Last week I was unfortunate enough to hire a rental car from Avis at Heathrow. The italics are important here as they point to where the problem seems to lie.
I travel quite a lot for work and so it's fair to say I rent a reasonable amount of cars; all of them through Avis who are the company's preferred rental supplier. After getting off a plane, the last thing you really want is to queue to get your car so I'm a member of Avis' Preferred service; this allows me to skip the queues, pick my car up and drive out of the rental garage with a wave of my driving license. It's quick, really quick; you see your name on a board which shows you which bay you need to go to, find the car, fling your suitcase in the boot and off you go. It typically takes around 3 minutes to get my car; and Avis in the UK makes a selling point of this, proudly proclaiming "Your keys in under 3 minutes or £20".
And it works too; I've used the service in the US, in Ireland and in mainland Europe and have been impressed in how well the system works across different countries. Apart from the UK ... I turn up at Heathrow, catch the courtesy bus to the Avis garage and look for my name on the board. Hmm, it's not there. So into the building I go and straight to the Avis Preferred desk, where a chap sits, doing something paperwork related. I wait. I wait a bit more. I clear my throat and finally get some attention, so I explain that my name's not on the Preferred board. I give him my booking reference number and he finds the problem ... "Your card's expired Sir", "Really? What number do you have?" He quotes a number for a card that expired 2 years ago. "That's odd" I say, "I've used Avis at least 5 times since that card expired and have had no problems". "It's your fault, you need to keep your profile up to date", "Profile? What profile?" "The one your travel agent uses, it's obviously out of date, take it up with them". Nice. So I give him my credit card and off he vanishes to do .... something. So far, we've been at this 10 minutes. Another 10 minutes pass, the occasional Avis person from the other counter wanders over to see if I'm being looked after and I have to reply, "I think so, but I've no idea where this chap's gone to with my card". He finally reappears and gives me the paperwork for my car. "So if you knew my card had expired, why didn't you contact me or my travel agent?", "We don't do that" "Why not?", "We just don't" The manager wanders over, I ask her the same question.
"So if you knew my card had expired, why didn't you contact me or my travel agent?", "We don't do that" "Why not?", "Do you know how many bookings we have a week?" "No", "Thousands, and do you know how many invalid credit cards we get?" "Err, no", "70!" "70? 70? Is that all?", "Surely you don't expect us to ring all of them?" "Actually, yes, I do, I'd consider it customer service", "We don't do that" "Well can't you send an email to let me know?", "We don't do that" We've now been at this for over half an hour and that "Your keys in 3 minutes" promise is way in the distant past, but eventually I get my paper work and am told "Grey VW Passat, Row A, the hazards will be on". Out I wander, slightly stunned and bemused, find the only Grey VW Passat in Row A, with the hazards on, load up and drive off to the exit. Where I hand over my driving license and get ready to depart, because after all, the Avis website tells me that as a Preferred member, "all you will need to do is show us your driving licence, collect your keys and go". But no, I have to check the car, confirm my details, check for damage, sign here, sign there, check this and then ... "This isn't your car", "What?" "This isn't your car", "Yes it is, VW. Passat, Grey. Hazards on. Row A" "But the registration number is wrong" I look, and there, in tiny 5 point font is the registration number and it doesn't match. "This isn't your car", "So where's my car then? Show me where my car is" "We don't do that, you'll need to go back to the registration desk and find out" By this point I'm loosing patience and ask, politely but strongly for him to go instead and after 5 minutes he reappears, points proudly and says "There's your car". I look and it's being washed and will be "about another 10 minutes". So after over an hour, I finally drive out of the Avis garage with the right car and that's a little over 3 minutes by my reckoning, can't be considered a fast service, and no, I didn't get £20 off, I didn't even get anything vaguely approaching an apology. If this is preferred service, I'd hate to be on the receiving end of normal service. So to Avis in the US, in Ireland and in Europe, you do a great job, but Avis in the UK, you're really just can't be bothered and couldn't car less because the one message you sent me through all of this is that you don't do that and you really couldn't care less about customer service or satisfaction, but you got your money so that's OK then. Image credit: Avis.co.uk website and AdomasS on Flickr