Friday, 20 January 2012

X sucks. The dangerous unhappy customer

As Basil Fawlty remarked "A satisfied customer. We should have him stuffed." But what about an unsatisfied customer? Here's my story about being that unsatisfied customer, how the internet makes it critical to attend to problems and how my car rental unhappiness came good in the end.
It's Christmas eve and it is fraught. On my list is pick up a rental car from enterprise. It is tough for them too: cars are being moved from all over to satisfy the demand and they want to shut and enjoy christmas themselves. The car I receive arrives on fumes, the previous renter couldn't get the fuel cap off. Here the seed is sown, it's this simple inconvenience and fraught day that causes problems.
It has always been true that an unhappy customer isn't good for business but in these Internet days it could be catastrophic. Not every complaint is going to go off like a bomb but one of them just might. Jeff Jarvis back in 2005 complained viciously about a lemon of a laptop the company had sold him. This complaint created quite a storm:
The most telling moment came in a blog post by Toronto venture capitalist Rick Segal, who overheard a bank teller in his office food court saying, "I was going to buy a new Dell but did you hear about Jeff Jarvis and the absolute hell he is going through with them?" Says Segal: "Lots of people are making the assumption that 'average people' or 'the masses' don't really see/ read blogs, so they can take a little heat and move on. Big mistake."
Dell's satisfaction ratings and share price dropped and the company started to listen. Dell started a process copied by many companies to nip discontent in the bud. I think enterprise as we will see learnt this lesson.
So what happened? Well I had to go to the nearest petrol station and fill up. That as it turned out was my mistake. I'm used to hiring cars full and returning them full; it was christmas and I didn't want to hunt for fuel over the break; I didn't know how much fuel I was going to use; I thought it would be helpful for the next renter to have fuel in the car when I returned it.
I did think returning the car with more fuel in it than when I left would be awkward. It appeared to the enterprise staff an impossibility, it was an out of the ordinary experience that couldn't be managed. I'd put thirty odd quid more fuel in the car than I needed and I was told they couldn't refund me. That was my problem, that made me their unsatisfied customer.
The internet gives everyone their own printing press. Any moan of mine is not just endured by friends and family now I can infect social networks and get google to index my company X sucks webpage.
But actually maybe the guy at the counter couldn't actually do anything but his manager might, so I emailed her in the new year.
That email was enterprise's first chance at making my happy again, maybe if I'd had to write a letter I'd have just bitched and moaned to anyone that'd listen without giving them the opportunity to respond.  It was easy to communicate another benefit of the Internet age; it might have been less hassle for me to distantly moan but more damaging I reckon.
I was offered when I rented again a could return a car empty. Unfortunately that wouldn't work for me. I'd need a journey over 300 miles to make that work which isn't on the horizon. So as politely as I could muster I asked that the matter be escalated to a superior. At this point I was quite grumpy.
It seems that human beings when their nose is put out of joint will go out of their way to right a perceived slight. I could feel the urge to cost them more than the fuel I'd left in their car. But a fairer more reasonable side of me took hold, I waited for a response. I noted a week's time on my calendar just so I wouldn't mither.
Sadly no response, let down three times, I thought time to moan. In the 21 century way I turned to twitter and publicly said:
Problem with enterprise car rental over xmas. Manager done poor job of making it right. My email is ignored, unhappy with @enterprisecares
This I guess is where Dell Hell kicks in '@enterprisecares' is staffed to nip these public displays of dissatisfaction in the bud. They put me in contact with the area manager who couldn't comprehend why I'd filled the car up but would refund my fuel anyway. So hurrah, enterprise done good in the end.
So that's my story, I'll leave you to ponder how the Internet changes customer service and was enterprise doing the right thing or were savvy business people avoiding the gamble of a dissatisfied customer in the Internet age?

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