How Thrifty Missed an Opportunity to Create a Brand

by James on October 19, 2010

While traveling to LA last week, I had an experience with Thrifty Rent a Car that was an opportunity missed, an opportunity for them to demonstrate that customers are important.

So what happened? Nothing exceptional, really, just a routine transaction that, if handled differently could have, at no cost to Thrifty, begun the shift from Thrifty being a product with a name to a brand with which I have more than a transactional relationship.

I have a history of back issues, which are exasperated by flying and driving rental cars. Going to LA requires both but mostly driving, lots and lots of driving. This may appear to be a tangent but be patient, I’ll circle back here shortly.

For me, selecting a rental car is primarily a question of price. This is the classic scenario when choosing among largely commodity products that ave done little to differentiate themselves.

Everything went fine until I tried to pick up my car. Apparently I had indicated I would be arriving later in the morning. I don’t recall this even being an option when I selected the car but there you have it. I was early so they didn’t have a car for me. For a relationship largely based on transaction this was a fail, even if it was my fault. I had plenty of time so not a big deal but still a step back.

The fifth relationship marketing principle says that the second most important time in a relationship is when its at risk.

So now I’m driving around LA. Driving and driving. Three days of driving. The car ran fine and the traffic wasn’t too bad, for LA, and my meetings were productive. To help my back survive all the driving I travel with a self inflating lumbar support cushion. (This is a really useful item if you travel a lot as it deflates and stores easily in a briefcase.)

As I was dropping the car off at Thrifty, tired and looking forward to getting home, I asked the person who took my money if they would use their flashlight to check if I had left anything behind in the car. He peered into the driver’s side and said there was something on the front seat. I went to the passenger side and had a quick look. I saw some lunch leftovers, do I lead a classy life or what, and figured I was good to go. Off I went to catch my plane leaving my lumbar support behinds to add to their collection of my previously forgotten lumbar supports.

Stupid me, you might say. Well yes, but also stupid Thrifty. If the young man had been trained to not only look for items left behind without being asked and to actually opened the car door and retrieved what he ad obviously seen I would have been delighted.

This simple, zero cost gesture would have added incremental value to what had been, to that point, a purely transactional relationship, which had also experienced a speed bump at the beginning. So, for the lack of  believing, as a core element of its culture, that customers are important Thrifty missed an opportunity to create a brand from a product with a name.

When relationship equity exists with heavy category users and best customers you rise above the rest, you rise above being a product with a name to being a brand. Thrifty missed the opportunity to show that for them, customers are important, and rise above the sea of similar choices. In fact, Thrifty has slipped below the rest and is unlikely to be a choice when I plan future travel.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Albert Kaufman October 20, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Wow, if that upset you, you’re in for a world of hurt as the kids who’ve been through “no child left behind” come of age. You better get very self-reliant, IMHO.

JJ Gray October 21, 2010 at 11:26 am

James, you actually make an important point (I’m not as surprised as that makes me sound): customer experience is a far more critical part of a brand than the logo or the advertising. Too many brands (e.g. Target) place enormous value on their visual brand and style while seeming to place zero value on the brand criterion of “employees giving a crap.” My love of stylish toilet brushes isn’t so strong that I’ll ignore a surly, disengaged cashier who doesn’t even look at me when ringing me up. So the moment a comparable competitor emerges, and they will, I won’t hesitate a second to give them a try.
I often notice a brand because of the advertising. I’m loyal to a brand because of my experience with it.

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