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Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986

After a long day of flying and hours of the weary traveler’s shuffle-stop-shuffle-stop through immigration, baggage, and customs, I arrived at the airport rental car line as hot and tired as the dozen or so people waiting in line ahead of me. There were sixteen stations but only two clerks. After standing in line for more than an hour to move forward 20 feet, I finally got to the counter and handed over my printouts. The clerk asked for my Colombian passport. What? I’m not a Colombian, I said, I’m an American, and I showed him my U.S. passport. He insisted I didn’t qualify for the special Colombian rate, and accused me of trying to game the system. What special rate? What system? Angrily, I asked for the manager, who gave me the same bad treatment. Neither one apologized, neither one suggested any alternative, and neither one offered to rent me a car under different terms. Boiling over, I called the agent an asshole, stormed out, and caught a cab to my hotel.

The next morning I went online and rented a Hyundai Elantra for a week from one of Enterprise’s off-airport locations. When I went to pick it up, they didn’t have an Elantra (or similar, as they say). Instead, they put me in an Accent, which is a much smaller car. An hour later, I brought it back and said it was too small for me and may I please have something larger? They gave me a Hyundai SUV.

Later that day I got a call from Budget’s Joshua Yount. He had seen the email I had sent to Budget’s corporate customer service address and wanted to do four things:

  • Apologize,
  • Thoroughly and swiftly investigate the incident,
  • Listen carefully as I told him all I remembered about my experience, and
  • Make things right.

The very next day, Mr Yount called and told me he had determined that Budget’s algorithms had erroneously redirected my online reservation from the U.S. site to the Colombia site, something I could not have possibly known.

Profoundly sorry for the error and the entire miserable incident, he reimbursed me for the cab rides I never should have needed and told me when I got my Enterprise bill, to please send it to him and he would reimburse me for that, too.

The Enterprise bill.

The receipt Enterprise sent me after I returned their car didn’t look right, so I emailed them asking for an explanation. A day later, with no response, I emailed them again. Again, no response, so this third time I tried a link to a different customer service address. It bounced back UNDELIVERABLE.

I called their customer service line and asked why Enterprise would put me in a smaller car when they didn’t have the one I reserved, instead of upgrading me. And why they charged me $60 for the upgrade – after the fact. The phone rep said the company policy is to move customers up one car class when they don’t have the class of car they reserved, at no extra charge. But here’s the kicker – the individual sites don’t have to.

As to the upcharge, I learned that’s also up to the individual sites. And my first two emails that were never answered? Their corporate algorithms had sent my emails directly to the rental location.

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight – individual sites can, at their discretion, move me down a grade, upcharge me for something they shouldn’t, and ignore my emails?

Everyone mistakes makes. The important difference is in how they are handled.

Enterprise had a chance to convert me after Budget blundered badly, but the combination of their mishandling a simple request for billing information and Budget’s desire to make things right drove me right back to Budget, where the whole thing started. An interesting story, you say, but what’s in it for me? Nine out of ten people who have a bad experience with a company don’t report it. They don’t bother because they don’t want to waste the time and effort, no one will listen, and nothing will be done about it.

But they can’t do anything about your problem if you don’t tell them about your problem, and here’s how I do it.

Of course, calling is easier, but I like having a written record of the ongoing conversation so there are no misunderstandings later. I rough out my story as if I was telling it to a friend, edit it until I’m satisfied, and paste it into an email. I send my story to email addresses I find online, writing to a manager when I can and cc:ing at least several executives. Now I have given imperfect companies (and aren’t they all?) a chance to show me what they’re made of. Given a fair chance, some do the right thing.

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