At Enterprise Rent-A-Car, COLLOQUY’s Customer Diva experiences the next generation of mutual customer and employee satisfaction…
It’s easy to bandy about such facile clichés as “We invest in our employees” and “The front-line is our key to success.” But those clichés are rarely translated into front-line experiences tangibly different to the typical consumer. My recent rental experience with Enterprise Rent-A-Car transcended simple good service and accomplished that difficult translation. The difference in their front-line culture was palpable. As I reflected on my experience, and as Iater spoke to the Enterprise corporate team, I was able to clearly see how those service distinctions result from an orchestrated customer experience strategy. Here’s one Customer Diva’s story.
Denver, Part I. Just having a car would have been good enough. Because of a short-notice meeting, I found myself at a Denver hotel needing a rental car reservation. That day, the companies I typically frequent had no stock. Neither did any of the others I tried—until I called Enterprise, which I’d never used before.
Alan, the branch manager, arranged for Enterprise to pick me up and drive me to the rental location. We exchanged cell numbers and physical descriptions so we could identify each other in the hotel lobby. Alan subsequently called twice more to advise me on the timing of my car’s availability. The loyalty professional in me was impressed. I began to wonder how Enterprise attracts such good employees.
In the scramble to compete in a crowded field, every company is trying to find a way to stand out. Exemplary, memorable service is one of those means. Powerful in its directness and immediacy, such service is dialogue marketing in its purest form—dialogue among human beings, with the advantage of instantaneous, personalized reaction.
“The bottom line,” Marie Artim, Enterprise’s Assistant Vice President Recruiting, tells me, “is that Enterprise Rent-A-Car knows that a business can’t succeed without good employees. We look for people with a customer-service attitude and the ability to think on their feet. That means seeking goal-oriented, highly social, self-motivated individuals with flexibility, work ethic, and leadership and communication skills.”
What’s more, Enterprise seeks another significant quality, both in preparing employees for excellence and adopting an element of the social climate into the corporate culture. “We look for people who want ongoing training,” Artim says. “We recognize that this generation not only expects, but also thrives in, an environment where they’re constantly learning and receiving feedback. So we have focused a lot of our efforts on providing those elements.”
Denver, Part II: When Alan and I arrived at the Enterprise location, I was startled to find the experience worlds apart from my previous rental-car transactions with a front-line behind-the-counter associate in a typical service environment. I felt like I was walking into the office of a colleague, not a vendor. Confirming that feeling was the apparent camaraderie of the associates working at the location, camaraderie that was clearly extended to include me. Every employee greeted me not with “Hello,” but with “Hello Kelly,” acknowledging that they were expecting me specifically.
The professional office atmosphere is hardly an accident. “Much of the success can be attributed to Enterprise hiring college graduates for its management training program, so new hires come in prepared and ready for a career,” says Artim. Training is goal-oriented, not just task-oriented. “We teach employees how to run their own businesses. In fact, the Enterprise program has been compared to an MBA crash course, and every employee who serves customers at the front counter is learning the ins and outs of the business world, including managing profit-and-loss statements, controlling expenses and implementing a comprehensive business plan.”
Enterprise strongly believes in a promote-from-within policy. After an individual starts as a management trainee, they are afforded the opportunity to advance fairly quickly.
“Most management trainees are eligible for promotion after just seven to nine months,” says Artim, “and many new hires can expect to manage a rental-car branch in as little as two years.” Employees are given many opportunities at each level of promotion to take on more responsibility and learn more about how to run their business.”
They also learn how to please Enterprise customers. Because of the sense of ownership invested in the staff, in a broad sense every Enterprise front-line employee is a small-business owner.
“Personalized service is universal throughout Enterprise,” Artim tells me. “Individual operations may adopt various techniques to achieve this personalization based on the market and customer base. The customized nature of our service is part of the culture.”
Flexibility and employees’ ability to manage their own customer-service efforts as part of learning to run their own businesses are tools for achieving both employee and customer satisfaction. Says Artim: “We want to ensure that our people are provided with all the resources and support they need to build successful, satisfying and fulfilling careers.”
Denver, Part III: With the paperwork squared away, Alan walked me out to my rental to make sure I was comfortable with it.
Some weeks later, after I’d rented and returned an Enterprise car in a different city, I received a follow-up phone call from the associate who had handled the rental onsite. Was the car and the experience satisfactory? Did I have any suggestions for improvement?
Following the clearly different experience I had at the Enterprise office, I wondered if this follow-up call was a corporate-wide effort—or simply an inventive effort of that particular office. In fact, I later found such follow-up is a fundamental part of the Enterprise service strategy.
Making a believer out of me:
Enterprise employee recruitment uses multiple communications touch points —such as this brochure—to communicate corporate values and employee opportunities.
In sum, given my predicament in Denver, simply getting me into a car would have satisfied me. But, Alan and his crew certainly knew that they were setting the stage for the full potential of a future relationship with a harried business traveler. Such level of service wasn’t Alan’s job—it was his future. And Enterprise’s, as well. They know that orchestrated customer experience strategy begins—and ends—with their employees. Among the lessons I took away and want to share:
1. Make the “People Strategy” real. Enterprise attracts, cultivates and empowers leaders. By identifying the right profile of talent and the right temperament for success, Enterprise attracts a better breed of associate to make the difference in their business—and their service model—palpable.
2. Cultivate culture. Enterprise CEO Andy Taylor stresses, “The first thing we teach them is not how to rent a car. We start by teaching them our values. We teach them about what we’re all about … about how we value our customers.” When career advancement depends on making that culture come to life for customers, front-line experience will transcend the prose of the company’s vision statement posted on the wall.
3. Put your money—and their incentives—where such investment matters. At Enterprise, delivering flawless rental experiences builds paychecks and lays out career paths. “It’s in our Founding Values that ‘we work hard, and we play hard,'” says Marie Artim. ” Once reaching the position of assistant branch manager, employees receive a salary plus a percentage of their branch profits. As they work their way up to an area manager or other leadership positions, their profit margins increase.”
Denver in Retrospect: On subsequent rentals from Enterprise, I watched the service orchestration manifested in other locations, other Alans. This Diva’s Denver Discovery continues to be reflected in Marie Artim’s summation of our conversation. “Because our employees are rewarded for hard work and providing excellent customer service, they are rewarded with a lucrative career—so the customer ultimately benefits.”