At this very moment a good friend of mine is in a dust-up with a rental car company. After hearing (my friend’s version of) “the facts,” and harkening back fondly to my law school days, I thought his tale just might make an interesting hypothetical to launch a discussion on “customer experience,” and I’m hoping the reader(s) of this blog will chime in.
About a month ago, my friend — let’s call him Stan — traveled to Florida on business and rented a car online form a rental company we’ll call “Dinarrow.” Stan’s a relatively new member of Dinarrow’s “frequent renter” club and this is probably his third or fourth rental. When making his reservation, Stan didn’t sign up for Dinarrow’s “toll pay option.” In fact, according to Stan, he learned of the TPO after the fact. He claims he saw nothing on Dinarrow’s reservation screens making the TPO available, or, for that matter, alerting him that Florida, apparently, has gone to a completely unmanned (or should I say, “unpersoned” or “unpeopled” or “unhumaned” or “unattended” – how about I go with “electronic”) electronic toll collection system. No toll booths available. (This background info becomes important later.)
On his travel day, Stan put in a full day at the office and his late-evening flight was scheduled to get in a little after 11 PM local time. It landed about 45 minutes late.
After deplaning (what a cool bit of jargon “deplaning” is), Stan went and stood by the baggage carousel where he waited (and waited, and waited) to grab his bag and go fetch his car. His luggage never arrived.
So Stan trudged off over to the airline’s customer service counter, where after about 10 minutes, one of the attendants, who had been intensely studying some report or another, looked up, acknowledged Stan’s presence, and asked what he wanted. Stan told the attendant about his bag not coming out with the other luggage form his flight. Fortunately, Stan had his claim check at the ready and the attendant was able – after about 20 minutes of clicking through computer screens – to tell him that the bag never left “the airport of departure,” but would arrive on the next flight from “the airport of departure.” That was probably the best Stan could expect under the circumstances, but the first flight wasn’t scheduled to arrive until 10:30 AM, so that meant Stan was going to his 9 AM meeting in his travel duds. (As you might have guessed by now, Stan’s experience with the airline also provides an opportunity to examine some customer experience issues, but I’ll leave that for another day.) Resigned to his fate, Stan set out to find where to pick up his Dinarrow.
He found Dinarrow pretty quickly. Given the hour, no one was behind the counter. But because he was a member of the frequent renter club, he was able to go right to car and head out for his hotel.
On the drive to the hotel, Stan noticed that Florida had “open road tolling,” but didn’t think much about it. Stan’s traveled a lot on business, has rented cars hundreds of times and never had an issue with tolls.
Stan concluded his business a few days later, returned the car, received his curbside receipt from a check-in attendant and ran to catch his flight. He arrived home safely, happy with how things had gone on the trip.
About a month later Stan received a letter letting him know that 3 tolls totaling $13 had been paid on his behalf and that the credit card he used to pay for his rental was going to be charged for the tolls and a $15 processing fee for each of the 3 tolls. Total bill: $58.
He called Dinarrow’s customer service line and was told that they could do nothing because Dinarrow contracted out toll processing to another company. Stan was …… not happy. (After he hung up, it dawned on him that he didn’t recall authorizing Dinarrow to share his credit card information with other companies. He became even more …… unhappy.)
Next Stan called the toll processing company. During the call, he learned from the toll processing company representative, a delightful woman I’ll call Joan, that Dinarrow offered a TPO and that he had declined to purchase it. The good news, however, was that Joan could sell the TPO to him retroactively and save him $13. Stan was delighted, not. But he bought the TPO retroactively.
Still, Stan was irked. He felt that had he known of that Florida only has “e-tolls,” he would simply have brought the transponder from his car at home with him on the trip. So he wrote to Dinarrow via its customer service portal, shared his tale, and suggested (ok, he requested) that Dinarrow reimburse him for the $31 he could have saved because he would have traveled with his transponder had he known of Florida’s e-toll system.
Here’s Dinarrow’s response:
Thank you for notifying us of your recent experience with [Dinarrow] in Ft. Lauderdale. We appreciate the opportunity to assist.
Please accept our sincere apology for any misunderstanding of the toll and administrative fee assessed on your recently completed rental. If our toll pass option is declined, the renter is assessed an administrative fee of $15.00 per toll violation in addition to the cost of the toll. Our toll and administrative policies are included on the agreement provided at the beginning of each rental. [Emphasis added.]
We at [Dinarrow] do not have access to these fees. They are handled solely by [the toll processing company]. If you would like further details about the violation or administrative fee, please contact [the toll processing company]directly at 877-555-5555 or www.[tollprocessingcompany].com.
Thank you once again, Stan, for taking the time to notify us of this situation. We look forward to serving you again soon at [Dinarrow].
Consumer Response Representative
Here’s Stan’s reply:
Thank you for your follow up note. I did not decline the toll pass option; I was unaware of it and was unaware of your policies. This is not surprising since, as you acknowledge, “[Dinarrow’s] toll and administrative policies are included on the agreement provided at the beginning of each rental. My rental began after midnight (and after I spent an hour with the airline trying to figure out where my luggage was, since it did not arrive with me) and I was not in a position to scour your agreement and discover your policies.
I have contacted [toll processing company] and, as explained in my original note, retroactively purchased the toll pass option. Had the TPO and policies been made available to me pre-rental, I would have brought my transponder from home and would have avoided the fees associated with the TPO.
Accordingly, I, as a member of your [FR] club, reiterate my request for reimbursement of the TPO charges I’m being assessed totaling $31 (I, of course, have no issue being responsible for the $13 in toll charges incurred).
Time for you to weigh in.
Here’s some questions to kick things off:
- Is Stan being unreasonable?
- Is he asking too much?
- Should Stan have paid closer attention when booking the car?
- Should he have familiarized himself with Florida’s toll collection system prior to heading down there?
- Do you think Dinarrow really “appreciate[d] the opportunity to assist” Stan?
- Did Dinarrow take advantage of the “opportunity to assist”?
- Should Dinarrow take steps to let customers renting in Florida know about the state’s e-toll system and the TPO?
- Should Dinarrow do a better job of informing its customers renting in Florida?
- Is it good practice for Dinarrow to try and bind Stan to policies first disclosed (if fine print counts as disclosure) after he picked up the car?
What do you think?