What’s it like on the other side of the car rental counter? The answer may surprise you. I’ve been corresponding with a former car rental employee, and he’s shared some remarkable insights into the business that might help you make a more informed decision the next time you rent a car.
The first thing you need to understand, he says, is that agency employees aren’t in the customer service business. They’re salespeople.
I’m judged almost solely on a number. It’s determined by the number of times I sell our products per given opportunity.
Every customer who walks up is an opportunity to sell a number of different services. For me, I can sell the damage waiver — that’s the most popular — liability insurance, personal accident and effects coverage, and the pre-pay fuel option.
Upon returning a customer’s vehicle, I can charge a fee if the tank is not filled up to the level it was rented at. For customers who have reservations, I can upgrade them to a better vehicle. That’s six different opportunities to sell to each customer.
As a car rental employee, your goal is to sell “every one of these products to every customer,” he adds. And if he can’t? Then that all-important number by which every car rental employee is judged is lowered.
So even though you may sell, for instance, the liability insurance, you have failed to sell four to five other services and thus your number will be docked. This number is very important because we get paid a commission on it according to a pay scale and the dollar amount we’ve brought in each month and quarter.
There is a floor and ceiling to this pay scale. If your number is below a certain level you aren’t eligible for a commission.
If our numbers remain consistently high, we can be considered for promotion. If our numbers are low, we hear about it from umpteen different managers in e-mails, by phone, and in person.
The numbers game is played at the highest level. Managers are judged based on their location’s cumulative number — an aggregate of all employee numbers — so they’re likely to encourage more aggressive sales strategies.
“I saw all kinds of tactics to increase these numbers,” he says. “Some higher managers turned a blind eye to questionable and unethical methods.”
How does this affect you?
Keep in mind that you’re dealing with overworked, stressed-out employees from the moment you walk up to the counter to the moment you return your vehicle. At one point, this ex-employee was working 12-hour shifts without a break. Also, remember that they see dollar signs the moment you walk through the door. So they will do anything in their power to sell you insurance, a fuel purchase option or an upgrade.
How to get around this racket? Here are six tips from my insider.
1. Always inspect the car you are renting with an employee before signing anything. Car rental offices should have a vehicle inspection form that’s signed by you before the car leaves the lot. This limits the possibility that you’ll get blamed for damage that you didn’t cause. “Unfortunately, from my experience, many customers were blamed for damage they did not cause,” he says. “As a tired and busy employee, the last thing I want to do is walk around the car with you and make notations about the small scratches on the rear bumper. I could care less. But you should be adamant that this is done before you sign for anything.”