Prologue: Before I “put Avis on blast,” I want to ensure you, dear reader, that this is not a diatribe against Avis itself. This is an article about poor service experiences. Avis, and I’m sure most of the major rental car companies exist at a scale where providing consistency is difficult, but possible. And Avis, if you’re looking for some help with this… I know a guy who wants to help.

Consistency of experience is key, whether you’re talking about the web, a mobile app, on the phone, or in person. Without it, a customer doesn’t know which version of “the service” to expect, which, depending on the severity of the difference, can be jarring. Most of the time, the effects are pretty benign. For example:

Let’s say you want to extend a rental car through Avis. Their current Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) maintains that:

  • When working with the automated system, extension of a rental agreement DOES NOT require confirmation of the original form of payment during the process.
  • When working with a customer service representative, extension of a rental agreement DOES require confirmation of the original form of payment during the process.

Since I recently had this experience myself, I can tell you the people I spoke to at Avis told me they would “take my feedback about consistency seriously.” which is PR double-speak for, “we don’t really care that much, but if it gets you off our back, we’ll tell you we do.” I’m sure anyone who has paid attention to the flak airlines have gotten from their monotone “we take your feedback seriously” response is not surprised to find a similar lack of connection with rental car companies.

Modify a reservation? Good luck with that.

Modify a reservation? Good luck with that.

My experience went beyond simply trying to extend my reservation via phone, of course. I started out once on their website, and once on their mobile app. I attempted to use their online automated systems. Unfortunately they routed me to their customer service phone system. Once I got there, I once managed to *almost* finish my transaction via the automated system. Two other times I had a “dropped call,” and finally, managed to 1) get Avis to do the job I was asking them to do, and 2) speak to someone at their corporate office about my experience.

It’s ironic, right? A “Standard” operating procedure leads to an inconsistent service experience. One would think that an operating procedure that was truly “standard” would check the same boxes, in the same order, no matter what. This dissonance between “standard” and “consistent” is frustrating for me as a designer, and also frustrating as a potential customer. I’m sure for those experiencing this without applying the lens of designer are even more frustrated than I was.

And the thing is: this is just one part of the Avis system. Doubtless, other inconsistencies exist, and without fail, those inconsistencies will lead to frustrated customers, a loss of revenue, and direct feedback from people who know what they’re talking about. It may also lead to a loss of customers. Which brings me to another principle of good design: treat your customers like people, not like numbers.

Let me close with some actionable steps you can take to eliminate these kinds of inconsistencies in your services:

  • Ensure your customer steps through your process the same way, no matter what device or medium they are using to reach you.

  • Understand how third-party channels (social media, etc.) lead people to enter your process.

  • Treat people like people, not like a walking sale. When you approach them in this manner, you will be much more likely to convert them to a customer.

  • If you have a “standard operating procedure” make sure it’s consistent.

About the author:

Ethan Bagley is a service designer, facilitator, philosopher, and many other things. He lives in the greater Los Angeles area with his wife and dog, and travels the world solving problems as a part of EB Advising. When he’s not creating solutions, he’s volunteering with Hack for LA, Atheists United, and other mission-driven organizations.