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Customers are (largely) all smiles about car rental experiences

November 08, 2012|By Catharine M. Hamm | Los Angeles Times Travel editor
  • One of the easiest ways to influence customer satisfaction is with a smile, according to a J.D. Power & Associates study.
One of the easiest ways to influence customer satisfaction is with a smile,… (Richard Derk / Los Angeles…)

You’re happier with your rental car experience.

That’s according to the results of a J.D. Power & Associates study released today.  It showed that on a 1,000-point scale, overall satisfaction was 769, based on costs and fees; pick-up process; return process; rental car; shuttle bus/van; and reservation process. That's up from 758 in the 2011 study.

If you’re a leisure traveler, you’re especially enamored of Enterprise, National and Alamo, who placed one, two and three. Avis and Hertz tied for fourth. On a 1,000-point scale, these companies scored 810, 797, 779 and 775, respectively.

“I think they’ve [rental car companies] done the best job, between hotels and airlines, catching up and coming out of the [economic] downturn,” said  Stuart Greif, vice president and general manager for global travel and hospitality at J.D. Power, which is based in Westlake Village. “I think they know what dials they turned down during the downturn.”

Is there room for improvement? Of course, and Greif said there is at least one area in which the companies need spend little money to improve: smiling at the customer.

If you have a rotten encounter with a rental car employee, your satisfaction is lower, the study showed: If you got a smile at pick-up, the satisfaction score was 795. If you didn’t, it dropped to 647.

But, Greif notes, the smile has to be genuine. “We can tell a fake smile versus a real one,” Greif said. “Do you really feel appreciated and thanked for your business?”

Among areas in which companies can improve: making sure their cars offer hands-free pairing of phones  and hookup for MP3 players. Also, 16% of leisure travelers reported a problem with their rental car, including nearly a fifth who had  a problem with pick-up and 13% with billing.

The study, done October 2011 until August of this year, is based on results from 12,100 responses.

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