Here’s a quick story of the kind of casual attitude to customer experience that really damages the relationship between a customer and a brand and puts its staff in the onerous position of having to ‘save’ that relationship.

I needed to hire a car for a few days and went online to book one that I could pick up locally. Prices varied quite a lot and there’s a whole heap of confusion in the detail. The simple ‘when’, ‘for how long’ and ‘which car’ questions are just the start.

Firstly, there are two rates, one to book online in advance and another for payment on collection. This seems fair enough, but then there are some other discounts that are applied if you were lucky enough to spot the ‘apply your discount here’ button. But the big one, which I’m sure we’ve all encountered, is the insurance waiver issue. Multiple options are presented – with excess, without excess (but with or without breakdown cover) and windscreen not included. Certainly feels like a minefield!

I make my selection, the car is booked and confirmed. I receive an email with the details including the collection address and phone number. Except this is actually not the correct address to pick up the car! I find out by going to the stated address to find it’s not there. Oh, and the phone number I’ve got doesn’t work either!

Eventually I find a different address online – a further 2 miles away. I arrive a bit annoyed at the mix up and tell the person at the desk the issue. ‘Yes, that always happens’, she tells me, ‘I don’t know why they do that, it confuses everyone’. I explain the phone number didn’t work either and show her the number – ‘there’s a digit missing from that, sorry’. I point out it’s wrong on both the website AND my paperwork and that it’s not very good is it, to which she nods resignedly and says ‘sorry’, again.

Now the paperwork bit is fairly easy, as I’ve already completed it all online, but I’m asked for my contact number (which is already on the paperwork). If I now want to add the ‘windscreen cover’ (that wasn’t offered online) its another £4.74 per day. What is it with these surprises! Despite the fact that the total rental cost is now double the original price advertised on the site, I say that’s fine and things proceed and my credit card is processed. As I go to enter my PIN, I see the amount is £200 more than I’m expecting and I query it. ‘That’s just the standard extra pre-authorisation we take on the card’, I’m told. ‘The card is debited at the end of the rental. If everything is fine we won’t take the extra £200.’ Why didn’t she explain that before handing over the card machine? I had to ask the question, and it made me feel just a little more uncomfortable on top of the other incidents.

Paperwork is now onscreen and she ‘walks’ me through it, highlighting areas as she goes through the sizeable document. This is good and I sign onscreen to accept it all. The car is also fine, but she can’t answer definitively my question about connectivity with my iPhone, so she has to wait as I sit in the car and try to connect, which I am able to do. So off I drive, with a niggling sense of ‘it didn’t have to be that way’ and a need to tell people about my poor experience.

With a whole heap of competition out there in the world of car rental, it has certainly made me think about trying other companies next time to avoid all the hassle (even though I now know to ignore what it says on this company’s website about my local pick-up point).  There must be a better way to hire a car and perhaps the major players ought to be thinking about it. It strikes me that in a world where the lines between owning, hiring or renting a car are becoming increasingly blurred, and where the predicted rise of semi- and fully autonomous vehicles (their storage, maintenance and distribution) will lead to a myriad of new opportunities, the car rental companies are very well-placed to take advantage. If only they could better understand their customers and the ‘tripping points’ that stand in the way of a smooth experience.