When brands get into trouble…
And the award for terrible customer service goes to… no it’s not Barclays, NatWest or Ulster Bank but a rental car company and one that claims to be ‘Your first choice for car hire’.
Before I reveal the winner, a trip down memory lane. Remember those great ads by Avis, ‘WE TRY HARDER? It wasn’t just a slogan but an ethos. Avis set a standard in the rental car industry than many have tried to follow. Well, all except our winner of worse customer service…Europcar, whose slogan should be, “We really don’t give a damn!” If you listen to their customers, it seems they are trying to become the Ryanair of the rental car business, and we all know how consumers feel about that brand.
Maybe Group MD Ken McCall should take a leaf out of Richard Branson’s philosophy, “customer service is everything.”
However, like all corporate websites, they promise a lot,” We’re Europe’s leading car hire company, with more car hires than any of our competitors. We think the reason we got to this position is because we put you first.“ However, it seems many customer may disagree with that.
I remember when I worked on British Airways and Branson pointed out that BA’s slogan ‘The world’s favourite airline’ was misleading as it was not favoured, people really had no choice to fly it.
My interest in Europcar all started following a recent incident involving a student in Sheffield (he’s the one sitting on a doorstep in the rain with loads of boxes after they told him hours before that they had changed their T&Cs and now didn’t rent to under 25s, even though they had accepted the booking and charged him an under 25s surplus). As a case study for a lecture I’m doing soon on ethical marketing it has left me amazed at how a major company that is so reliant on customer satisfaction and goodwill can treat customers with so little respect and not be prepared to be honest about their own mistakes.
How many books, talks and training sessions are there out there all about the importance of customer service? If you Google ‘customer service tips’ you’ll get 160,000,000 results. Yet still they fail to observe the basics, ‘remember your current customer is also your next customer’. Have a look at Susan Frieldmann’s The Ten Commandments of Great Customer Service, “..the future of all companies lies in keeping customers happy”.
As Charles Handy says, “common sense is rarely common”, and Europcar certainly lack that when it comes to customers. It’s one thing to upset a student but when they are the president of the largest university NUS in the UK, even if you don’t do Twitter, Facebook or blogging, you can’t have missed the fact that social networking can seriously damage brands and this person might just tell his friends on mass.
Brand Terrorism, a term I wrote about in my Ethical Marketing & The New Consumer book, is all about how a ‘kid with a £600 laptop can pull down a £6m ad campaign.’ A kid with the ability to reach out to 7million fellow NUS members is more of a nuclear weapon. Plus he has an iPhone full of journalists to call.
It’s a fact that we are 10x more likely to socially network our complaints than our praise. In fact the second most common reason for joining a brand’s Facebook site is to complain. A quick look at Europcar’s Facbook site may suggest the number one reason for joining their Facebook site is to complain. (Incidentally, they removed a post I commented on yesterday.) Just take these comments.
“This company is untrustworthy and may add unjustified ‘damage’ charges to your credit card.”
“DO NOT BOOK CARS WITH EUROPCAR – FRAUD AND THEFT WARNING.”
“Thinking about setting Facebook page for disgruntled Europcar customers then can combine forces and take them on en-masse!”
“Have reported Europcar to trading standards. Treating your customers as liars (defamation of character) and criminals is Unfair Business Practise.”
“Dear Europcar, thank you for calling me at 17:00 to cancel the morning booking I made a month ago. I look forward to being stranded and homeless tomorrow!”
“Have been experiencing utterly appalling customer service from your ‘customer services’ team over the past few weeks, and they’ve left me with no option but to complain publically so other customers understand how such a reputable brand is undertaking a rogue scam in order to make a £27 admin fee from its customers.”
“Whatever you good people do please do not ever use Alamo or Europcar as they shamelessly and completely rip you off.”
“Totally totally screwed over by Europcar/Alamo. Uninformed by rude staff. Late pick up times! Dreadful service! A car which should have cost £147.00 has now cost me nearly £400!”
“Thieving is not a way to run a business because of your awful staff my 3 year old will not be getting her 4th birthday party…”
“What a an awful company, I hired a van this morning and they took my money straight away about an hour later I was telephoned to say the van was not available – why take bloody bookings then? 5 phone calls later and I am still waiting for my money back what crap service – never ever again!”
“Dreadful customer service experience…”
“I have to say that my recent experience with Europcar was my first and last!”
“The Customer Service has been shocking to say the least, despite having sent numerous e-mails and rang many times at great expense my complaint submitted on 08 May 2012 has still not been dealt with…”
When I set out to write this article I was just commenting on bad customer service and how badly an influential student was badly treated with little care or respect. But there seems far more for customers to worry about than just rudeness, ignorance and a general can’t be bothered attitude.
Remember, a brand is what you say but is defined by how it behaves and this brand is well out of order (and touch). What concerns me are the number of claims by customers about being ripped off (some use the word fraud). Maybe a few angry customers? In fact BBC’s Watchdog investigated them for over charging customers – doesn’t get much damning than that.
The programme reported on how some customers who booked and paid for their Europcar rental in advance, were reassured that there would be no hidden extras. But on returned from their holidays discovered mysterious additional payments on their credit card bills. Without their knowledge, Europcar had debited their card for a premium car hire insurance package called a ‘Serenity Pack’.
A typical stock response to the BBC penned by Europcar read, “Naturally, we were very disappointed to learn that we had failed to deliver on our customers’ expectations and, as always, we were very keen to identify and resolve the issue as quickly as possible….” However, reading their Facebook page, it’s more likely to be the customer who ends up disappointed due to lack of any resolve.
When trust is core element of a brand image and the cornerstone of customer relations, to have such a cavalier attitude would deeply concern me if I was a shareholder. To repeat that quote from before, ‘…the future of all companies lies in keeping customers happy”. ‘The question any marketing expect may ask, is how long can a brand compete in an over crowed marketplace with such a low regard for the customer.
This brand looks like it is in crisis and my advice (which I’m happy to provide at a reasonable rate) is they need to sort out their internal issue – I suspect staff have a low moral – as well as their external ones – customer service and brand trust.
Group MD Ken McCall, operation directors Robert Shaw and David Alexander and customer experience director (yep, they really do have one) Patricia John should all take a day off and get together in a board room and start to ask some honest questions about how a company like Europcar can get in such a bad state? I’m not sure how sales and marketing director Nick Harwood can do his job when the rest of the company is trying to commit brand suicide.
Maybe their CEO could do one of those TV programmes, The Undercover Boss, and go and work in a store, answer phones and clean the cars. That’d be a wake up call. At least that’d put a smile on their customers faces.
Tips on customer service