I landed recently at San Diego airport and went to pick up my rental car. The first woman who checked me in issued a delightful welcome and checked all of my contact info very carefully. The second woman gave me a big welcome and let me know where my place in line was. The third man shook my hand, introduced himself, and set me up with my car. And the fourth man went out of his way to make sure I was happy with the service I had received. All four people had every intention of providing great service, and they were truly trying to do so. They were all extremely friendly, smiley, and over-the-top in their effort to make my experience as good as it could be.

But, here is the problem. The company completely missed the point of what I (and, I suspect, most customers) really wanted.

I wasn't there to hang out in an airport garage or to make friends with a bunch of rental car agents. I wanted to get my car as quickly as possible so I could leave the airport and get on with enjoying my short time in the beautiful San Diego area. Here is the rest of the story...

When I walked into the check-in area, I was dismayed to see a line of fifteen customers in front of me and only two agents on duty. My dread abated when I saw the four self-service kiosks that were not being used, but the relief was short-lived when I realized they were all out of service. So, I waited my time and finally got to the first delightful agent. She asked me a bunch of questions that were already on my reservation (address, phone number, email address). When she finished, she directed me to the upper level to get my car. The "up" escalator was out of service, so I had to carry my heavy bag up the steps. I found it frustrating that they had the other escalator still working in the "down" direction. As I walked to the next area and was greeted by the next high-energy agent, I was told I was going to have to wait again for a different agent to walk me to my car. I have rented cars literally hundreds of times with other companies, and I have never had to wait to be walked to my car. When the third person finally came to get me, he extended his hand and stated it was nice to meet me. I didn't want to meet him; I just wanted my car. He was super nice in showing me how to open the fuel door, etc., but I wanted him to give me the key. He made sure to instruct me to tell the next agent at the exit gate that "Mark had helped me" (name changed to protect the well-intentioned).

Everybody was so nice and was trying so hard to make the experience good for me that I felt bad their company had stuck them with such an inefficient process.

All of the well-intentioned service would have been the whipped cream and cherry on top if the basic expectation, quick delivery of my rental car, had been delivered. But the whipped cream and cherry with no actual dessert was more frustrating than just having no dessert. What a squandered opportunity to have so many people working so inefficiently.

The experience ended in a fitting way. I got to the exit and the fourth agent asked me, with genuine caring, how I felt about the service I had received. I said that it was actually pretty slow. He looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. He said, "I'm sorry about that, but when you got to Mark, was the service good?" Resigned to the reality that he was simply following the company process, I dryly said, "Mark was fine." The agent said, "Great", he checked off a box on his iPad, and he raised the gate for me.

So nobody in the corporate office will learn about reality, and they will all continue to believe their process and their priorities are working to deliver a great customer experience.


Jon Dario

In his role as an executive at Edison Properties, Jon is responsible for operations at Manhattan Mini Storage, the leading self storage company in New York City. In addition, he runs his own consulting business, The Retail Management Formula, LLC, a company dedicated to helping managers become more effective leaders. Jon has over thirty years of leadership experience in all types of retail businesses, including traditional retail, financial services retail, and retail self-storage. He is the author of three books on management skills, and he has produced multiple online training videos on the subjects of management and leadership. Jon currently serves as the chairman of the New York Self Storage Association, serves on the board for the national Self Storage Association Large Owners’ Council, and serves as a member of the faculty for the Self Storage Association Valuation & Acquisition course.