He returned the car on time. Hertz still charged a late fee


Mark Stanley makes a living advising corporate clients on how to improve their customer service. So it’s fair to say he knows a thing or two about treating people right – especially when the goal is to grow the business.

His recent experience with Hertz should therefore be viewed not just as yet another horror story involving the formerly bankrupt rental car company, but as a case study in how not to make friends and influence people.

“I travel about 150,000 miles a year. I know how these things are supposed to work,” Stanley, 64, told me. “Hertz seemed more interested in charging an unjustified fee than in winning a long-term customer.”

Surely, Hertz isn’t the only rental company trying to shove people around. I’ve received woes from Avis, Budget and other companies.

But Hertz, which also owns the Dollar and Thrifty brands, consistently appears at the center of some of the most egregious examples of questionable corporate decisions.

In June, I shared the story of a non-smoker from Highland Park who was fined $400 after a couple of Hertz parking lot attendants said they smelled smoke in the vehicle.

Hertz then halved the fee but refused to eliminate it even though the customer, Sean Dungan, was a member of its Gold Plus rewards program. Dungan told me he was going to Enterprise.

Then, in July, I shared the story of a woman from Utah who found a used condom in her Hertz rental car. Hertz acknowledged that “our cleanliness standards were not met in this situation,” but still charged a $50 cleaning fee for dog hair in the vehicle.

The woman, Faith Cenobio, told me she doesn’t travel with a dog. She said she would never rent from Hertz again.

And now we come to Stanley, author of the book “Experience Design for Customer Service: How to Go From Mediocre to Great!”

Again, helping businesses improve their interactions with customers is what the Los Angeles resident does for a living. Current and former clients include Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Anthem Blue Cross.

Usually, Stanley told me, he rents from Avis when he travels. But Delta Air Lines offered Hertz a special promotional price when he flew from LA to Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii in July, so he gave the company a try.

Stanley was scheduled to return his rental car at 8:15 p.m. on July 13. He said he dropped it off with a full tank around 7:45 p.m. so he could fly home at 10:20 p.m.

“The guy in the Kona office said their computers were down, so they emailed me a receipt,” Stanley recalled. “When they did, they said I returned the car at 10:14 and had to pay a late fee of $201.05.”

Considering he was on the plane at the time, waiting for takeoff, it seemed like an effort for Hertz. Stanley emailed the company and pointed out the discrepancy. Hertz didn’t answer, he said.

Stanley then disputed the charge with American Express, his credit card issuer. AmEx looked at the situation and Stanley’s supporting documents. It waived Hertz’s late fee on Aug. 17.

Problem solved? Not quite.

In late September, more than a month after AmEx settled the dispute in his favor, Stanley received a letter from Hertz repeating that he owed the company $201.05 for returning his car at 10:14 p.m

If Stanley wanted to dispute this, it was said he would have to write a response and snail mail it to Hertz. Otherwise, “the company can report you as delinquent,” meaning they could sic debt collectors on them and ruin their credit score.

Stanley recently wrote back to Hertz, repeating what AmEx had already established: that he was on a plane at 10:14 p.m. on the night in question, and that he was undeniably on the flight because he was using his credit card for a Lyft ride home afterwards had landing in LA

The Lyft booking also serves as proof that the aircraft took off and landed as scheduled.

All of this means that there is no way Hertz’s late fee claim can stand.

Stanley took the additional step of reporting the matter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Businesses must respond to any complaint filed with the agency.

Why was the company still pursuing this?

I asked Hertz that question. It took a week for them to provide an answer.

“Upon further review, we have agreed to waive the late fee as this matter does not appear to have been properly researched when Mr. Stanley initially contacted us prior to disputing the charge on his credit card,” said Lauren Luster, a company spokeswoman.

She added that Hertz contacted Stanley and “apologised for the inconvenience.”

Stanley told me he was happy with the result – but surprised he had to spend money three months jumping through hoops only to get Hertz to admit it was screwed up.

He noted that Hertz had multiple avenues to “properly research” the case — his first email, the AmEx investigation — and kept coming to the wrong conclusions until both a federal agency and a journalist were involved.

“Your time would have been better spent attracting and retaining customers, especially if an incident like this was easily validated,” Stanley noted.

He speculated that many consumers may not have gone as far as he did to contest an unjustified charge.

“If you were my mom,” Stanley said, “you’d get scared and write them a check.”

He also wondered about Hertz’s decisions during this process.

“Think about it,” he told me. “This was my first rental from the company. This experience sets the tone for our relationship.

“Even if I returned the car late, the right way to deal with it is to send me a letter saying you understand mistakes happen, waiving the fee and saying you’re looking forward to my next one.” looking forward to renting it.”

The more Stanley discussed it, the more animated he became.

“How does that set up a future relationship?” he asked. “It doesn’t. They say they’re more interested in a $200 fee than a long-term customer.

“Here was the chance to steal me from Avis, handed to them on a silver platter. They instead chose to pursue me for a fee I didn’t even owe.”

Stanley highlights customer service in general. I’ve previously written about how service has fallen short for many companies during the pandemic.

Stanley’s most important lesson is so obvious that it should not be repeated. But I do it anyway: The way to customer loyalty is to treat people with respect and fairness.

Or as Stanley put it, “All the marketing in the world cannot compensate for a bad service experience.”

Hertz and other companies should pay attention. This guy literally wrote a book about good customer service.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, he’s staying with Avis for his future rental car needs. He returned the car on time. Hertz still charged a late fee

Russell Falcon

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