A Study in Bad vs. Good Customer Service

This installment is brought to you by USAA, Enterprise Rent A Car, and Toyota Rental Car.

Today, I sent a letter (a slight variation is published below) to Major General Josue Robles, Jr. USA (Ret.), President and Chief Executive Officer of USAA; Ms. Pamela M. Nicholson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Enterprise Holdings (Parent Company of Enterprise Rent A Car), and Mr. Tony Sanchez, Manager, City Operations of Gulf States Toyota (Parent Company of Toyota Rent A Car).

I am writing to share my experience with a USAA auto insurance claim in the sincere hope that I may serve as an example of how USAA and its partners should NOT EVER treat its customers.  I understand your time is valuable; however I would request that you please indulge me while I provide some background.

I was involved in a minor accident on the 6th of November. I utilized the USAA online claim service; scheduled the repair through Service King in Spring, TX, a USAA authorized shop; and reserved a rental car through Enterprise, USAA's rental partner.  I reserved a SUV through Enterprise, understanding there would be an out of pocket cost on my part. My USAA claim was assigned to Mr. Kenneth Colchin.  He made a prompt call, gathered my recorded statement, and matters were proceeding as one would expect.

The following day, I received a call from an Enterprise representative, informing me that my reservation had been submitted by USAA to an Enterprise Rental Car location approximately 30 minutes from the designated shop, which has an Enterprise location in house, so that the request would be transferred.  She verified my appointment time and stated that my rental was for a standard vehicle; at that time I corrected her and indicated that I had requested a SUV.  She stated that she would make the change and submit the transfer.

Yesterday morning at 8a, I arrived at the Service King for my appointment.  I was processed through Service King promptly and was directed to proceed to the Enterprise desk to retrieve my car.  There was no one at the desk, so I located a place to sit and wait. 

Approximately 20 minutes later, the Service King receptionist approached me and explained that the Enterprise desk is frequently unmanned in the morning, as they're retrieving cars.  She offered to call another rental car company to accommodate me, and that she could have someone else for me in "a few minutes".  I thanked her for her offer and indicated that I would need to contact USAA to ensure that my insurance would cover another rental car company.  I called Mr. Colchin, received his voice mail, hung up and called USAA again for a general customer service representative.  The gentleman on the phone advised that if Enterprise was not available, USAA would cover the alternative rental.   The receptionist at Service King called a representative from Toyota Rent a Car, who arrived in approximately 10 minutes. 

Almost immediately upon the arrival of the Toyota representative, the Enterprise representative arrived.  A little impolite, but not outright rude, the Enterprise representative asked for my information.  After I provided it to him, I asked why the desk was unmanned, as I had an appointment and by now was going to be over an hour late to work.  He replied that they had cars to pick up and not enough drivers.  He was clearly unconcerned.  I suggested that perhaps consideration should be made toward keeping appointments, manning their desk, retrieving one less car, and sending someone on a second trip.  He looked at me as if I was insane, then said flatly, "I don't have a car for you". 

I was stunned.  I reiterated that I had a confirmation number and an appointment.  He replied that the original request was for a standard vehicle, "it was changed to a SUV", Enterprise "didn't have any", and suggested that I "chase the Toyota guy down in the parking lot to see if he could help" me.  So that was exactly what I did.

The gentleman from Toyota, Mr. Al McKenzie, was the only actual professional involved in this transaction.  He assisted me with unloading my car into the vehicle he had driven to Service King (I have a large car seat for my toddler) and we proceeded to his office to complete the rental.  At this point, approximately 45 minutes had passed since my initial arrival at Service King.  Mr. McKenzie and I arrived at his office at a Holiday Inn hotel just north of the Service King.  He entered my information into his system and received an error, stating that it doesn't appear my insurance was going to cover my rental.  He was puzzled in that he had completed a rental for a USAA customer a few days prior. 

I again attempted to contact Mr. Colchin, received his voice mail, hung up, and called USAA for general customer service.  This time, I spoke with a lady who stated that the USAA representative I had conversed with prior had been incorrect in his assertion that USAA would cover the rental from anyone other than Enterprise.  Then she asked me to hold.  I remained on hold over 10 minutes.  Please keep in mind I was on Toyota's business line. 

