what marketing means in 2008 (with illustrations by Dollar car rental)

While in Vegas, I rented a convertible from Dollar. There’s so much eye candy there, that it seemed an open top was the only way to take it all in while driving around.

On Sunday morning, I returned the car to the Dollar car return area at the Car Rental Return Multiplex Complex. At 7:30 a.m., I pulled the car up to the first spot in lane two and checked out. A kindly, slightly older woman checked us out while we gathered our bags, car seat, etc. She told us we were clear, so we headed off to the shuttle to go to the airport terminal.

It was only after we checked in for our flight that I realized that my black, PC World-swag, CD case filled with my CDs for the trip was left on the floor of the front passenger seat area. This was sometime after 8:15 a.m. I was working against the clock.

Unfortunately, the only number that could be found for the Dollar Las Vegas location was the national 800 number. It required six calls to their national reps before I could find one who would/could accomplish the simple task of getting someone on the phone at the Vegas location and then transferring my call directly to that person. 10 minutes wasted.

When finally through, I spoke to a manager named Jeremy. I told him what had happened and that our best chance of recovery would be to look in the car before it was moved – or worse, put back into inventory. If the case was already gone, then it was equally timely to speak with the woman who checked me out – and anyone else who had been in or around the car in the hour since it had been left.

He told me that he would look into it and call me back. Less than an hour later, he called to tell me the car was where it was left, but the case was not there. Not sure if he looked himself, but he did not speak to anyone who would have worked with that particular vehicle – including the woman who checked me in.

He also looked in the lost and found and said it wasn’t there. However, he also said it was full, so someone may be waiting until Monday to turn it in.

I told him that the more time that passes, the less chance I have of recovering the case and the CDs. He said this was the best he could do right then, but that Marty, the lost and found guy, would call me on Monday.

To his credit, Marty called me on Monday to report that the case was not reported to lost and found. So, I called the Manager’s number and got Jeremy, who told me he’d check the security camera from that area, but that’s all he could do. Then he said, “sorry about this, take care, buddy.”

It is Tuesday morning, and I’d be surprised to ever see that case again.

How does this relate to marketing? Dollar was given an opportunity here. Here is a customer who makes a mistake and leaves something behind – probably not all that uncommon (as evidenced by the full lost and found depository). That customer calls almost immediately and the environs surrounding the case have not drastically changed. The customer is desperate and his experience is now firmly in the hands of Dollar.

A good Dollar employee will do his diligence and take a token look. But a great Dollar employee would run down there and inspect the car. If the case is not found, a great employee will begin asking around to all possible suspects.

But if that great employee is also a manager, he has even more tricks up his sleeve. I’ve been a manager for 10 years, and I’d like to think I could have gotten that case back quite quickly. First, he should have asked the woman who checked me in if she saw or had it. If not, who else has been near the car (she was stationed right next to it). There are other, more extreme, tactics at his disposal, as well.

My next step, as manager, would be to call the customer, apologize and offer a future discount. And if he really wanted to blow me away, offer me some amount of money on Amazon to put toward replacing my CDs.

As a marketing professional, I recognize that each and every interaction, no matter how small or large, has the potential to define my business. Every customer now has the power to reach out to many people – whether its via their LinkedIn network, their Facebook network, their blog or traditional word-of-mouth.

If Dollar had offered me an apology and an Amazon gift certificate to put toward replacing my CDs, this story would be truly remarkable, and I’d be bending over backward to get this story in as many hands as I could. Instead, their reaction was average and lackluster, and… here we are.

This is not to imply that they are responsible for the situation. After all, I’m responsible for leaving them there. That is understood. But they are responsible for the subsequent theft. And despite responsibility, they have a tremendous opportunity to build a story much like this Zappo’s story that has been around for awhile.

“When I came home this last time, I had an email from Zappos asking about the shoes, since they hadn’t received them. I was just back and not ready to deal with that, so I replied that my mom had died but that I’d send the shoes as soon as I could. They emailed back that they had arranged with UPS to pick up the shoes, so I wouldn’t have to take the time to do it myself. I was so touched. That’s going against corporate policy.Yesterday, when I came home from town, a florist delivery man was just leaving. It was a beautiful arrangement in a basket with white lilies and roses and carnations. Big and lush and fragrant. I opened the card, and it was from Zappos. I burst into tears. I’m a sucker for kindness, and if that isn’t one of the nicest things I’ve ever had happen to me, I don’t know what is.”

(Who wouldn’t want to shop Zappo’s after reading it?)

There are a lot of sources for music discovery out there, so it’s a challenge to launch another one and try and make it successful. NewTunes has a remarkable search engine that redefines music search, but NewTunes isn’t just going to succeed simply because we put out a reliable, or even superior, product. We are going to succeed because of the way we treat our customers – or potential customers.

NewTunes will be successful because we will take every opportunity that customers give us to go above and beyond to provide a remarkable customer experience. Because allowing customers to have a horrible experience can equate to hiring people to populate the Internet with stories about how terrible we are.

Incidentally, the music fans among you are probably wondering what was lost. Here’s what I thought would be good top-down, 85 degree, sunny Vegas, strip-cruising music:

Joe Strummer – Rock Art and the X-Ray Style
Dead Can Dance – Spiritchaser
Belle and Sebastian – Tigermilk and The Boy with the Arab Strap
Grateful Dead – Europe ’72 and Dick’s Picks Vol. 3
Neko Case & Her Boyfriends – Furnace Room Lullaby and The Virginian
Thievery Corporation – Abductions and Reconstructions
Jet Society – Eighteenth Street Lounge Soundtracks
Haircut 100 – Pelican West

*Update: This has been resolved, and Dollar really stepped up in a great way.


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