I've been blogging about a customer service challenge I experienced with the Avis car rental company. The problem is now mostly resolved and I think I'm ready to share a few lessons learned.
Background: I started this blog experiment after I had unsuccessfully tried four times to resolve a problem with Avis. I signed up for "Preferred" status so I could bypass the rental counter, but I've had to go to the rental counter anyway. In our last episode, I was contacted by an Avis customer service supervisor who had seen my blog and offered to fix the problem. The solution included fixing whatever glitch existed so I could enjoy "Preferred" status and sending me vouchers for a free weekend rental so I would give them another chance.
My free vouchers arrived this week, so I'm set to give Avis one more try. Ironically, the way their free vouchers work is I have to go to the rental counter to redeem them. This means I still won't get to enjoy "Preferred" service. I'll actually have to pay for an Avis rental to see if my Preferred status is really working. Oh well, one step at a time, right?
I will give Ray, the Avis customer service supervisor who helped me, some credit for reaching out and finally coming through on the vouchers. My experiment has also yielded some important lessons for any company with customers.
1. Problems tend to get more expensive the longer you take the solve them.
I would have been satisfied with an apology and a solution the first time or two my Preferred status didn't kick in. I only decided to demand a bounty after I struck out for a fifth time. Hmmmm. This sounds like familiar territory. Blog Post 2008: The Rising Cost of Recovery
2. Service levels are a product of the system.
My experience with Avis reinforces my belief that a company's service level is first and foremost a product of it's system. By 'system', I mean culture, processes, policy, and leadership. Problems can and will happen with any service, but companies with good customer-focused systems recover quickly. The bad ones put you through the ringer.
3. Everyone should start a blog.
My blog has officially helped me resolve two customer service problems now. (See: Update on Cox Communications) In both instances, I tried to deal directly with the company and only resorted to blogging about it when those efforts failed. And, in both situations, someone from the company in question read my blog and contacted me to offer a fix. It's important to note that both fixes included an offer of free service.
On one hand, it's great to see that companies are proactively using social media for customer service. On the other hand, it's disheartening to feel you have to resort to blasting a company in public before they respond appropriately. I guess its a lesson in pragmatism that blogging, Twittering, Facebooking, YouTubing, and other yet-to-be-invented tools are soon to become a necessary evil for consumers who simply want fair and honest service.