She returned, surprised that I was still holding, and told me nothing that could be done for me.  I asked for a justification.  She replied that USAA would not approve any rental until the service estimate was received from the shop.  I explained to her how her assertion was illogical.  I would have been required to go to Service King and sit in their shop with no vehicle until Service King sent the estimate to USAA for approval.  That could've been several hours.  Why could I reserve a car through Enterprise, presumably retrieve it, and be gone, but now suddenly I had to await an estimate?  She stated "that's just the way it is" then placed me on hold again.

I was on hold this time over 15 minutes.  During my time on hold, I texted T, who is the USAA member, briefly explained my situation, and asked him to please try to contact Mr. Colchin again to see if I could obtain assistance.  T left a voice mail for Mr. Colchin and called USAA customer service.   He spoke with a lady who contacted Mr. McKenzie directly. 

While Mr. McKenzie was speaking with the USAA representative with whom T was communicating, the USAA representative with whom I was on hold returned to the phone to inform me that she had obtained the estimate and that I could pay for the vehicle up front, maintain my receipts, and seek reimbursement at a later date. She stated that was all she could do for me.   The representative with whom T was speaking, told him that I would need to pay for the car, but that she would transfer the covered amount into my account promptly.  That amount arrived later in the afternoon. 

Almost 3 hours from the time I arrived for my service appointment, I drove my rental car away to work.  My commute to work is an hour.  Shortly after I arrived at work, I received a call from Mr. Colchin, who was extremely apologetic after hearing my story; however, the damage had been done and the matter resolved with no assistance from him.

My story now explained, these are my observations as a result of my experience.

1.  According to Mr. Colchin, USAA has a very extensive contractual relationship with Enterprise.  Enterprise employs incompetent and indifferent staff, lacks the inventory to meet its obligations to its customers, and (pursuant to my past experience with this company) rents substandard equipment.  USAA should terminate its relationship with Enterprise immediately for sufficient cause.   I can imagine Toyota Rent A Car, which seems to be everything Enterprise is not, would value and accommodate the business.

2.      At a minimum, USAA should seek alternative rental car agencies to accommodate USAA members.  Enterprise is evidently unable to do so.  I do not know one individual who has ever had a positive experience with Enterprise.  Enterprise seems to maintain its business model based on direct bill agreements with insurance companies.  Nobody uses Enterprise by choice.

3.      Please provide USAA personnel access to and training with Google Maps.  Why would USAA reserve a rental car with an Enterprise location 30 minutes from a shop with an in-house location?  That is just sloppy, lazy work.    Further, if the individual at USAA has a question regarding the way a customer reserves a rental vehicle, then USAA should contact the customer directly prior to arbitrarily changing the request.  I reserved a SUV, and the USAA representative reserved a standard vehicle.  If the person was concerned that I was unaware of the additional daily charge, I should have received a phone call.

4.    I understand that it is not possible for USAA claims managers to be available at all times; however, perhaps if a claims manager is not available, there should be an alternative contact to accept inquiries and who should be able to reach the actual claims manager in case of an emergency.  My ordeal began yesterday morning at 8a.  I received a call from Mr. Colchin at 11:56a.

5.  USAA customer service staff should receive extensive training regarding what USAA plans actually cover.  I received numerous conflicting stories from multiple representatives, most of which made no logistical sense.

6.      Why was my husband, the USAA member, able to receive better treatment and results by USAA staff than I?  I spent hours on the phone, receiving the "that's all I can do" treatment, while he received a resolution and reimbursement on my behalf in less than 30 minutes.  USAA should certainly understand that most of any family's business is typically conducted by the non-member spouse, and the non-member spouse deserves equal treatment to the USAA member. 

7.      In no universe should a service drop off and rental car retrieval take almost an entire morning.  Everyone's time is valuable and should be treated as such.  I was treated by both USAA and Enterprise as a minor annoyance.

8.      And finally, Mr. Al McKenzie could teach both USAA and Enterprise about the value of good customer service.  If he could share his temperament and demeanor with the world, we would all be better for it.  Mr. McKenzie was my only saving grace yesterday.  He arrived promptly when called with no notice, left quietly and with a smile when I sent him away, then accommodated me with the most excellent level of care and concern after it became apparent that I would need his services after all.  If I ever need a rental again, I guarantee Mr. McKenzie will be my first call.   The Toyota Rental division should be absolutely proud of the work of this fine man.

So there  you have it.  USAA, who has an excellent reputation, craps all over its non-members.  Enterprise is absolutely terrible (I once got a car with puke in the back seat, but hey at least in that case I got a car), and Toyota hires great staff and trains them well.  Now you know from whom to rent your next car.  Call Al McKenzie!