 delta slide. But the problem that I have is that we did nothing different that we haven't done 100 times, with Enterprise and other rental car companies. It was standard operating procedure. And so the idea that for some unexplained reason, Enterprise would change the rules this time and surprise me with an unwarranted charge -- I really needed to get an explanation.

Enterprise Customer Service SUCKS
So I called Enterprise Customer Service using the toll free contact number published on their web site. After receiving my confirmation number, the customer service rep told me that there was nothing he could do and that I would have to call the Miami office where I rented the vehicle once they were open (on East Coast Time). He didn't seem to have any ability to log a case, couldn't provide me with a case number, and didn't seem to be willing to do anything other than essentially say, "man, that's a bummer. I'm sorry your frustrated. I can't do anything."

At this point, my frustration had amplified, so I got on Twitter and began telling my story, curious to see if Enterprise Car Rental monitored Twitter. About a half an hour after I started posting comments on Twitter to @enterprise and @enterprisecares, I finally received response with a request to send their customer service my confirmation number. After some back and forth with Enterprise customer service through Twitter direct messages, I was informed that "I sent your comments and concerns, and your contact information, to the Miami regional office for review and response. A manager will contact you as soon as possible," and a reference number was assigned.

Three days later, and I still haven't heard anything from Enterprise Car Rental. As soon as possible doesn't seem to mean what you might think it means. At this point, I'm left feeling like Enterprise Car Rental is trying to rip me off -- and the ironic part is that it's for about $30. Keep in mind that I'm a points-holding member of their loyalty program who, before having this billing dispute, would have likely been a huge recommender for Enterprise Car Rental. Now, I question whether they're going pull some crazy shit when you turn your car in. And I most certainly would get a receipt before I leave!

As I mentioned on Twitter, "this is the critical interrelationship between customer service and marketing." Right now, I'm questioning my entire relationship with Enterprise Car Rental. That affects not just one location in one state, but other locations and other potential business. In one customer service moment, Enterprise could have looked at this and said, "hah, some crazy clerical error, clearly not worth the $30 to even argue it." But instead, they send me into some shitstorm of a bureaucratic devil's triangle, where the issue just seems to get lost. @enterprisecares. Except they forgot to close the <satire> tag.

How do you think things like this promotional email from Enterprise will work with me going forward?
Save 20%.
We miss you. Come back and save 20% at participating locations. You can earn valuable points toward free rental days.  
As a business, how much do you think Enterprise's marketing group is spending on ExactTarget for email marketing? And then, to watch that spend get kneecapped by their customer service? It's got to be frustrating. After all, could any number of "We miss you" emails overcome one bad customer service experience? From the marketing end of the business, all we can say is unbelievable. For about $30. It really sounds like a joke doesn't it.

This, my friends, seriously deserves a #FAIL tag.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Uber, Lyft, and Various Customer Experience Frustrations

So I've been busy with a lot of business travel and this week found me in downtown Miami. Over the week, I've had several experiences with both Uber and Lyft, including some bad ones that you'll see on my Twitter feed, but I thought it was a good time to share a few observations.

First, on Uber versus Lyft -- this has been mixed. Over the past several months, we've tried to use Lyft more. For one reason, when we spoke to the drivers, most -- particularly those that drive for both services -- tell us that Lyft is better for them. They say that the company is nicer and that Lyft pays them better. However, there is not always as many opportunities on Lyft, so many drivers find themselves drawn to the Uber side for that reason.

Similarly, we were told that here in Miami, Uber had recently run something like a week of a "$3.05" special, where all rides under a certain distance were only $3.05 -- great for riders but terrible for drivers.

