Tuesday, March 04, 2008

National Car Collides With Common Sense Trying To Improve Customer Service

Marketing Folly: First Rule of Conducting A Survey is Know What You're Doing Before You Ask Questions. Are You Listening, Synovate?

For both business and pleasure, I've rented cars from National many times without incident thanks to membership in their Emerald Club, which allows me to bypass the counter and pick my own car in most locations.
A seamless car-rental process is far from a sure thing, and as corporate travel tightens and leisure trips may slacken due to a recession, it behooves a company to know its customers' likes and dislikes.
So, a survey of the vox populi could certainly prove helpful. So can hiring the likes of Synovate, a leading market-research firm, to conduct the survey and parse the numbers. But even supposed experts like Synovate can show they're seriously lacking a clue, and wasting National's money in the process.
Last week I received an invitation to complete a survey "evaluating the car rental process." I was favorably predisposed to take part until I got to the part about it taking "approximately 40 minutes to complete."
I never clicked on the link to see whether they were joking, but surely they do indeed jest. What chucklehead at Synovate reasonably expects business travelers, National's bread-and-butter, to take that much time from already-crammed schedules to answer a survey without any incentive?
Other online surveys I've been asked to fill out -- and which take 5-10 minutes tops -- often provide entry into a contest for iPods, gift certificates, plane tickets and the like. It's a small but significant carrot to get you to carve out a few minutes.
But 40 minutes? Now you're getting into focus-group territory, where market researchers dole out more than a few pennies for your thoughts.
Anyone who has the time and inclination to fill out the National survey could hardly be construed as a representative customer, given the company's emphasis on the corporate traveler (leaving the leisure driver to its sibling Alamo).
If you want my time, you need to do more than simply say "thank you." Offer up a little something extra and maybe you'll get my attention, not to mention those whose opinions really matter to National.

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