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What Car Rental Can Learn from the Hotel Industry

May 10, 2017

When people think of their travel experience and who provided them a service throughout their long-awaited vacation or business trip, the car rental company often gets forgotten. The majority of car rental customers view the activity of renting a car as something to be endured rather than enjoyed. 

I am certain that there are people reading this and saying: “Tell me something I don’t know.” My question for the industry is, “Does it have to be that way?”

The reality is that the rental provider gets forgotten, not because the car rental industry lacks technology, speed, or creative ways for a customer to choose a vehicle; it gets forgotten because the industry has forgotten that the rental process and product is an experience.   

Over the last four years, we have been fortunate to expand our delivery into the hotel industry.  Seeing the operating similarities between the hotel and car rental world has been an eye-opening experience.  The hotel industry is very connected to the airline and car rental industries, and yet it is worlds apart when it comes to reputation. 

Based on our hotel experience, we developed a list of tactics that the car rental industry can borrow to provide a greater human touch.  

  • Impressions Matter: The impression you make on your guest begins before they even see the main product.  All too often a rental car customer approaches their respective rental counter or express area and they are bombarded with product information, selling tools, and outdated copies of coverage options.  Having too many visual distractions for a customer is just that – a distraction. It signals to your customer that “You are going to be sold.”  The last time you checked into a nice hotel or a mid-level hotel, was there anything on the desk?  If you feel compelled to use sales tools, invest in doing it properly and place your content on a tablet. This is a common practice within the hotel world that enhances the guest experience and improves the sales of suites and amenities. 
  • Lobby Time & Management Presence: Having a manager present at the front desk during key times is common practice within the hotel industry.  Traditionally, the times are from 7-9 AM and 5-7 PM because they coincide with high check-in and out periods.  Good hotel operators schedule every manager and supervisor to a three-hour “Visibility Post” at least once a month. What is unique is that every manager from every operating area, whether it is “front or back of the house” must fill a time slot. Whether you are the hotel GM, Banquets Manager, Security Manager, etc. they all must be present at least once a month.  Not only does it provide the front desk team an extra resource, it keeps everyone in tune with the guest experience.  Why can’t we commit to this practice within car rental? I completely understand that car rental managers are incredibly busy. They face many challenges and operate under many constraints, but if a management team makes a collective effort to strategically spread their presence at the front counter during select time periods, service will improve and many problems will be avoided because of their presence.
  • Connected Concierges: People like experts and trust service providers who can speak from a positon of authority.  Hotel concierges advise, comfort, and point the way. In car rental, especially in mid-size to larger locations, I believe having a concierge situated away from the counter can enhance the guest experience, improve sales of supporting products like Travel Tablets, and help move the line along. Having a concierge post on your schedule will also provide agents—who have a good attitude and knowledge of your city, but lack the desire or skill set to sell—an opportunity to serve customers and the operation.  
  • Staff Engagement Matters: “Ladies and Gentleman, Serving Ladies and Gentleman” is the legendary operating philosophy of the Ritz-Carlton, and it helps guide many decisions that their hotel management team makes. I believe that many car rental operators love their team members and want to see them succeed, but in many cases, the rental industry falls short in the areas of quantifying team engagement, individual agent customer service scores, staff attrition, and internal associate recruitment referrals.  If you disagree with this, I only request that you ask yourself: “Do we look at associate engagement and customer experience as much as we look at incremental sales yield, utilization, and claims recovery?” If the answer is yes, or if the answer is that we look at them the same, then you are on the correct track. 

When it comes to the product, strategic pricing, brand positioning, rewards, speed-of-service, booking channels, product accessibility, and technology, the car rental industry holds its own with other industries. It is critical that we ask ourselves if the innovations we have put in place benefit the human experience as much as the speed-of-process.  I believe that starting with these four simple “human” tactics can raise the customer’s impression of the rental process.