Upon arriving at the rental car facility this week, I was reminded yet again why I’m a habitual but not a loyal customer to my supplier.


As background, I travel a lot, and I am reasonably compliant with my travel program’s supplier usage guidelines. Consequently, I am an exceptionally valuable customer for my rental car supplier. My usage and spend tells the company that I’m a VIP. As a result, they reach into their bag of tricks and shower on me such benefits as upgrades and accelerated rewards.


In the end, what is the result of all of this investment the supplier makes to reward my loyalty—to reinforce my years of behavioral commitment?


In a nutshell: If my firm changed its preferred supplier tomorrow, and I received a reasonable status match, I would shift all of my business to the new supplier without hesitation. Why would I break ties that had been developed over a decade without a second thought? The answer is multifaceted, but one reason clearly stands out:

  • In little part … I am compliant enough by nature to not make waves over this decision;
  • To some extent … the current state of the rental car industry is the proverbial “sea of sameness” in my mind—same facility, same bus, same vehicles, same benefits, etc.—so I suspect that my switching costs are low;
  • But mostly … it’s because my supplier of hundreds of rentals over the past decade has little to no idea about what satisfies and delights me as a frequent and valuable renter—and why that is.

Let me compare and contrast for a second:


In my personal life, I drive a car with great acceleration. It’s fun for me as I tool around Chicago. I happily pay a small premium for the significant enjoyment I get as I drive six miles to my office or four miles to my son’s hockey practice. As a marketer, I know precisely where I sit in a car company’s consumer segmentation—I am smack dab in the segment that places heavy emotional attachment (and willingness to spend) on the enjoyment I get from the 5,000 miles I drive annually in a car that makes my urban driving experience much more palatable.


I suspect that my rental car supplier thinks that my attitudes and motivations are similar when I drive for business needs … and they totally miss the mark. What do I value heavily on business trips? First, I consider safety and acceptable car condition (e.g., no smoke odor and cleanliness) as antes. Beyond that, my decision drivers are all on a single dimension: Convenience in all aspects of the end-to-end customer experience.


Why? Because I want to minimize the hassle and anxiety that come along with frequent business travel.

  • Do I want the luxury car in spot 261, which requires me to walk an extra three minutes while I walk by dozens of highly utilitarian options along the way? In a word: No.
  • Do I want peace of mind from the knowledge that I have a highly reliable, though nondescript, vehicle? Absolutely!
  • Do I want the SUV that will eat through gas and compel me to fill up on my own prior to returning to the facility on my way home? Absolutely not!

Consequently, upgrades mean little to me. The additional cost my supplier incurs from providing them to me receives zero corresponding customer satisfaction and loyalty from me. What about the accelerated earnings that I receive, and almost never use due to restrictions at times of high value to me? A total frustration and value destroyer in my book.


Hence, no loyalty from me because the supplier has no idea of what I care about and why it’s important to me. It has known me for a decade or more and has no idea what makes me tick.

  • Why can’t I be rewarded with pickup upon arrival?
  • Why can’t I be rewarded with the closest in cars in the lot?
  • Why can’t I be rewarded with my preferred vehicles, regardless of what my status qualifies for?
  • Why can’t I be rewarded with acknowledgement that I never want to stop at a gas station on my way back to the airport, unless I truly am out of gas, without fear of financial penalty? 
  • Why can’t I be rewarded with terminal drop-off?

I suspect that my preferences are not unique to me by a long shot, and that suppliers could serve them cost-effectively, if they replaced those current costly benefits that I don’t value.


I’m still waiting for a rental car supplier to get to know me beyond what I do for its financial bottom line.