It fills me with no joy to have to write a post about companies that have delivered unacceptable Customer Experiences. It fills me with even less joy to have to do so about an organisation that I have previously admired. Regular readers of my blog know by now that I write about the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to Customer Experience so that others may learn from the experiences that I and people in my networks have. The stories I share are intended to be authentic and constructive so that the reality of good and bad experiences can be explained.
Today I am sharing a story about a company that has had an overt Customer Centric culture for many years. Founded in 1957 in St Louis, Missouri by Jack C. Taylor, by 2005, Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s customer service had been recognized seven times by J.D. Power and Associates as highest in customer satisfaction for rental car companies at or near airports. The company was named ninth on Business Week’s top 25 companies customer service list in 2007. Customer Service has always been part of their DNA, culminating in the production of the book ‘Exceeding Customer Expectations: What Enterprise, America’s #1 Car Rental Company, Can Teach You about Creating Lifetime Customers’ in 2007.
It was therefore no surprise that when I myself became a customer of my local Enterprise branch in Chester, North West England, I was very pleased with the Customer Journey I experienced. In fact I was so pleased, I wrote a Customer Experience Review about them – a review that you can read here.
In August 2014, as a result of the experiences I had with Enterprise, I had become a firm ‘promoter’ of their brand. If someone were to ask me to recommend a hire car company, I would have had absolutely no hesitation in blurting out Enterprise. In fact some of you reading this right now may well have been the recipient of an Enterprise recommendation from me. I believed in Enterprise – their quality; their reliability; their service – I believed that they would look after me….no matter what. Most of all, I TRUSTED them. In August 2014, I would have given Enterprise a score of 9 or 10 out of 10 if I were to be asked the Net Promoter Score question.
A promoter is an advocate of your business. Someone who is such a fan of your product or service that they are readily willing to recommend you to others. Holding on to an advocate SHOULD be easy – as long as you carry on delivering the experience that your advocate has come to expect from you.
Lets us fast forward to May 2015. In 9 months, Enterprise have turned me from a loyal advocate into a VERY unhappy detractor. If you were to ask me the Net Promoter Score question today, I would score a 1 or a 2. A detractor is not only someone who has no emotional connection to your product or service, they are also very likely to tell others to avoid you. If you were to ask me if I would recommend Enterprise now, my answer would be absolutely not!
So what has happened to turn me from a promoter to a detractor? How do you convert a loyal fan into a foe? Let me explain how Enterprise managed to do this in three steps:
Step 1 – Hiring me a car subject to a safety recall
In October 2014, Vauxhall were in the midst of a huge nationwide safety recall. Plastered all over the media, you would have to be living in a cave to not have known. When I went to hire a car from Enterprise, I just assumed that they would have addressed the recall issues – surely they would not give me a Vauxhall that had not been checked? You guessed it – they did. You can read the full story of what happened here.
Now the thing is – all companies get things wrong. No-one is perfect. As a consumer I understand that and acknowledge that perfection is an unrealistic expectation. Enterprise made a mistake in this case – they apologised for the mistake profusely. At this stage, I was still a promoter of theirs – a fan – so I was willing to forgive (although not forget). I carried on as a happy Enterprise customer.
Step 2 – Charging me £75 for a flat tyre I did not cause to be flat and without telling me
In April 2015, I hired another car from Enterprise. As I drove away from my branch, I noticed a warning light on the dashboard. I now know that the warning light advises when tyres are not at the correct pressure. Some would say I should have returned the car back to the branch, but as I was running short of time, I was not able to. When I returned the car to a different branch, I advised them of the issue – they said not to worry. So you can imagine my disappointment when I received my invoice by email with a £75 charge for a flat tyre!!
I complained to my branch – the person I spoke to promised to look into it and come back to me. I still have not heard anything. This experience converted me from an Enterprise promoter to a ‘passive’ customer. These two incidents combined had led me to the state where I now thought that Enterprise were no longer any better than their competitors. To be passive puts a customer in an apathetic state. I did not consider myself to be an ‘anti-fan’ of Enterprise, but I was no longer a happy customer – passive customers can very quickly turn against you…..as Enterprise were about to find out.
Step 3 – Cancelling my reservation
On the 19th May 2015 I was due to pick up a car from Enterprise to drive to a meeting in the evening. I was very tight for time as I was travelling back to Chester from London earlier in the day. I had planned to get a taxi to my branch from the station, pick up the car and drive straight to my meeting. So imagine my surprise when I received an email entitled ‘Enterprise Cancellation’ on the morning of the 19th. The email said:
Good Morning Mr Golding
Unfortunately we are having trouble sourcing you a vehicle for 16:00 today and are being forced to cancel your reservation.
We, at Enterprise, ensure you this is a last resort situation and have tried with every effort to source you a vehicle and apologise profusely.
Please can you contact the branch to rearrange your reservation
My instant reaction was ‘WHAT!!!!’ A hire car company without cars for hire is like a supermarket without food to sell – completely pointless. In all my years of hiring cars, I have NEVER had my reservation cancelled. I had been made a promise by Enterprise – they had accepted and confirmed my reservation – and now they were withdrawing their promise at short notice without any viable alternative. To say I was unhappy would be a rather big understatement.
This third incident had completed my conversion – my conversion from an ardent promoter to an ardent foe – three easy steps.
I was faced with no option but to look elsewhere for help. The first company I contacted was Avis Budget. I did not tell them what had happened, but advised I needed a car at short notice. ‘Not a problem sir’ was their response. ‘I do not know what car I can get you, but I guarantee that I will have one for you later this afternoon’. I was relieved – but why could Enterprise not do whatever was needed to get me a car either?
Later in the day I sent an email to Enterprise advising them of my very high level of dissatisfaction. My email was to be the start of a long conversation that culminated in a telephone call. Enterprise wanted to explained to me what had happened. To be honest, I could not have cared less – customers do not want to know WHY something went wrong – they want to know what you are going to do about it.
I must make it clear that the lady I spoke to at Enterprise was EXCELLENT. Her manner, tone and approach was exactly what was required. Authentically apologetic, I believed her when she said how sorry they were for the situation. Whatever was the cause of the problem, it seems likely that it was related to process and systems rather than people. I was made the kind offer of having the £75 for the tyre refunded, along with a free day’s rental. Very nice gestures – but gestures that seem and feel a little too late.
It should not take something to go very wrong for previously un-addressed issues to be sorted. For a company that has such a rich customer service heritage, I had and have been very let down by three experiences in a 9 month period. I no longer believe in Enterprise. Even worse I no longer TRUST Enterprise. I need to be able to rely on the companies I interact with – they enable me to keep my own business running. If they fail to keep their promises, they put me at risk of failing to meet mine.
So what could Enterprise have done differently? In each of my three experiences there are key learning’s to be had. Never rent out a car that is subject to a recall until it has been checked first! Never rent out a car with an active warning light. If you intend to charge a customer for something, make sure this is clear before they leave the branch. Never be in a position where you have to cancel a reservation due to having no cars available – even if that means you sourcing a car from a competitor.
Just imagine if Enterprise had got my car from Avis Budget yesterday instead of me. I would not have cared less where the car came from – I would just have been delighted that Enterprise went to the end of the earth to keep their promise to me. I would have probably been writing a very different blog post today. Instead, I am writing this blog post with a heavy heart as a previous promoter of a business I am now likely to not be using again in the near future. Do not ever take your loyal customers for granted – you can turn them into foes very quickly!