Avis achieved marketing stardom for its We Try Harder campaign but is this still an industry waiting to be disrupted?
I've promised myself I would write this blog for the last two years but normally the steam coming out of my ears subsides and I end up focusing on another marketing topic of the day. However, after my third dreadful experience of the year, I simply have to ask.... WHY IS RENTING A CAR SO HARD?! (excuse the ranty capitals)
Most other service industries have embraced the digital age and have taken the opportunity to transform the customer experience and in many cases reduce their cost base at the same time. On my most recent trip, I simply breezed through Gatwick with my boarding pass on my phone and my accompanying 11 year old daughter genuinely wowed by the possibility of using her own phone to check in.
Yet the car hire market seems stuck somewhere in the 1990s. You can guarantee you'll be faced with a long queue, a seemingly endless stream of paperwork (despite having already filled out everything online) and a rep from the local car hire service tapping away on her/ his calculator trying to up-sell you on insurance or fuel whilst trying to make it sound like they're actually doing you a good deal.
Earlier this year Temkin released their latest trust rankings in the US and it seems I am not the only one to have a continual frustration with the car rental market - only two categories ranked lower than car rental for trust and it had some of the lowest brand scores of any category.
Even the 'innovations' in this sector don't seem to quite cut it. Holiday Autos, for example now let you get your booking sent to the app. However, you still receive an e-mail in advance reminding you to bring paper copies of all vouchers as the digital copy on the app won't suffice. Europcar are probably one of the most proactive in terms of an e-mail customer journey (both pre and post collection) but their app leaves a lot to be desired (check out the 2* reviews...)
Most car hire companies routinely send out customer experience surveys but yet it seems that nothing has significantly changed. Perhaps it's another occasion where something more qualitative would be more powerful than a suite of numbers - if only they'd seen the sheer desperation in the man's eyes in front of me as he tried to keep his two tired toddlers entertained whilst waiting 45m to collect his car!
You can't help but feel that the experience could be so much simpler if...
1. It was purely digital. No-one wants to carry around piles of pre-printed agreements and documents with them; and no-one wants to spend time providing information they've already provided. Invest in the app; make it best in class. Let customers pre-approve elements of the contract in advance. Show them the detail of the car they're going to collect along with images of any damage etc so they can acknowledge and approve. The banking and airline industries have changed beyond all recognition in this regard, surely car hire companies can do the same?
2. The journey flowed from your point of view. Here's the irony - so much of what you spend time doing upon arrival doesn't need to be done then. What about allowing you to pre-check in upon departure with a fast track collection for those who've done so? What about the courtesy call or e-mail after the first day to check if everything is ok or if you need any further assistance? Rather than the sneaky hidden charges for lowering excess why not try up-selling to services which could actually make a difference for customers e.g. offering young families the chance to upgrade to meet & greet services (e.g. airport parking)
3. You trusted them. This feels right at the heart of the experience. Why does every queue take so long - because everyone has heard a horror story about someone who was stitched up on their car rental and so they want to check everything three times. What if one brand took a stand? Offered transparent charges or backed them up with a guarantee. Rather then relying on lowest price competition through online aggregators what if they rewarded regular customers for their loyalty and tried to keep business that way? Like many categories, they have educated us that they're all terrible so why not just buy on price?
So far , niche sharing economy propositions like Turo, Drivy and Hiyacar have yet to make a significant impact in the market and, for long trips, it's unlikely that they'll ever offer a feasible alternative. However, with a reported forecast growth rate of between 13 and 15% CAGR over the next few years, you can't imagine that disruption is far away.