Then earlier today I had my bigger mess. First, I tried to order a Lyft ride and the driver came close to where I was, apparently clicked the indicator that he was here, then proceeded to drive to the destination that I had entered into the app. In the process of watching this and trying to figure out what was going on, I tried texting the driver, to no avail, and then calling. The person who answered acted spoke with a heavy Latin accent and almost seemed to act as though I had called the wrong number. One important observation on this experience -- if you're in the theoretical ride, there is no cancellation button. I would have liked a WTF button myself. What happens if something is going wrong with the ride? Wouldn't it be good to have some way of alerting the ridesharing service?

Eventually, my not-ride ended and freed up the app, but not before I'd switched over and requested a ride from Uber. This one drove up, but also seemed to have the wrong pick-up location. When I called the driver to let them know where we were, again, "no speak Spanish" was repeated several times followed with nothing audibly coherent beyond that. Since this driver hadn't "picked me up", I cancelled. The next thing I know, I received a receipt from Uber for a $5.00 cancellation fee.

Each company's customer service practices differed as well. With Lyft, my Twitter posts (and perhaps my accessing the help function in their app), triggered them to look at the charge, refund it, and even offer me a credit on a future ride. In contrast, Uber hardly responded to my Twitter complaints and, when they did, suggested that I go through their site to question the charge. Too busy I suppose.

Don't get me wrong, since most of these Lyft rides are business related items that will just go on my expense report, credits and discounted rides are not really a big incentive to continue to use the service, but I understand what they're trying to do and, practically there's a limit on what tools are available to a business in customer service issues like this.

Overall, while I've mostly been happy with my Lyft experiences, I've hit several times when Lyft has popped a warning screen that higher rates were in effect -- something that usually deters me from requesting a ride with them -- only for me to switch to the Uber app and see no rate increase in effect. Don't get me wrong, if I get an alert from Uber that there is surge pricing in effect, I refuse to use the service. I am very much against these rate multipliers. Given a rate multiplier, I will quickly switch to a cab, period, end of story.

Perhaps the worst thing was, after you've had a bad experience with both the rideshare companies, you start to wonder what will the result be if you book your return trip from the destination with them. In several locations I've gotten the same driver before, what happens if it's the same driver or drivers again? This is the kind of thing that nags at you and, frankly, I'm not sure that credits really answer.

Monday, May 9, 2016

When Southwest Airlines Queueing System Fails

About a year ago, I wrote another blog post about Southwest Airlines and some of their frustrating business practices. As I mentioned in the post, "Southwest Airlines is a great example of one of those love-hate relationships that just make you crazy." This morning found me on the hate end of the spectrum once again.

As you might have seen from my Twitter feed, I'm gearing up for about two weeks of travel. My trip includes about five cities and some cross country travel. Normally, for cross-country travel, I've found that I prefer JetBlue as their planes provide a human amount of leg room, but unfortunately, several of the cities that I need to visit aren't served by JetBlue. What's more, to book a trip like this on United or American would have been difficult -- and priced out at a couple thousand dollars, more than double the cost of Southwest. While I usually try to avoid Southwest Airlines for cross country flights, this trip was pretty much impossible without choosing them.

In fact, my trip was so complicated that our existing corporate travel software couldn't book it. I have so many legs on this trip, I needed to contact our travel agent and have them book it. And this is what kicked off my latest frustration with Southwest Airlines.

It turns out that, unbeknownst to me, the travel agent didn't put my birth date into one of the reservations. This is required information for you to obtain a boarding pass. Now, in a world of reserved seats, leaving out information like this is not the biggest problem -- you most likely have a specific seat booked. However, Southwest Airlines with it's "check-in 24 hours before your flight to obtain your place in line for boarding", errors and delays with check-ins can be a significantly greater problem. In my case, it turned into errors trying to check-in on both the Southwest App and their web site, followed by a call to their customer service (and a long hold time), all the while "critical" seconds were ticking away, moving me farther and farther back in the check in line. And at the end of the experience, what did I get? Essentially, the equivalent of Southwest Airlines saying, "Bummer man, I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip."

