He returned the car on time. Hertz still charges late fees

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

His recent experience with Hertz therefore has to be seen not only as yet another horror story involving the old bankrupt car rental company, but also as a case study of how not to win friends and influence people.

“I travel around 150,000 kilometers per year. I know how these things should work, ”Stanley, 64, told me. “Hertz seemed more interested in collecting unjustified fees than winning a long-term customer.”

Granted, Hertz isn’t the only car rental company trying to push people around. I have received stories of doom involving Avis, Budget and other companies.

But Hertz, which also owns the Dollar and Thrifty brands, continues to be at the center of some of the most egregious examples of questionable corporate decision-making.

In June, I told the story of a Highland Park non-smoker who was hit with a $ 400 smoking tax because a few Hertz land attendants claimed to smell smoke. in the vehicle.

Hertz then cut the fees in half but refused to eliminate them, even though the client, Sean Dungan, was a member of its Gold Plus rewards program. Dungan told me he would switch 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 standards of cleanliness were not being met in this situation,” but nonetheless imposed a cleaning fee of $ 50 for what he said was dog hair in the vehicle.

The woman, Faith Cenobio, told me that she was not traveling 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.

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

Stanley was due to return his rental car by 8:15 p.m. on July 13. He said he left her, fully gassed, around 7:45 p.m. so he could make a return flight at 10:20 p.m.

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

Considering he was on the plane at the time awaiting take-off, it seemed like a stretch on Hertz’s part. Stanley emailed the company and pointed out the gap. Hertz did not respond, he said.

Stanley then disputed the charge to American Express, its credit card issuer. AmEx reviewed Stanley’s situation and supporting documents. It waived Hertz late fees on August 17.

Problem solved? Not enough.

At the end of September, more than a month after AmEx resolved the dispute in his favor, Stanley received a letter from Hertz reiterating that he owed the company $ 201.05 for returning his car at 10:14 p.m.

If Stanley wanted to dispute this, he said, he would have to write a response and mail it to Hertz. Otherwise, “the company may report you as a delinquent,” which means they could go after debt collectors and ruin their credit rating.

Stanley recently responded to Hertz, repeating what AmEx had already concluded: to land in LA

The Lyft reservation is also used to show that the plane took off and landed on time.

All of this to say that there is no possible way that Hertz’s late payment claim could be blocked.

Stanley took the additional step of reporting the matter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Companies are required to respond to any complaint lodged with the agency.

So why was the company still chasing this?

I asked this question of Hertz. It took them a week to provide an answer.

“Upon further consideration, we have agreed to waive the late charge as it appears this issue was not properly investigated when Mr. Stanley initially contacted us before disputing the debit with his credit card,” he said. said Lauren Luster, spokesperson for the company.

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

Stanley told me he was happy with the result – but surprised he had to spend three months jumping through hoops just for Hertz to admit he messed up.

He noted that Hertz had multiple opportunities to “properly research” the case – his original email, AmEx’s investigation – and kept drawing the wrong conclusion until a federal agency and a journalist are involved.

“Their time would have been better spent trying to attract and retain customers, especially when an incident like this was easily validated,” Stanley observed.

He speculated that many consumers may not have gone as far as he did to challenge unwarranted charges.

“If you were my mother,” Stanley said, “you would be scared and write them a check.

He also marveled at Hertz’s choices throughout this process.

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

“Even though I returned the car late, the right way to deal with it is to send me a letter saying that you understand mistakes are happening, waive the charges and say you are looking forward to my next rental.”

The more Stanley talked about it, the more animated he became.

“How does that build a future relationship? ” He asked. “This is not the case. He says they’re more interested in a $ 200 fee than a long-term customer.

“Here’s a chance to steal from me at Avis, which was handed to them on a silver platter. Instead, they chose to go after me for an accusation I didn’t even owe.

Stanley has excellent customer service points in general. I have written before about how the service was overlooked by many companies during the pandemic.

Stanley’s key lesson is so obvious it shouldn’t have to be repeated. But I will do it anyway: the way to build customer loyalty is to treat people with respect and fairness.

Or as Stanley put it, “Not all of the marketing in the world will make up for a bad service experience.”

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

Oh, and for what it’s worth, he’s sticking with Avis for his future car rental needs.

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