I've just had the mirror opposite experience as I flew into
Philadelphia for my high school reunion. Alamo Rent-a-Car at the
Philadelphia airport, there must be a place in heaven for you
somewhere! Sometimes, you just don't know where your pleasure will
come from. From a rental car company? Really?
flight from SFO to PHL via Phoenix arrived near midnight, so we
bedded down at the Philly airport Marriott. It was hot and humid the
next day as we arose in the late morning, so I sweated a little as I
walked around the bend of the multitude of rental car lots to Alamo,
but the weather also made me nostalgic – ah, Philly, city of my
birth and early life! Ah, the sweat and itching skin! Home again!
the Alamo lot as advertised and walked in, encountering a dreadlocked
Black dude in his late twenties, I think, and we exchanged amiable
greetings and smalltalk as he directed me to the office. They
weren't busy, and I walked right up to the counter where a swarthy
mustachioed guy in his 30's or early 40's greeted me with a relaxed
and inquiring smile. The reservation from American Express didn't
immediately appear, no worries, oh here it is but they didn't update
it for the new arrival time but no worries. OK, it's $274 but let's
see what we can do, what's the best rate available – how's $178?
enough,” I said, “thanks.”
want to pay for your gas here? $42 and return it empty.”
– I'll bring it back full.” Of course. Everyone knows that's a
ripoff, just like the extra insurance.
aim to please,” he smiled back. “Just go out to the lot and that
guy there (another dreadlocked Black guy) will find your car for
like this guy here,” I said, indicating the dude who had greeted me
first as I walked in through the lot.
Show him to his car!”
contracted for a standard car, but that didn't matter to the dude.
car you want?” he said. “How about this pickup? This is great
for getting girls! They love this!”
believe he was referring to what we called in high school a “pussy
I said, “I'm past that!”
man, you never past that!”
here for my high school reunion,” I told him.
man, that's not possible! I figured you for maybe your twentieth!”
funny! Or maybe it sometimes takes more time to graduate than I'm
used to. But I loved it anyway, naturally. You really think so,
continued: “I thought you were a young guy.”
a young guy!”
walked a little farther down the lot.
about this one?” he said. It was a shiny new red Nissan Rogue SUV.
was. Spotless, handled great, I'm used to Nissan controls from my
Infinity. It turned out to have 25,000 miles on it, but you couldn't
tell, it could have been 2,500 from the shape of the car.
drove out and at the check out station was greeted – really greeted
– by a pretty young Black lady who made giving and receiving back
the papers a pleasure. With a big smile she said , “How's your day
her, “Getting this car has been such a pleasure! You are all so
here was the final surprise – “It's our training!” she said.
She said that making us happy came from her training. “That's what
makes us different. We really care about making you happy” she
said. Wow. Some training.
busierf a few days later when I returned the car in the afternoon. I
got the usual gesture from the traffic manager for where to line the
car up. And then, here came another young Black guy with dreadlocks,
and I was again smiled at, interacted with, asked if everything was
going well, etc. I told him that, once again, Alamo was making me
here again is where I heard the same thing – “It's our training!”
he said. He said that they are trained to be happy when the customer
is happy. And then he said, “The other companies aren't like that.
That's why we're better than they are. We care about how you are.
It's the training.”
him that I was so impressed and happy that I was going to write this
lot up – I said on Trip Advisor, but I don't think Trip Advisor
does that, so I'm settling for my blog. So this young guy said,
“Mention me! My name's Jarron.” Ok, Jarron!
then he said, “Here's my manager.” A slightly older Black guy
with a clipboard and dress shirt, clearly working assiduously and
keeping things in good working order. I complimented him and he
answered back something, I forget exactly, but it was essentially the
same – we're here sincerely trying to do a good job. As I looked
around I noticed how many employees there were working there –
Alamo is serious about doing a good job, so they are staffed up to do
struck me most was the pride all these people at Alamo had, pride in
themselves, pride in the job they were doing, and pride in the
company, which they obviously felt cared about them. I think they
also felt pride in being with a company that was trying to do things
right, to help people. They referred to their training with
reverence. Clearly, this training program must be quite
sophisticated. Pride in what you do, trust in the training, and
pride in the respect they had been accorded in the training. It
clearly is not just a “do this then do that” training, but it's
training in respect and thoughtfulness, in manner as well as
instrumentality . They are accorded respect and they give respect,
not only to the customer, but to the company that showed them the
do I mention that they were all Black, except for the intake clerk?
Should I even have noticed that and mentioned that? It did strike
me, and as I think about it, I think this is the way it's been at the
Philly airport when I've been there before. Maybe it's irrelevant.
But I'm old now, and I remember a lot of prejudice, and I remember
when everything was all white, and I remember when Black dudes were
hired but weren't trained on how to do their jobs in a professional
way. I remember the explanation for what was called Black
sullenness, failure to meet eyes and smile, and the explanation that
in the 'hood not meeting eyes and keeping to yourself is a survival
mechanism. So, remembering all that, it just makes me so happy to
see these guys, and ladies, with jobs where they are obviously
respected, where they take pride in their work, and where they relate
well to me without being subservient or fawning. It just really made
a reflection from my professional view as a health care policy
analyst. In medicine, I habitually decry large corporations as
inevitably depersonifying. That's certainly what I find in health
care. But here, with Alamo, corporate culture obviously works! They
are leveraging their size for sophisticated training and systems for
the customers' benefit. What's the difference? True competition.
To get to Alamo I had to walk past Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, Thrifty,
and a few others. The service and the product were readily
comparable, I didn't have to sign up for one service to get access to
another (in health care, that would be that you sign up for networks,
and maybe accept poor outpatient care to access a needed hospital
service.) The prices were relatively transparent. Etc. There is a
place for the free market to work, and car rentals seems to be one of
them. Health care? I'd argue that a lot of work needs to be done on
regulation to make the market work there. Find a way that Alamo-like
service leads to lower costs and higher customer satisfaction and
better income for the company, and you will be a health care savior.
as always, I like sports analogies. Years ago, I observed that Hertz
had a really good system. I got on the bus, gave my name, and the
driver knew who I was, took me straight to where my car was, my name
was up on the board with the exact location of the car, the trunk was
open ready for the bags, the keys were in the ignition, the papers in
the glove compartment, and check out was straight through. I saw no
one personally, yet I felt completely well cared for. That was great
with Alamo, we have cars well prepared and ready to go, big time
choice, and friendly people with pride and professionalism.
are the final standings? Alamo will be my go-to company from now on,
Hertz will be number two (unless the cost is very different), and
Dollar? Dollar is on my list as don't touch it with a ten foot pole.
competition! And viva the people who are doing the right thing at