Saturday, June 6, 2009

Customer Service FAIL.

This week, I rented a car for the first time. Seriously. I've never needed to rent one before, but I was traveling for business, and renting was a cheaper option than a mileage reimbursement. My place of work uses Enterprise for all their car rental needs. I called the office on Riverside Drive in Macon, Georgia, and reserved a vehicle, requesting something compact. (I was nervous enough about being responsible for somebody else's car, and it was no time to have to maneuver a big vehicle!) The lady who helped with the booking was very nice, I must say.

On Monday, I went to pick up the car. I had finished earlier than I expected at the chiropractor, so I went on to Enterprise. I asked the gentleman at the counter if I could go ahead and get the car or if I should wait an hour for my original time. He assured me that it would be no problem to pick it up immediately. However, the car was still at the shop, about two miles away, getting an oil change. I would have to go to the shop and get the car. Ok, I could do that. My husband (Mr. B) was with me, and the two of us rode with the E'prise representative to the shop where the rented Toyota Corolla was waiting, then Mr. B and I drove back to E'prise to pick up my car from the lot. During this short trip, we noticed the "Maintenance Required" light was on.

Back at E'prise, I popped in and asked if they could tell me about the light. They assured me that the car was fine, having just had an oil change, and that it was safe to drive. I reminded them that I would be driving out of state for a week and asked if they could reset the light. I told them I wanted to make sure it would come on if I had a problem. They finally decided that wasn't a bad idea and reset it for me. I had also noticed there was 1/4 of a tank of gas available, and I asked if they were going to fill up the car. No, they said, because you only need to bring it back with 1/4 of a tank when you're done. Ok, whatever. (Edit: I have since learned that this is common practice now in the rental car world. I was just surprised because I had heard horror stories in the past about people being charged exorbitant fees for not filling the tank before returning the car.)

I headed on out of town, stopping for lunch and to fill up the gas tank. There were no further adventures; the car handled well on the interstate and was easy to drive.

The next day, Tuesday, I headed to my first meeting in Nashville, TN. I stopped to fill up the car and grab lunch. As I was planning to pull out of the Krystal parking lot, I noticed a little light on the dash that I hadn't seen before. It looked to me like an exclamation point inside a cauldron, rather like (_!_). Hmmm. I checked for an owner's manual in the glove compartment, but it was empty. I then called Mr. B to see if he had any ideas. No, he hadn't seen a light like that. I also called a friend who has rented cars before to see if he knew. Yes, he had seen that light before on a trip, but he couldn't recall exactly what it meant. Maybe something to do with tires, but whatever it was hadn't affected his trip. Ok.

I called the E'prise I had rented from to ask what to do. The person who answered the phone said, "Oh, that's a tire pressure light. It comes on in about 90% of the cars we rent. It's really sensitive, and if one tire is a pound lower than the others, that comes on. It's not a big deal. You'll be fine." Ok, at least I knew what it was now. Still in the Krystal parking lot, I got out of the car, eyeballed all four tires to make sure they looked ok, and headed back out to the interstate. (My first thought was, "If this comes on nine times out of ten when somebody drives off your lot, you might want to tell the renter about that little light."

The car still handled fine, and I made it to Nashville without difficulty. It rained a little on the outskirts of town, but I checked into the hotel, parked in the underground garage, and went on my merry way. I stopped by the site of the next day's meeting to chat with some friends, then met an online friend for dinner. After we ate and chatted, I went back to the hotel, where I ran into some fellow conference attendees with whom I talked, Mr. & Mrs. W. They're from Florida, and I had spoken at a meeting for them earlier in the spring. The Ws told me about their rental car adventures that day (they had run over a tire in the road and had some minor difficulties and delays), and I told them about mine. They knew what the little light meant, having had tire troubles with a previous rental car.

On Wednesday, I spent twelve hours in meetings. For real. I did not, however, have to use the car at all.

Thursday morning marked the end of that conference. I took a bag down to the car, secured it in the trunk, and went back into the hotel for breakfast. One last trip to my room for a toothbrushing and final packing, then I headed back to the garage with my other bag. I opened the front passenger door to put some items on the seat, and I happened to look down. What is this? Oh, that would be a flat tire. A COMPLETELY FLAT TIRE. Not a pound low. All the way down to the ground flat. Ugh.

I locked the car again and headed back up to the lobby. I asked the receptionist if there was someone who could help, and she gave me the name of a local shop they used for service. I thanked her and went to call Mr. B. He suggested calling the renting E'prise facility to find out what they suggested. I did so, reminding the person who answered that I had called on Tuesday about the mystery light. (I don't think I ever talked to the same E'prise person twice, by the way. That place must be swarming with employees.) He was sorry to hear about the flat and said that if I could find a can of Fix-A-Flat, I could just use that. I told him I was in downtown Nashville and was unable to drive the car, so that wouldn't be possible. He then suggested I try the nationwide road assistance number on the back of my rental contract.

