Everyone complains about air travel during the holidays. Soul-sucking airports, cramped seats, and unexpected delays can ruin everyone’s weekend. But these inconveniences can’t hold a candle to the off-airport rental car experience. Most of the country can’t even begin to grasp the horrors of this world, but those of us in the New York market know all too well how these parking garage outposts invite naught but madness.
Because you’d think that a major car rental brand would bring with it a degree of brand consistency. A Quarter-Pounder is a Quarter-Pounder wherever you go. Unless it’s a Royale with Cheese. But the point is the brand and the expectations it carries. Airport branches let you walk right onto the lot and follow a sign with your name to a parked car. Wouldn’t a frontier office downtown afford the same convenience?
Or maybe the problem in this case was too much brand consistency.
Professor Kate Klonick teaches property and internet law at St. John’s Law School. But she knows enough about contracts to know when she’s getting jerked around. Over the holiday weekend, Klonick embarked on the time-honored New York tradition of renting a car from the local Hertz office before finding out that the office was closed at the time of the reservation.
After the clerk helped some but not all of the many people who also showed up for reservations after the store closed, Klonick entered the Lovecraftian nightmare of telephonic customer service getting hung up on, teased with cars in far-flung locations, and ultimately asked to shell out upwards of $1800 to get in the car that she’d already reserved. When all said and done, Klonick ended up in a dirty Kia… a day late… and still charged about $600 over the original rate. Maybe if they’d unplug Tom Brady they’d have room for enough cars to fulfill their reservations.
If this confuses you, you missed New Yorkers trying to tell you about this for almost 30 years.
If you don’t have time for the video…
Jerry : I don’t understand. Do you have my reservation?
Rental Car Agent : We have your reservation, we just ran out of cars.
Jerry : But the reservation keeps the car here. That’s why you have the reservation.
Rental Car Agent : I think I know why we have reservations.
Jerry : I don’t think you do. You see, you know how to *take* the reservation, you just don’t know how to *hold* the reservation. And that’s really the most important part of the reservation: the holding. Anybody can just take them.
Here’s the whole story in Klonick’s words:
The consummate law professor: Never. Stop. Issue-Spotting.
But, as Klonick points out, if her complaint hadn’t gone viral, she may have gotten nothing from the company. Did her compatriots in the Brooklyn Hertz office that first day get the help they needed? She asked the service rep who got back to her after the story achieved notoriety:
Oh, an “executive” email for the serious customer service complaints.
All kidding aside, this is a serious PR blunder for Hertz. The company’s stock is down around 18 percent over the last month and major news outlets detailing its customer service failures and blasé approach toward extorting desperate holiday travelers into paying massive upcharges aren’t helping. Maybe this is an opportunity for the time-honored brand to get back to its roots and remind us all of its glory days as a trusted national provider.
Perhaps bring back a classic spokesman. Someone that everyone remembers as synonymous with the brand.
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.