Great service from the bottom to the top
By Sak Gill, Assistant Vice President, Enterprise Rent-A-Car
Great customer service means different things to different people. And as the world becomes increasingly automated with new channels of communications, it’s increasingly complex to deliver excellent service to everyone all the time.
One set of customers might want a fast, highly efficient transaction with little or no human contact, perhaps done entirely online. Meanwhile others might want someone to hold their hand and walk them through the process, answering their questions with tact and patience.
Dealing with vehicle hire, we certainly run into both: the regular business traveller who just wants to grab the keys and drive away, and the first-time renter who needs everything explained in detail at the counter. Offering cars, vans and trucks to both business and consumer customers – across multiple countries – means always understanding what those disparate groups think of as ‘great service’ as well.
There’s no question that developing technology platforms that meet the requirements of a digitally sophisticated customer base is essential. And embedding customer service into marketing is also highly effective. For example, we operate a three brand strategy – Enterprise, National and Alamo – that enables us to tailor different products and types of service to customers looking for different types of rental experience.
However, underlying this there has to be a team of people committed to customer service. Building an organisation that can offer exceptional service to every customer, both face-to-face and through technology, involves creating a culture where every employee, from new trainee to board director, puts the concept of service first.
When we began to expand rapidly in the 1990s, we realised that to ensure service was paramount it had to be embedded at every rung on the corporate ladder and into the company culture. We needed to reward service as well as growth. We identified the need to measure our service constantly and introduced a bespoke measure called the Service Quality Index (SQi), where an independent company measures what percentage of our customers are completely satisfied (not just ‘satisfied’) with us after a rental. This provides a score not just for the business or a region, but right down to every single branch in our network.
Our research has shown that those who ‘tick the top box’ are the loyal people who are three times more likely to use Enterprise again, so we know that offering exceptional service impacts our bottom line. It’s even been cited by Fred Reichheld, inventor of the Net Promoter Score, as one of his primary inspirations.
With a decentralised business model, everyone from branch manager upwards has their own SQi score. I have mine for the UK and Ireland. Our CEO and COO both have a score. It’s how we measure our value and our contribution to the business.
This allowed the decision to be taken to make managers accountable for their customer service, and SQi is now the main gauge we use for advancement. Yes, being profitable is important, but if your service scores aren’t at least at the company average, you simply aren’t eligible for promotion at Enterprise.
In markets like the UK and US, where Enterprise owns the branches and business corporately, that culture of service is reinforced by promoting almost entirely from within. I started as a management trainee in a branch, washing and delivering cars, as did our Senior VP for Europe, our current global CEO and the members of our founder’s family. And like everyone else who’s risen to a senior position, I was only able to do so because my SQi scores made the grade.
Most importantly, that means every senior person at Enterprise only got to his or her position because they consistently offered better customer service than their peers. And it’s no surprise that the people at the top only got there because they know what great service entails, and those same sensibilities continue to resonate throughout the organisation.
For those trainees and graduates joining the business, the importance of SQi is hammered home from day one. After all, it’s how they progress. A large part of their training in those early weeks is taken up with what we term the ‘Cycle of Service’ – everything from the value of shaking customers’ hands and making them feel welcome to the importance of asking people post-rental if there’s anything we could have done to make the experience even better.
And it’s not just a theoretical exercise. They see their managers going out of their way to help customers, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because those managers’ own advancement depends on it. They begin to understand why service matters and what they can do to go above and beyond. Those who really grasp the concept get promoted faster and more often, but even then they still see their new, more senior bosses trying to provide excellent service every day.
With everyone focused on customer service, even more than profitability, an organisation has no choice but to reflect that emphasis in its culture.
Of course we have to adapt and introduce new ways to respond to customers. Who’d have thought ten years ago that customers would use 140-character microblogs as a method for post-purchase communications with retailers and brands? So like many businesses we now have a team dedicated to this type of response, 24/7.
We’ve built Enterprise on the belief that a culture of great service comes from embedding it into every rung of the organisation from top to bottom. It has to be measured, the business has to act on what it uncovers and employees need to be incentivised to go that extra mile. Focusing employees on serving people rather than making profits actually achieves both in the end.