Actually talk to your customers, and they’ll come back

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If you were starting a business today, would you avoid talking to your customers? Yet that’s exactly what many businesses are doing today by choosing not to engage on Twitter or Facebook. Social media is a valuable channel that can improve (and save) a customer relationship. It’s also often the best way to reach a person who can help when you have a question.

I rented a car this week and found that the car rental agency (Dollar) charged a per-day fee for my wife to drive the car. Although I don’t agree with charging a fee for this service (it seems like highway robbery, especially when the driver in question shares my insurance policy), it would have been ok to pay a nominal fee rather than a per-day fee. So I expressed my opinion at the rental desk and got the curt reply: “Sorry, Sir, we can’t change this and it’s our policy.” After standing in line for 45 minutes to get a car at the Philadelphia Airport, I didn’t have much energy to disagree.

You’ve got to hand it to Dollar – their answer was consistent when I emailed them and also called their customer service staff: “Sorry, Sir, we can’t change the policy and you agreed to it. And other car companies charge this fee as well.” So I Googled “spouse extra driver rental car fee” and found that Avis, Budget, and National (with an Emerald Frequent Driver plan) waive this fee, and that California doesn’t allow the fee at all. Now I was determined to share my opinion and just find someone who would acknowledge the issue and try to help.

The answer? Twitter, of course. I looked at @DollarCars and wasn’t sure that they responded to customers with issues (there were some marketing messages there, but not many responses directly to customers.)  And then I found that Thrifty (Dollar’s parent) was more active at @ThriftyCars. The initial response to my question was tepid:

I explained that Avis, Budget, and National had different policies, and got a different response the next morning. Yay!

Thanks, Thrifty, for saving a customer. Why don’t more businesses use Twitter as an initial triage and inbound customer channel? It’s efficient, friendly, and it’s the way more and more people are asking questions these days.

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