Set Up For Customer Service Failure: The Southwest Queuing System
In the old days, Southwest Airlines numbered boarding line made sense. You'd arrive at the airport, check-in, and they'd give you a little plastic boarding tag. If you wanted a low A boarding number, you showed up to the airport early. It also meant that usually the first people on the plane were those skittish travelers who arrived at the airport two hours early for a domestic flight. Of course, it sucked for business because if you arrived at the airport at the last minute, you were trying to cram your carry-on in around Aunt Susie and Uncle Pete's haphazardly placed bags in the overhead. It sucked so bad that Southwest created their Business Select that automatically gave you an A1-15 boarding pass -- for a premium "business" price.

With the advent of online check-ins, Southwest set up a system where you could check in and get your number 24 hours in advance of your flight. At times, I've wondered why it seems like many of the same "traveling on vacation" people are ahead of me in the line. I suspect that the same thing that made Aunt Susie and Uncle Pete show up two hours in advance for that flight is the same thing that has them sitting around by the computer on the weekend waiting for the time to tick over -- for them, it's a big vacation, but for me it's the Sunday before a business trip.

The other irony is that several people have built apps to automatically check you into your Southwest flight, although Southwest has apparently been very aggressive at sending cease and desist orders to stop web sites that enabled you to automatically check you in. Why? Southwest charges $15 to let you automatically check-in as soon as you can. You can still find some coding tools to automate your browser - let's be honest, scripting an activity like this to take place isn't that hard - but Southwest is bound and determined to monetize this part of the transaction.

So let's talk about all the failure points that happened during my transaction and how Southwest could have improved the process.

1. Travel agent books the flight. Provides incomplete information. Shouldn't the system validate the information and determine if all information was provided? Shouldn't it prevent saving a record if essential information is missing? This is like web application 101.

2. Once the flight was booked (a couple of weeks ago), there was no follow up. Nowhere in the flight information does it indicate that incomplete information was provided. Considering that I'm signed up on their RapidRewards program and my flights were linked to my RapidRewards account, you'd think that they could have sent an automated email saying "complete your flight information in order to streamline your check-in process." As it turns out, there was other information missing from my reservation as well. Why can't you see this information in the Southwest App?

3. Checking In. When I tried to check in, the error message in the app said, "Parameter value is missing. Error 400500134 (Flvu9-BDQFi1L9WKitm9Vw-API)". In hindsight, I can kind of put together something about what the error means, but at the time it was unclear what the problem was. Even better was when I tried to check in through the Southwest Airlines web site. Here's the screen:
Gotta love "Reference Code: 999999999".

So yes, these error messages suck. But what sucks worse is that they potentially leave you with the impression that there is some larger system error at play and to simply keep trying. Keep trying while the sand ticks out of the hour glass and more and more people check in ahead of you.

4. I call Southwest. Automated phone navigation system. Long wait times. These are things I would expect. The Southwest customer service agent was friendly and helpful. She updated my information and checked me in. When all is said and done, I wound up with a number in the upper B boarding.

But here's the problem. Through no fault of mine, I've had a frustrating customer experience with you, Southwest Airlines, driven entirely by your "check-in for your place in line" business practice. You have created a situation where you're managing customer experience on a resource that potentially diminishes in value as time goes on. It's similar to the customer service issue with Stubhub -- if they cancel a transaction, that ticket you ordered is possibly gone and your opportunity may be gone. Whatever number I could have had if your check-in process had worked correctly is gone.
Now, as a customer service organization and a business, what are you going to do about that? As an example, Stubhub waived their transaction fees for our transaction. While that might not have helped if the tickets had been particularly limited, it was at least a gesture on their part to make things better within the scope of things that they could do. Stubhub did good customer service to address a frustrating customer experience.

What did Southwest Airlines do? Essentially said, "bummer man". Did they offer a number from the high A-list usually blocked out for business travel? No. Did they offer me some sort of credit (essentially meaningless on a business fare)? No. Did they even offer me drink tickets or something like that? No. Bummer man.