I can’t be the only one that finds the car hire industry incredibly frustrating.
In a world where making oneself distinctive through customer experience is not just a good idea it is an imperative, I am astounded at the homogeneity that exists in this market.
And that is not because they are all so good they can’t be improved (and even if they were great they could obviously make themselves distinctive through their brand positioning but that is another point)– they aren’t great and they most definitely can be improved so why are they not?
Firstly, what are the issues?
All these mean that car hire companies are being forced to compete on absolute price – good if you want a cheap car, can withstand the upsell pressure and are prepared for dreadful service but not if you want your car hire to be a seamless, easy and a pleasant part of your trip.
So, now to my Avis experience at Catania airport. Easily the worst car hire experience I have ever had and that says something!
Initially we just googled car hire at Catania airport and all the usual suspects plus a few local companies came up. Due to all the reasons listed before we just looked for the cheapest then did a quick trip adviser search to check that they were not dreadful.
I then remembered I had Avios points that would soon expire and was delighted when I found I could cover my hire car needs through my points and so, without really noting who it was with I booked my car hire on Avios points. All very easy and I felt quite chuffed.
Picking up the car
In the arrivals hall at Catania airport we could see desks for pretty much every car hire company apart from Avis. Having asked several people we found their offices about a 5 minute walk outside the terminal and very poorly signposted.
The scene that greeted us when we eventually found the office was not good – a lot of people stood around, sat on curbs, on the floor looking distinctly fed up.
We were confused as their didn’t seem to be much of a queue at the desk but then someone kindly pointed out that there was a virtual queue system and we needed to take a number... and that they had been there for 90 minutes already and were still several numbers off, mainly because only a couple of the desks were open and every transaction was taking forever.
So, we took our number and sat on the curb outside to wait as there were only two, yes two, seats inside.
Whilst chatting to fellow pissed off customers we discovered that nearly everyone was redeeming Avios points hence why Avis was substantially busier than every other desk.
Of course everyone had booked and had to give an arrival time so the demand wasn’t exactly a surprise!
We even went to the extent of checking how much we could hire a car with one of the other companies but decided we couldn’t justify the cost.
After nearly two hours our turn came, and we approached the desk.
The girl smiled but no apology for our wait. She retrieved the booking for us quickly and then was delighted to tell us we could get an upgrade to an automatic.
Great we thought until she then announced there would be an extra charge. Needless to say we declined.
Without boring you with the details she then tried to sell us three different lots of insurance getting increasingly annoyed as we declined each one. The main reason being, as I found out from careful questioning, we were actually already covered. All the extra insurance did was reduce the excess. Needless to say she started with the most expensive and ended with the cheapest!
By this time the smile had gone off all our faces and we laboured our way through the paperwork.
Next came the payment of the fuel deposit– my card was declined twice so tried to pay with Rob’s – apparently we couldn’t as the car had been booked in my name.
As I pointed out the ridiculous nature of this rule she suggested quite aggressively that I phoned my bank and stepped to one side as I did so. Needless to say I did phone the bank but while holding my place in the queue – turned out my very helpful bank was accepting the transaction it was her system that was declining it!
Eventually we got that sorted and a set of keys was thrust at us with minimal explanation of where the car was.
After a lot of wandering around with our cases we found a basic, scratched VW – having been caught out before for damage that we didn’t do we then had to find someone to verify that the car was already scratched.
And then 4 hours after landing we headed off – thank goodness for Google Maps as there was no map or helpful or welcoming information of any kind in the car.
It is very easy for us to decide whether a company is dreadful or great based on our own subjective judgement, however, as we all know the real question is whether it is aligned to the brand and right or not for the target customer.
I thought I’d give Avis a second chance and rate them against their stated brand rather than my experience. The red is unaligned. There is a lot of red...
"We will lead our industry by defining service excellence and building unmatched customer loyalty."
"We will ensure a stress-free car rental experience by providing superior services that cater to our customers' individual needs...always conveying the 'We Try Harder®' spirit with knowledge, caring and a passion for excellence.”
- We will honour all commitments to our customers, employees and shareholders.
- We will conduct business with unwavering high standards of honesty, trust, professionalism and ethical behaviour.
- We will communicate openly and frequently, sharing what we know, when we know it.
- We will place the interests of our customers first.
- We will be dedicated to providing an individualised rental experience that assures customer satisfaction and earns the unwavering loyalty of our customers.
- We will ensure that the "We Try Harder®" philosophy underlies everything we do and shines through in our service to customers.
Their other values are Respect for the Individual, Teamwork, Growth and Profitability and Community Responsibility. I can’t comment on these as they are all internally focused.