Rental Car Customers Are Happier Than They've Been In Three Years

November 18, 2010

Unless you're a frequent business traveler, you may not think much about rental cars, but rental cars have a huge impact on the auto market. Fleet sales to companies like Hertz and Enterprise (as well as non-rental companies) account for around 10% of total sales, and when fleet numbers picked up steam this year, automakers breathed a tentative sigh of relief. Now comes word that rental car customers are happy, too.

J.D. Power and Associates recently conducted its 2010 North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study, and when all the data was compiled, the stat company found that customer satisfaction with rental car companies had improved for the first time in three years. Companies were ranked on a scale of 0 to 1,000, and this year's average score was 750 -- higher than 2009 (733) and 2008 (734).

J.D. Power evaluated nine major rental companies' airport outlets and scored them in six areas:

• Rental costs and fees

• The pick-up process

• The rental car itself

• The return process

• The reservation process

• The shuttle bus/van

Among the notable findings:

• Enterprise earned the highest average score, with National Car Rental and Hertz clocking in roughly 20 points lower. (No official word on who scored lowest, but it looks like Dollar and Thrifty to us.)

• The rate of "problem incidence" fell two points to 9%.

• The rough spots in the rental process seem to be vehicle pick-up and billing. No surprises there.

If you're planning to travel this holiday season -- and odds are, you are -- you might want to check the full press release below and/or peruse J.D. Power's ratings before hitting Expedia. 

* * * * *

J.D. Power and Associates Reports:
Overall Satisfaction with Rental Cars Rebounds Following Challenging Years for the Industry

Enterprise Ranks Highest in Satisfying Rental Car Customers for a Seventh Consecutive Year

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif.: 16 November 2010 — Overall customer satisfaction with rental cars has returned to pre-recession levels after declining to lower levels during the past two years, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2010 North America Rental Car Satisfaction StudySM released today.

Now in its 15th year, the study measures overall customer satisfaction with renting cars at airports by examining six factors (listed in order of importance): costs and fees; pick-up process; rental car; return process; reservation process; and shuttle bus/van.

Overall satisfaction averages 750 on a 1,000-point scale in 2010, improving from 733 in 2009 and 734 in 2008. Satisfaction with the reservation process; pick-up process; shuttle bus/van; and costs and fees have achieved three-year highs. Each of the rental car companies included in the study has improved in 2010, compared with 2009.

“Improvement in the rental car industry occurs across all aspects of the customer experience,” said Stuart Greif, vice president of the travel practice at J.D. Power and Associates. “By quickly improving their operations as the market started coming back, rental car companies started reversing the negative impact on satisfaction that cuts and deferred investments had during the downturn.  Satisfaction snapping back in 2010 is a testament to the industry doing its best to balance the tension between customer satisfaction and hard economic realities during this period.”

Enterprise ranks highest in customer satisfaction among rental car companies for a seventh consecutive year and performs particularly well in all six factors. Enterprise is followed in the rankings by National and Hertz, respectively.

Incidence of reported problems has decreased to 9 percent in 2010, compared with 11 percent in 2009. Vehicle pick-up and billing are the areas with the highest rates of reported problems.

“While it’s possible to exceed expectations when resolving a customer problem, which could elevate satisfaction levels even above those of a problem-free experience, this situation is a rare exception,” said Greif. “It’s important to note that 22 percent of problems experienced by customers go unreported, which means there was never an opportunity to resolve them. The bottom line is that prevention of problems is a far better strategy than service recovery for achieving high satisfaction levels.”

In addition to increased satisfaction with rental car companies in 2010, customer loyalty and advocacy have also improved from 2009. In 2010, one-third of business travelers and 28 percent of leisure travelers indicate they “definitely will” rent from the same brand again—marking increases of 2 percent and 5 percent, respectively, from 2009. Advocacy rates have increased by 3 percent among business travelers and 6 percent among leisure travelers from 2009. In 2010, 30 percent of travelers in both groups say they “definitely will” recommend their rental car company.

The 2010 North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study is based on more than 11,500 evaluations from business and leisure travelers who rented a vehicle at an airport location within the previous 30 days. The study was fielded between October 2009 and September 2010.

[JDPower]

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