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First impressions count: Why OEMs should elevate the car rental experience

First impressions count: Why OEMs should elevate the car rental experience

In my previous life, I used to travel a lot. I wasted significant time in airports, hotels, and car rental companies. They were all terrible.

Then COVID arrived, I changed jobs, and my travelling took a backseat.

But I recently found myself back on the road. And the car rental companies, despite the break, were just as awful as I remembered.

During a recent trip, I arrived at 8 PM at CDG airport in Paris. It was dark, the weather was cold, and the sky was drizzly. The car rental area, smelling like a pair of old trainers, was bustling with activity. The AVIS staff, a mix of slightly motivated and completely disinterested individuals, took their time. After what felt like an eternity, but was actually around 20 minutes, I was eventually handed the keys to a compact model from a renowned German carmaker and received a rather cursory indication of its parking location.

I found the car in the rain and got soaked in the process. Once inside, I vanished into the seat. The previous driver must have been Michael Jordan because the seat was fully reclined. After some trial and error, I managed to adjust the seat to a position where I could see out and reach the steering wheel. By that time, the windows were fogged up.

Next, I had to figure out how to turn on the headlights and painstakingly defog the windshield. All the while, the engine grumbled in the cold.

Amidst this, I connected my phone to the car's Bluetooth and switched the language settings from French to English.

When the windows finally cleared, I set off, only to witness a young lady in a Fiat 500 driving off into the night without headlights. The pressure of driving an unfamiliar car must have gotten the best of her.

My own experience was anything but pleasant. I was cold, soaked, and frustrated. And my annoyance wasn't directed solely at the rental company but also at the car itself, which I had paid for and would be using for the next few days.

Let me clarify; it wasn't the car's fault. In fact, it turned out to be quite nice. However, that initial ordeal with the vehicle left a bitter taste in my mouth. Instead of feeling excited about Paris in a brand-new car, my spirits were dampened by the rental company.

So, here's a thought. OEMs, is this the kind of customer experience you had in mind when you entrusted your cars to car rental companies? Wouldn't it be more beneficial if these cars, while fulfilling their rental duties, also acted as ambassadors for your brand? Imagine if customers had a great experience that even tempted them to consider purchasing your car in the future.

The pictures on websites and glossy videos are all well and good, but how many potential customers are being put off by dreadful experiences at car rental companies? I'm willing to bet it's a significant number. This challenge isn't unique to this specific OEM; it's a universal hurdle faced by every car manufacturer that provides vehicles to rental companies. I've had similar encounters with many other brands, including a "premium segment" SUV I rented at Birmingham Airport.

So, how can car brands improve? What if there was a simple QR code on the dashboard that customers could scan to watch a short video tutorial on the basics of the vehicle? But why stop there? Why not have an Augmented Reality player that offers an even more immersive and informative experience? And for those who prefer human interaction, that QR code could connect them to the manufacturer's customer support, where they can receive the kind of assistance and brand experience that the evening rental shift could never provide.

And while we're at it, let's make the most of this direct interaction with customers who are, essentially, test-driving your cars. Send them additional helpful videos via email, share valuable driving and city navigation tips, and keep the conversation going even after they've returned home from their trip.

Embrace the power of technology, human touch, and a little extra effort. Your potential customers will express their gratitude, and you'll leave the competition in the dust. It's a win-win situation for everyone involved.


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