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Process Fails: Car Hire Companies are Stuck in the 1980s

Car hire companies request the equivalent of a tax return to let you take a car. Can’t all the paperwork be done online? Why are they still working like it’s the 80s?

1980s computer and desk

Why ask customers to put in the effort and then just throw it all out of the window anyway?


I recently had to rent a car, so I sent all the required information in advance to accelerate the process. I did all the licence paperwork online and got the payment sorted out, hoping I could breeze through when I picked up the car, but this is not at all what happened.


As soon as I got to the car rental agency, I instantly knew I was in for a defeat. You need only to look at their desks to see what kind of systems they are still using. It actually reminded me of my BBC Micro computer in the 1980s! And let’s say the scenario did not get better from there.


The Mighty Quest of Renting a Car

The first thing the front desk person did was ask me for all my information again. All of it; everything I had carefully typed when I booked the car. She had the address there; I had already submitted it. I asked her: “Why are you retyping it?” And she replied: “Our system is case sensitive. It needs to be all in capitals”. Well, I could have used capitals if the system had told me to! Or, heavens forbid, the system could have automatically converted my input into it without me having to use caps lock. Or perhaps they need a new system that is less grammatically obsessed.


Then they went on to ask me a series of questions about what insurance I wanted, again all of which had or could have already been provided.

Clipboard with key, car and contract

Finally a page of printouts came which I had to sign and initial more times than when I was buying a house. None of it I read because all of this was happening while there were about five other people anxiously waiting in line to do their paperwork all over again. It took ages to get my car when things could have been (and should have been) much more straightforward. For instance, a simple “Who are you?” and “There you go, here’s the keys”. End of story. I understand the bit where they walk around the vehicle and check there are no dents and such; that’s arguably necessary, but what about the rest? Why did we all have to give our information again after we had taken the time to do so in advance?


Well, this failed process was tiresome, but I was certain it would be just half of it. Because then we had to drop the car off! So, I thought: Here we go. We have to queue again, then go around the car, check the fuel, and check the mileage. Actually I haven’t done this for years. They want me to, but I have a nice three step process of my own:

  1. I hand them the keys

  2. I thank them

  3. I walk off (often with them shouting and muttering after me about why I can't do that)

But.. no, this time was different. The guy just asked for the keys and told me that was it - beautiful.


So, it seems they have fixed this part of the process, although here's the irony: I filled the fuel tank so I wouldn't have to pay for a refuel, and they charged me anyway. Maybe they simplified the process so much that they got the cars mixed up. I honestly was so pleased with the speedy process I wasn’t too bothered about this final error.


Interesting that for me anyway, being treated efficiently far outweighed being overcharged.


Well, at least they are moving in the right direction!


A Common Case of Poor Customer Experience

So, back to renting the car and the silliness of having to wait in line for people to repeat themselves. Why ask customers to put in the effort and then just throw it all out of the window anyway? These things are supposed to be designed to improve customer experience (hence why so many companies are turning to gamification), so the least they could do is allow someone to complete a process.

Person holding up a sad face

Instead, they set an expectation. That by filling things in advance, you’ll make the process of getting your car a breeze, and then you're made to feel like you haven’t met their requirements. I actually got the same feeling waiting for a car as I did trying to contact customer services to a myriad of companies. If you're lucky enough to find a number you can call, you know you’re going to be listening to music and ads for half an hour.

So, will car hire companies ever get out of the 1980s? Everything has been or could have been done online in advance. They just needed to see my ID and give me the keys to the car. They knew when I was coming; they had my flight number. I had filled everything in (because, mind you, they tell you if you do, you’ll get your car faster), and I still had to stand there for half an hour.


Was This a Process Fail?

I remember 25 years ago when I worked as a pensions actuary, and I met the HR director of Avis. We had been travelling to Sicily quite a lot as we’d bought a plot of land out there and were going to build a house on it. I was tired of queuing to get a car at the airport. And I remember asking her when they were going to sort all that out so we could just get the keys and go. She smiled and said “Oh, yes, we’re on that. We’ll sort it out. It’s actually one of our big projects to make our systems more efficient.” Well, it’s taking them a little longer than either of us expected, I think!



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