The Rental Car
My son-in-law Pete recently took a group of teenagers on a week-long church retreat to Colorado. One of the first items on his list was to rent a vehicle big enough to handle 7 people and their gear for 7 days. He decided on an extended Chevy Suburban and checked with a local car rental company. While he was able to reserve the car on line, when he called to confirm the reservation, the local company did not have the vehicle available. In fact there was a waiting list. Then he tried Alamo Rent a Car.
Alamo had 2 Suburbans available on line at the Des Moines airport. Pete confirmed this to be true and hustled from Ankeny to the airport to pick up the vehicle. Prior to walking in to the reservation desk, he saw the 2 cars in the Alamo parking lot. Pete had a conversation with the person at the desk, explaining he was parked in a drop off zone and had to move his car in long term parking prior to completing the rental. The Alamo employee assured Pete that there would be an extended Suburban available for him when he returned.
When Pete returned from parking his own car a few minutes later, he noticed that the 2 Suburbans he saw earlier were now gone. He talked to the same clerk at the Alamo counter and realized that yes, both those were rented to others, but he was going to make good on his promise. So he started typing at his computer, looked up at Pete and typed some more. Then he moved to a different computer and typed still more. As Pete told me this story, he told me he was trying to give the clerk his saddest look ever, all the while trying to figure out how he was going to get those kids to Colorado.
When the clerk finally returned to talk to Pete he admitted that he could not find the Suburban he had promised. But he did have an alternative. There was a 12 passenger van and a 15 passenger van available for his use, would Pete be able to use one of those? As Pete thought about it for a minute the Alamo clerk added that the rental rate would be the same as if he rented the Suburban, even though the van was more expensive. Additionally, because Pete had been so patient while he was searching the computers, Alamo was willing to throw in the gas top off service.
Since this was going to be more room for the kids, and his already tight budget was going to be preserved, he happily accepted the offer. As small business owners and managers we occasionally find ourselves in the same situation as the Alamo clerk. We make a promise to a customer that is typically not a problem to deliver, but then something happens and we cannot fulfill that promise. What makes this story heartening is that the clerk was empowered by Alamo to find alternatives for the customer, even if it cost the company a little bit more money.
It looks like Alamo understands how customer loyalty works. They went above and beyond to make good on a promise to a customer. They understood that slightly less profit today, will likely result in repeat customer who will be even more profitable. Better yet, they understand that the happy customer will tell his friends and family about the great experience. That word of mouth advertising is worth far more than the slightly less profitable transaction.
The group of kids had a great time on the trip and the van worked perfectly. Pete told me that the next time he needs to rent a car, he will not even call the other company. He will go right away to Alamo, even though it is further away.