On December 21 I headed off on a Christmas trip to Scotland with my in-laws and sister-in-law; my wife was on a separate flight. To cut a long story short, because of the bad weather, delays, lost baggage and a flight diversion from Aberdeen to Edinburgh, we eventually got off the bus at Aberdeen Airport 24 hours later. Frazzled, tired and totally spent.
Last item on the momentous trip: collect a car from Europcar. So, the desk is short staffed, and I get a long story about an employee not turning up for work. Europcar, first mistake. That is not my problem, and I do not want to know what goes on behind the scenes at your company. You have my money, please give me a smile and provide the car. Thank you.
Thus, because of the lack of staff, there is no one to meet us in the rental car park to show us where our car is. My father-in-law and I hunt around in the dark, scraping the snow off cars so we can spot the licence plate and identify our car. Twenty minutes later of stumbling around and ... there it is! No ice scraper or defroster provided -- why would we need that in a Scottish winter, Europcar? Silly me! I wait another 20 minutes for the heater to melt the ice off the windscreen, collect the rest of my family and off we jolly well go.
For the next few days, I realize that the car is not safe = it does not grip the road, we slide around the country lanes and the windscreen washer does not work properly. Time to take it back and request a safer car. Off we trot back to Aberdeen Airport.
Now, I am not silly. I have rented cars before and I KNOW that you have to return it with a full tank of fuel. I ask the lady at the counter: “So, do you need me to fill up the tank?” Reply: “No, that’s not necessary.”
I check a second time; they have my credit card and I do not want to be dinged once I get back to Canada. “Are you sure that I shouldn’t fill it before I exchange it?” Reply: “No, it should be OK.”
Last check. “Are you sure that I don’t have to fill it before I return it?” Reply: “No, it’s OK.”
Three times. Great. I’m covered. They feel bad, and in the spirit of good customer service, Europcar is writing off the half tank of fuel for my trouble. The world is good again.
At the end of the trip, I return the second car -- with a full tank of fuel -- and head home.
You know what’s coming, dear reader. Credit card bill comes in. What’s that extra charge I spy? Oh, it’s 48 pounds (around $82.) FOR FUEL! FOR HALF A TANK?
So, I phone the Europcar customer service department, and are told that the extortionate rate is part fuel cost, and part fees for making an employee go to the trouble of filling up the tank. There is a fuel station exactly 60 seconds’ drive from Aberdeen Airport. There is no justification for bumping up the cost of the fuel in the first place, and then overcharging me for a Europcar employee to drive one minute up the road to fill up.
So, I get an e-mail reply on January 14 from Europcar to my complaint. Read this part: Some of our branches have private refuelling facilities and, unfortunately, Petrol Company’s [note to Europcar, please make sure your customer service reps can spell, looks more professional] charge relatively more to fill small storage tanks. Alternatively, where we do not have private refuelling facilities, an agent of ours has to take the vehicle to be refilled at the nearest filling station [which is one minute away, what a chore]. In both instances, and in order for us to cover our staffing, administrative and investment costs [what investment costs?], a refuelling service fee is added to the cost of the fuel itself, and forms part of the refuelling charge.
Regarding the weather and the Snow conditions [snow doesn’t have a capital ‘s’ last time I checked, Europcar], we advise that the driver should take care when driving in such conditions and adhere to weather warnings and road conditions. [Gee, thanks for the condescending advice, Europcar! I’ve only bloody been driving for 23 years in all conditions! I’ll make sure to slow down when I have my family in the car around the wintry Scottish lanes!!]
Guess what? I am not happy with that response, so I send an e-mail back on January 17 asking for the contact details of Europcar’s head office so I can pursue the matter further. No reply.
Time to track down a real human and try my luck. The lucky winner is Karin Weibel, listed on the website as Europcar International – Corporate Communications. Surely she understands about making sure the company’s brand is protected, might help out a customer who is very frustrated with the service he’s getting ... at least, gulp, REPLY to the e-mail I send her on January 18? Nope. Tumbleweeds blowing in the wind.
So, in the meantime, I’m trying to get some help via social media channels; maybe someone from Europcar is listening to their customers there?
Here’s my first request via Twitter. Second request. Third request.
So, it’s now January 26, exactly 12 days after this sorry saga started. Obviously I am resigned to not getting a reply -- let alone $82 -- back that I feel is an unjust charge on their behalf. This is not about the money; it’s about a very large company that, after five attempts to get some sort of reply, is still silent.
Well, Europcar, I hope that $82 gets you some satisfaction. As much as writing this very public blog post got me.
Oh, and by the way, it took me an hour to compose this, so you owe me $100 for my PR services.
Update: February 5, 2010
Still no response, so mailed a copy of this post to the CEO.
Update: April 3, 2010
I found the e-mail address of Mark Cotterill, UK Managing Director, so just sent an e-mail, and a link to this blog post, inviting him to explain how he plans to repair his company's customer service.
Update: April 8, 2010
Dawn Sharpe, Quality and Client Liaison Manager, Europcar UK Group, e-mailed me with an apology and an offer to refund my money for the fuel.
So, I'm obviously happy with that result ... but a bit disappointed it took three months and a blog post to get a response. Is this a social media customer service case study? You decide.