Trying harder....and living the brand promise
Customer experience can reinforce brand promises, writes Nick Manning - and here is an outstanding case study to prove it
We all know which rental car company says it tries harder. After all, it's been saying it since 1962, and only dropped it for two years before bringing it back.
But it was always hard to tell that Avis was really living up to its promise. Most car hire companies were the same, and the customer experience was often unsatisfactory. Excessive charges were rife.
We just had to take Avis's word for the extra effort they put in. Now, though, we can judge.
My experience with Avis on a recent trip to Mallorca was simply outstanding, especially by European standards. Normally getting a hire car involves standing in line for too long behind the rest of the plane-load while stressed-out travellers, hot and bothered, take it out on the rental car staff and keep the kids amused as best they can.
Eventually the customer drives away with roughly what they ordered, and any shortcomings aren't worth arguing over. It's an ordeal to be lived through but not the highlight of the holiday.
It wasn't an ordeal for me this time. As an Avis Preferred customer I wasn't even asked to show my driving licence or credit card, and I was in my car five minutes after getting to the Avis office. As if by magic the rental contract had been sent to my mobile just before I arrived (spooky but impressive use of geo-location tech, I assumed).
And on the way back the returns process was seamless, with the invoice and a customer service questionnaire on my mobile before I even got to the terminal. No extra charges (I'd filled up with petrol).
So, what does this tell us apart from the fact that Avis have really got on top of friction-less customer experience?
Well, it means of course that I will choose Avis next time. I'm now a truly loyal customer due to their service, not just price offers, and I may even pay a little more for the privilege. I may not even know if I'm paying more. And I forgave them for charging a baby seat out for a week for virtually the cost of a baby seat (excessive charges still apply).
And it made me think that, yes, they really did try harder, and I could decide that for myself. It's surprising to be so impressed.
No doubt the data that Avis collected on my interaction with them will be used in some way to communicate with me, provided I checked the right boxes. But I won't mind that so much if they continue to exceed my expectations. Data is negotiable if the value exchange is about right, and who wants to read the Ts & Cs anyway?
Strong brands are a function of a complex set of variables, including familiarity and favourability from advertising and the sheer presence that mainstream media bring. Avis is a global brand and unmissable, but otherwise undifferentiated from other global car hire brands. The customer experience makes it stand out, but the initial choice of brand is crucial.
It is the combination of a strong brand and faultless customer experience that is unbeatable, leading to the word-of-mouth in person and on social media that oils the wheels.
Of course the reverse is true. If Avis hadn't performed for me, they wouldn't be first on my list next time. And as we are all getting used to 'one click' ordering and app-led convenience, it's an arms race that all car hire companies are in.
Marketing isn't rocket science. Maintaining a strong brand while delivering on its promises is still key to success, and now marketers have the technology, data and systems to ensure they don't just say they're great - now they can prove it.
Nick Manning is SVP, MediaLink