If you’ve ever returned something to Costco, Home Depot, Target, or Nordstrom Department Stores you know that the norm in retailing these days is a “no or few questions asked return policy.” The idea is to make the customer WANT to do business with you by making it as easy as possible to return purchased items if they are unhappy. And I have naively assumed that all big companies have adopted this philosophy.
So imagine my surprise when I rented a car last week to drive from Austin, TX to Houston. I was speaking at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston the next day, but staying on the outskirts of town. Knowing what the rush hour traffic in Houston is like, I figured I’d better get a GPS when I rented the car so I wouldn’t get lost the next morning. I would be charged an extra $27.90 for the GPS, but I figured it would be worth the investment not to be late to my speech.
Unfortunately, the next morning, the GPS would not work. I was forced to find my way to the convention center the old fashion way with a map, and I did, in deed get lost. The only reason I wasn’t late was because I’d allowed myself two hours to get there.
The next afternoon, when I returned the car in Austin, I told the rental car agent about the malfunctioning GPS and asked for a refund. After checking with her boss on the phone, she told me I’d have to call in later, after they had tested the equipment.
Hmmm – did she not believe me? Did she not have the empowerment to fix the problem immediately? Did she not realize that I had to go catch a plane?
Anyway, the next day, after I arrived home in Phoenix, I called the number she gave me and spoke to the boss, Matt who informed me that he would not issue me a refund because he couldn’t get the GPS to repeat the problem that I had described. I argued that it was irrelevant that he couldn’t get it to behave badly because the problem had happened to ME, and I was deprived of the directions the GPS is supposed to provide, and for which I was paying. I should, therefore, be refunded the $27.90 for the GPS.
He continued to stand firm on his decision so I informed him that I would not be using his rental car company again, no matter how THRIFTY I was trying to be. In retrospect, had he credited me for the GPS cost and apologized for the inconvenience, I would very likely have continued to use his company.
It reminds me of how important having a culture of trust is in business. Whether it’s trusting your employees to do the right thing, or trusting your customers not to rip you off. And that doesn’t mean that all customers are trust worthy. Some will try to take advantage of your generosity. (I suspect that if you chronically return items to Nordstrom after using them, they have a way of tracking that behavior in their computer, and there would be a point where they would say “no.”)
But consider the cost to this company of not trusting me in this situation. As a professional speaker, I travel a great deal. Last year I spent more than $3,000 on car rentals. I plan to keep working for another 10 years, so that’s $30,000 in potential lost revenue in order to avoid refunding me $27.90. And then there’s the bad PR this incident will create. Ticked off customers yearn to get even, and will go to great lengths to do so. I just spent an hour of my precious time composing this blog, just to ensure that if you are planning to rent a car, and you want to be THRIFTY doing so, I recommend you use Hertz, National, Avis, or Budget.