I called that number and told the lady on the other end about my plight. She offered to send someone to change the tire. We were working our way through the service call, and she said, "And that will be sixty-one dollars applied to your rental when you return the car." Um, excuse me? What did you just say? I laughed at her, said there was no way my place of work would pay that, and promptly declined the service. I'm a AAA auto club member, so I then called the number on my card. The AAA lady was very helpful, making sure I had a safe place to wait (yes, I'm in a hotel, not by the side of the road) while she reported the problem. She got my cell number and told me someone should be there within 45 minutes. I asked her what the charge would be. "Oh, it's free. Just make sure you have a photo ID and your AAA card." Excellent.

I saw some other people who were heading to my last conference session and told them about the problem. I figured at least that way somebody would know why I wasn't at the meeting! I then headed back down to the parking garage to begin waiting. I got my luggage out of the trunk and put it in the back seat, then headed to the garage entrance to keep an eye out for my knight in shining AAA armor. About 40 minutes later, I got a call. AAA was letting me know I was next on the list for service. Okey-doke, not a problem. I waited in a doorway out of the drizzle. The next call was the AAA repairman letting me know he was heading across Nashville to me and confirming my location. He called again when he arrived at the hotel, and I directed him to the parking garage.

He put the spare tire on for me and laughed when I told him about what E'prise wanted to charge. Well, he laughed after he got over his shock. First he said, "Really? $61? But they call *us* to change people's tires! It's no wonder people are going out of business. $61 in this economy," and then he shook his head. I thanked him for his help, got in the car, and drove around the corner to my conference. I snuck in toward the end of the session and mouthed "flat tire" to those who wondered where I was. Somebody I had talked to on the phone during all of the adventures told me I could travel up to 3,000 miles at no more than 55mph on the spare tire. I planned a slow trip to Huntsville.

After our business session, the conference attendees had lunch. I was updating my Florida friends on the tire situation when Mr. W said, "Why didn't they just tell you to find the closest Firestone? Enterprise has a service contract with them. You don't need to drive on that spare all the way to Huntsville and back to Georgia." He asked one of the meeting hosts where the nearest Firestone was, and it turned out there was one within just a few blocks. Mr. W said, "We'll go over there with you and see if they can't fix that tire. We've had to use Firestone before with some rental car troubles." I asked if there would be a charge, and he said he had never had to pay.

We finished lunch and went to Firestone. I explained to the man at the counter what I needed and told him it was an E'prise rental car. He looked at the contract, entered information in the computer, and pulled up the billing screen. They only listed a few E'prise locations in Georgia, all around the Atlanta area. My location wasn't listed, and he asked which of the others was the closest. He then decided to call a Nashville E'prise location, and the person there told the Firestone guy to send him the bill and said they would handle it from there. I sat with Mr. and Mrs. W for about half an hour or so while we waited for the tire to be patched. When it was done, I signed a work order for them, asked if I needed to do anything when I turned the car in, and was told that I didn't.

I drove down to Huntsville without any trouble at all. The tire pressure light was off and remained off through the trip. The car handled well in the intermittent rain and at interstate speeds.

Today, I turned in the car. (Edit: I decided to add a few more details here. I noticed on the contract that no notation had been made about my calling about the tire pressure light or the flat tire. Nothing was mentioned about seeing a note in the computer, either. I didn't say anything about the tire. However, I stupidly pointed out a chip/star in the windshield that I had just noticed on Monday. It may or may not have happened during my trip; I can't say for sure. However, if I hadn't mentioned it, the E'prise rep would not have noticed. And what did I get as thanks? A $40 "miscellaneous charge" on my rental contract and the assurance that if the windshield breaks after they try to repair it, my place of work will get the bill. Today's to-do list includes composing an email recounting all of these stories to various members of our administration.)

I was relieved to be done with that little adventure and hope I never have to rent from Enterprise again.

(Edit: I decided to specify that the renting office was on Riverside Drive in Macon, Georgia, after telling co-workers about my problems. Two of them told me they had stopped using that branch because of all the difficulties they had encountered. Apparently other branches in Macon are not as bad. Still, if I have the option, I will not use Enterprise at all in the future.)


Bubba said...

Holy. Carp.

As someone that used to rent a lot of cars, that was just unacceptable. I would have told them to come get the car, and rent from someone else. Avis was always good to me.

Laura said...

Enterprise called while ago to find out where to send the bill (if there is one) for the windshield star. I told the lady who called about the $40 fee, and she's going to make a note about it (she said). Sigh.

Ginger Brown said...

Oh, good grief. Their slogan should be "Enterprise: we'll pick you up...but then you're on your own."

Ginger Brown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jason Fowler said...

That was rough. I don't blame you for not using them again, and I think I would make sure the powers that be at Mercer were aware of the situation. If they do that to you, they'll do it to the president.

To be honest, I've never had a problem with Enterprise and I've used them many times. I've gotten to where I prefer Avis, though. I've just had a better experience with them.

Laura said...

Yes, I'm planning to let the appropriate folks on campus know about it.