Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Is Avis still trying harder?

I recently reserved a car online for a pending vacation and without much searching went right to Avis. I have a soft spot for the company having worked as creative lead on the Avis U.S. advertising account from 2006 through 2008, including their top-tier loyalty program, the Avis Chairman’s Club.

Rather than go directly to the Avis Web site to make the reservation, I went though a new program I had just joined called Geico Privileges. It’s basically a tack-on discount program for Geico auto insurance customers and in this case I was promised a discount of up to 25% on my next Avis rental.

From the Geico Privileges Web site I connected to a co-branded area of the Avis site. There, I chose my location, added my discount code and booked a weekly rental. Not seeing a discount applied to the total, I initiated an online chat where I was informed I’d get my discount at the time of the rental.

There was just one issue. When I picked-up my car, I looked at my new paperwork and didn’t see a discount, just the regular price. I inquired about it and was told by an ever-smiling Avis agent that the location I was standing in did not and had never offered this type of discount.

My next step: a phone call to Avis customer service where I was informed that if I looked at the teeny-tiny block of mouse type at the bottom of the original estimate I would find the words: “Offer is available only for rentals at participating locations”. And sorry, but this location was not participating.

When I complained that this should have been spelled out at the time I made the reservation—after all, I input the discount code at the Avis site and indicated my pick-up-location—my customer service rep blamed Geico. She said they never should have offered me the discount in the first place. At which point I asked to talk to a manager.

The new perception of customer service in a Zappos world.

The funny thing is in today’s digital world we often expect an immediate resolution to our customer service problems. Recent online service issues I had with Eddie Bauer and yes, the reigning champs of a superior customer experience, Zappos, had me thinking we had reached a new paradigm in customer service. If things weren’t right, by golly, they got fixed—and pronto. So I was a little taken aback by the initial response I got from Avis.

On top of this, it was recently reported that Avis has dropped their tag line of nearly five decades, “We Try Harder” for the mystifying “It’s Your Space”. It apparently has something to do with the various ways businesspeople use their cars while on the road. (Note to Avis: is that really a point-of-difference between you and other rental car companies?)

It all had me wondering if customer service was now a secondary consideration of the “new” Avis. Had they decided, like so many airlines, that it was all about the ability to offer the cheapest price, customer service be damned?

Well, all’s well that ends well. My customer service rep relayed the problem to manager Thomas Mayfield at Avis headquarters in Tulsa who promptly called me. With sincerity, he apologized for the mix-up, said the Avis site should have warned me I wouldn’t be getting a discount—it’s something they’re working on—and offered me a $50 credit for my next rental, good at any location, including the one I was just at.

Good job, Avis. Maybe an old dog can learn new tricks.

This post was written by vacation-loving creative director and writer Tom Rapsas.