Holiday hire car customer experience – heaven or hell?

Posted 12th August, By John Aves.

I have just returned form a fantastic holiday in Spain. We had a great time despite the fact that the experience we had when we hired a car left a lot to be desired.

Our disappointment with our car hire company made me realize that many large international organisations do not understand how to create real value for their customers. Value that makes the customer come back again and again and which leads them to recommend the company to their friends and colleagues.

Daniel Kahneman, with nobel prizes in economics and psychology to his name, is a leader in this field. He has helped us understand that when designing an experience for customers, there are a numbers of factors that shape the perception and the memory that, as consumers, we take away. Organisations should ask themselves the following questions:

  1. What do we want the experience to look like at its peak? Trying to be outstanding at all touchpoints does not make sense. Resources at most companies are limited and it is far better to concentrate on those touchpoints that matter most to customers and where you can reinforce your brand.
  2. What should the timing and pattern of ‘pleasure’ and ‘pain’ be along the customers journey? The ‘painful’ aspects of the experience should all happen at one time and feature early in the customer’s journey – as far away from the end as possible. In contrast, pleasurable aspects should be sprinkled throughout.
  3. How do we make sure we give customers choice along the way? Customers feel better, even when faced with some unattractive alternatives, when they can exercise personal choice.
  4. How do we want the experience end? Despite the old saying about the importance of first impressions, Kahneman work informs us that that the end of an experience has a much greater impact on our memory – whether positive or negative.

So, what went wrong when I hired a car for my holiday in Spain?

Based on Kahneman’s insight, our car hire experience fell short on two counts: on choice and how our experience ended.

It all started so promisingly, choosing our car and booking online was simple and easy. The hire company had obviously spent time and effort on getting this right – 8 out of 10 for the experience so far.

On arrival we were keen to collect our car and start our holiday, but this is where the problems started. Lengthy paperwork had to be completed more than we had to fill out at the point of booking, creating a long wait time. Then we were informed in broken English that we had no choice but to take out some additional insurance, which from what we could understand was a legal requirement in Spain. This with some other extras added 50% to the cost that we had been led to believe we were paying at the time of our online booking. Starting to feel annoyed, unduly delayed and ripped off. Not a good combination!!

Collecting the car and driving the car during our stay was pretty uneventful, we never heard from the hire car company. Time to return the car at the end of our holiday, with 40 euros worth of petrol in the tank, which on arrival we had been advised to buy. The experience ended on a definite low, feeling ripped off and certainly not an advocate of this brand.

So how can hire car companies turn their customer experience around? By focusing on what matters to their customers, giving customers choice, being transparent and clear at every interaction and getting the paperwork over – once and for all – early in the process.

Hiring a holiday car shouldn’t be hell it should be the gateway to a heavenly holiday.