Rental Car Blues!

By Ron Rosenberg

It's generally good to do business with companies you know and trust - preferably ones you've worked with before.

But when the cost of an alternative company is significantly lower, then it might just be worth trying something new.

In this case, it was a trip to California for a major conference...with a few days tacked on at the end for a visit to wine country.

When we checked on rates to rent a car, all of the major companies we've used in the past seemed much higher than one we hadn't heard of before: Fox Rent-A-Car. In fact, Fox's rates were roughly half of the other companies' so we decided to give them a try.

Turns out, at least at this location, this wasn't a good decision.

We had to wait over 30 minutes at the check-in counter just to get started. Once our paperwork was processed and we walked over to the garage, we had to wait another 20 minutes there to get the car...which was dirty.

After about 30 miles on the road, the dashboard warning light came on saying that the oil life was at 1%.

When we arrived at the airport at the end of the rental, the crew was completely disorganized, and returning the car took over 15 minutes - a process that normally takes three minutes at other agencies' return lanes.

Will You Take a Survey?

I was thinking about whether or not I wanted to invest the time and effort to contact the company, when I noticed an e-mail message in my Inbox:


You recently rented a car from our SFO location and we would appreciate
your feedback in our 2-5 question online survey. The survey should take
no more than a couple of minutes to complete and all responses will remain
confidential and secure.

Thank you in advance for your valuable insights. Your input will be
used to ensure that we continue to meet your needs. We appreciate your
trust and look forward to serving you in the future.

We have contracted with QuestionPro, an independent research firm, to
field your confidential survey responses. Please click on this link to
complete the survey:

Start Survey

Thank You

Since I'm a big fan of soliciting customer feedback - and because I was considering contacting them anyway, I completed their survey, providing all the details I could remember.

On the final page, the survey asked if I would like to be contacted by a representative of the company, and I said, "Absolutely!"

We're Really Sorry, But...

I really wasn't expecting to hear back from the company, but a few days later, there it was: an e-mail with their follow-up contact!  Here's what it said:

Hi Ronald,

My name is Kerin and I work with the customer satisfaction surveys here at Fox.  Thank you for taking time to communicate to us why our service did not meet your expectations.  We have every desire to address your needs and provide the best solution available to resolve your issue as soon as possible.

Please accept our sincerest apologies for the wait times, the return process and the service oil light coming on.  Our vehicles are to be cleaned and serviced after each customer.  I will communicate with our San Francisco team about the experience you had at this location.  We appreciate our customer feedback, so we can work to avoid things like this happening in the future.

We would like to offer you a 10% discount on a future rental, due to the inconveniences you experienced.  If you would like to use this discount, please email me with your confirmation number after you make a reservation on our Fox website and I will apply the discount to your reservation.  It can be used at any of our corporate Fox locations, which are listed on our website.

Thank you again for taking the time to fill out our survey.  If you have further concerns or questions, I would be happy to assist you.

Have a wonderful weekend! 

Not Much of a Response...

I was pleased that someone had actually responded to my request, but, let's face it - 10% off a future rental seemed just a bit "light" considering everything we had to deal with. So I responded with this e-mail:


Thanks for your reply and your commitment to improve in the areas I mentioned in my survey response.

I also appreciate the offer of a 10% discount on a future rental; unfortunately, I do not consider this adequate compensation for the inconvenience my wife and I experienced during every part of our rental.

The wait times were wholly unacceptable, especially when compared with the consistently fast rental and return times I get when renting from other companies.  In addition, the condition of the car – both cosmetically and, more importantly, mechanically – made the entire experience disappointing and potentially dangerous.

Fox Dashboard #2Renting a car in desperate need of an oil change (see attached photos) puts your customers in a situation where they could suffer a breakdown on a busy highway or deserted road, and is certainly something that the California Department of Insurance’s Rental Car Licensing Division would be concerned with.

Considering the rental experience – from end to end – was unacceptable and certainly not up to Fox’s normal standards of quality, I am requesting that you refund the entire amount of our rental in San Francisco.

This will demonstrate that you do take these issues seriously and will make me more inclined to rent from Fox in the future.

Thanks again for your help; I look forward to hearing from you soon. 

The Final Response

Fast forward a few more days, and I see this response waiting for me in the morning:

Good afternoon Mr. Rosenberg,

We do take our customer feedback very seriously and I have communicated this frustration to our San Francisco location, along with our management team at our Customer Service Center here in California.  Unfortunately I cannot refund the entire amount of the rental.  However, I can refund you one day of your rental, for the inconveniences you experienced, along with assuring you that I have expressed this concern to our management teams, so they are aware of this.

Thank you for taking the time to reply to my emails and fill out our survey and we hope you have a wonderful day!

If I had more time, I might have continued the conversation, perhaps asking them to share what "root causes" they found in communicating our experience to their local management team.

But I really did have what I needed: a great example for you to consider, along with a couple of key learning points!

Lessons Learned

There are so many great learning points here, it's hard to even know where to start.  So let's hit on a few of the most important ones.

  1. Have Measurable Processes - For something as repetitive and "mechanical" as renting cars, there should be a clearly-defined set of detailed processes to make sure the entire operation is streamlined and efficient. And these processes should include specific performance targets, for example, the average time a customer should have to spend in line at the rental counter.
  2. Don't Have a Survey Unless You're Going to Use the Information - I have not-so-fond memories of company-wide surveys conducted by a former employer - 19 pages in all - that seemed to have no impact whatsoever on the management team that had sanctioned them. If you're going to ask people for their opinions, then be prepared for some disappointing feedback, and be ready to act on it quickly and definitively.
  3. Own the Problem When You Really Screw Up - Our case wasn't just one or maybe two things going wrong - virtually everything that could have gone wrong in our rental experience did. And in cases like this, you need to really step up and do the right thing.

What kinds of experiences do you encounter in your work and personal life...and what can you learn from them to help become more effective yourself?