Customer Development, Customer Service, Generous, Marketing Strategy

Avis Delivers the Awesome (or how I got to drive the Kia Hamster Car)

A Very Flat Tire

What would you do?

You’re on your way to a meeting with a VP about an important topic. You hear a funny noise from your rental care that doesn’t sound like the window is open – actually, you’ve got a flat. No big deal, right? Wrong – you’ve got three other meetings and a trip later in the afternoon 30 miles away – and no time to fix it. You’ve also got to deal with a rental car you don’t know and a corporate rental car company you might not like. This is a story of what happened to me last Thursday in Waterloo, Canada, and it was almost a disaster.

Not Quite A Disaster, But Too Close For Comfort

I was going to title this blog post “A Story of How Avis Hates Flat Tires” or perhaps a snarky observation like “Roadside Assistance Means: Fix Your Own Damn Tire” but instead it’s an important reminder of that normal people doing their normal jobs in an extraordinary way can really deliver the awesome – and by that I mean create a story that I can’t help myself to share (I think I’ve told it about 15 times already.)

The Cast of Characters

The story requires a cast, so here they are:

  • Me: Greg Meyer (Demo Monkey) Customer Experience Manager for Gist, in town to meet new friends at Research In Motion, which bought Gist in Feb 2011.
  • Avis: a large multinational car rental company.
  • Lauren B.: an able receptionist at RIM.
  • Waterloo Taxi: the local cab company
  • Jeff Strater: Community Relations guy for RIM, who helped me get back to my car after we had a great lunch
  • Chris Murphy: Sales Manager at Avis Waterloo
(Apparently, it takes a village to build great customer service.)
We Try Harder (says the slogan)

So, why does this matter?

I was in an uncomfortable situation in a strange town, and Lauren completely made me feel at ease by greeting me warmly and – upon hearing that I had a flat tire – offered politely and persistently to resolve the issue with Avis by calling Roadside Assistance. This was great and helped me to focus on my meeting. I also want to share that Lauren’s action made me feel like a Rock Star. She also promptly emailed me to tell me she was going to deal with the problem. Great!

So you can imagine my surprise when I came back to reception to go to my next meeting (Lauren had already ordered me a taxi to ensure that I could keep my schedule) that she related that Avis Roadside Assistance had asked the customer … to fix my own tire. While steam was coming out of my ears Laurent continued to tell me that the agent had informed her that this car was a brand new model requiring a easy procedure – fill the hole in the tire by using a spray aerosol and then to use the included battery-powered tire inflator supplied in the trunk. But I didn’t want to do that.

I give up

Important: break for lunch

I left for my next meeting less angry, but befuddled as to what I would do. After that meeting and on to the next one – an excellent lunch with Jeff Strater at the Wildcraft Grill in Waterloo (who knew you could get 4 star quality food in Waterloo?) I got another email from Lauren.

Lauren's Email

I was amazed. Not only had Lauren taken it upon herself to be righteously indignant on my behalf in a truly “Canadian” way – I don’t usually think of being able to say that I had a “less than satisfactory experience” when I want to smash things like a gamma-radiation triggered Bruce Banner. And I now had the name of an Avis employee I could contact later that afternoon.

Lauren impressed me at this point because she used common sense to discover the next step even when there was no policy. She could have stopped at calling Roadside Assistance. She could have stopped at calling Waterloo Taxi. But she didn’t stop. She really cared about helping to make my day awesome.

Jeff Offers To Help, and So Does Someone Else.

Jeff and I looked at each other upon my receiving the email, and I’ll admit I had some doubt as to whether Chris Murphy would do anything to solve the problem quickly, or whether he would even contact me until I contacted him later that afternoon.

The next thing I know, I get an email from Chris:

Chris Offers To Help

Expectation shattered: awesome! He asked for help and I told him that an upgrade would be Epic, but that I would be satisfied if he simply came out and fixed my tire. Immediate benefit – my lunch tasted better, my conversation with Jeff got better, and then … wait. Chris asked me whether the care was driveable. I was afraid he was going to solve my problem only if I could figure out how to fix the flat myself and drive it over to an unfamiliar lot somewhere.

The Turning Point

“It’s driveable, only if you want me to ruin a rim” were my hasty words back (I realize now that I could have formed this response more carefully – sorry Chris – I responded without thinking or maybe it was my 4th cup of coffee talking.) Then Chris agreed to meet me at 1:30 back at the building where the car was stranded.

Jeff drives me back over to my building and I’m able to tell Lauren about how wonderful Chris’s help has made me feel and that she is awesome. Modestly, she just says: “I’m doing my job.” But what she doesn’t realize is that she is doing her job AWESOMELY.

This is Chris

Chris Murphy, Avis Sales Manager, Waterloo, CN

Chris Murphy shows! And brings a Kia Soul – which is totally off the hook for a completely random reason – in the Gist marketing lair, the Kia commercials with the giant hamsters provide endless amusement.

So Chris is here, he has a new care for me, and can go meet my new friends in Waterloo and Brantford at Tweetstock 5 (I had met them the night before at Ignite Waterloo, was totally impressed and then ended up going to two nights in a row.)

Awesome! Thank you Lauren and Chris for helping when you didn’t have to help on Thursday and for totally making my day.

But wait – there is a footnote. Chris and I walked to the care, and we chatted over small talk about the NHL (I’m a hockey geek in a city without an NHL team, and my team the Flyers were unceremoniously booted from the playoffs (despite the fact that this seemed to be their year!)

Chris’s dad is Ken Murphy – former AHL player who ended his career in Philadelphia playing for the Philadelphia Firebirds (a farm team). Chris is a guy who knows my childhood idols like Bobby Clarke and Dave Schultz. Cool.

Chris asks me for the key to look in the trunk for the spare and I start to say “no, no that model, Roadside Assistance says …” and then words are coming out of my mouth when Chris opens the trunk and … WE SEE THE SPARE.

A spare, all along.

Hooboy. Roadside Assistance had never asked us to open the trunk.

The Moral of the Story


Delivering the Awesome = Soul. Lauren and Chris both used common sense and checklists, empathy and compassion to do their jobs. When faced with a problem, they identified and prioritized logical next steps, and then did it. We need more people who own their freedom and take the responsibility and accountability inherent in acting. And because these two people cared about me as a customer and as a person, I had a great day that I will never forget.

The Black Sheep write in the song “The Choice is Yours” featured in the cute hamster commercial for the Kia Soul that “you can roll with this, or you can roll with that.” I know I don’t want ordinary, or even poor customer service (besides, it’s easy to get bad customer service – the bar is low.) I want awesome customer service.

So thank you Lauren, Chris, and your bosses. Thank you Waterloo Taxi. Thank you Sometimes-Taxi Driver and Co-worker Jeff Strater for indulging me while I teetered between plotting a massive Avis #fail campaign and surprised gratitude at the generosity I’d been given. You all helped me take my day from 0 to awesome. And you didn’t have to do it. You did it because you do your everyday jobs extraordinarily well. That’s what I call Delivering The Awesome.