OK, sports fans, I did an epic takedown of Dollar Rent-a-Car a few years ago that earned many readers, and amazingly, still does (I think it's spamers.) Dollar was horrible. http://buddshenkin.blogspot.com/2016/06/dollar-rent-car-sucks.html?showComment=1569320703244#c2137561876380058350
But now 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?
Our 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!
I found 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?
“Good enough,” I said, “thanks.”
“You want to pay for your gas here? $42 and return it empty.”
“Nah – I'll bring it back full.” Of course. Everyone knows that's a ripoff, just like the extra insurance.
“We 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 you.”
“I like this guy here,” I said, indicating the dude who had greeted me first as I walked in through the lot.
“Great! Show him to his car!”
I had contracted for a standard car, but that didn't matter to the dude.
“Which car you want?” he said. “How about this pickup? This is great for getting girls! They love this!”
I believe he was referring to what we called in high school a “pussy wagon.”
“Nah,” I said, “I'm past that!”
“No, man, you never past that!”
“I'm here for my high school reunion,” I told him.
“No, man, that's not possible! I figured you for maybe your twentieth!”
Pretty 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, twentieth?
He continued: “I thought you were a young guy.”
“I am a young guy!”
Where's that mirror?
We walked a little farther down the lot.
“How about this one?” he said. It was a shiny new red Nissan Rogue SUV.
And it 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.
Then I 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 going?”
I told her, “Getting this car has been such a pleasure! You are all so nice!”
And 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.
It was 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 happy.
And so 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.”
I told 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!
And 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 it.
So what 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 way.
So, why 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 me happy.
And now 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.
Finally, 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 innovation.
Now with Alamo, we have cars well prepared and ready to go, big time choice, and friendly people with pride and professionalism.
So what 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.
Viva competition! And viva the people who are doing the right thing at Alamo.