Car rentals & the office manager: Brand stories from Sofia to Budapest, with a stop in Vienna (P

Home Car rentals & the office manager: Brand stories from Sofia to Budapest, with a stop in Vienna (P

On a cloudy Thursday morning in July, I found myself standing outside an airport in Linz, Austria’s third-largest city, 30 km from the Czech border. Despite being on a holiday, I was on the phone with the InSites headquarters in Gent. Of course, there is always the inevitable e-mail or call from the office, but for once I was not getting in touch to discuss an ongoing project. This was definitely different and – to be honest – a bit desperate: I could not find a rental car to continue my trip. In a series of four blog posts, I will guide you through these adventures, from the little conversations we had about brands over the big experiences we had with companies to the little stuff that happened in between. This is Part I.

The events that led to this situation and the story that follows, are a mix of the things that I try to figure out when I am working: experiences with and conversations about brands. In a way, it felt like watching a movie for which you have written the script. As if everything I had told during presentations and written in reports was coming to life.

  • Act, don’t tell. Promise whatever you want, but what you do makes the difference.
  • Be a brand about it. If you are a brand, take your responsibility anytime, anywhere.
  • Get the basics right. It is easier to do things right, than to screw them up.

In retrospect, these were three simple truths about running a business that were illustrated during a trip from Sofia to Budapest, with a stop in Vienna.

Take the train
We had arrived in Sofia a couple of days earlier to attend the wedding of a Bulgarian/Albanian couple. I remember having a vivid conversation with my girlfriend on the WizzAir flight from Brussels to Sofia about the company’s colors. She pointed out how their pink/purple/white-combination was already reason enough to prefer them as a lowcost carrier over RyanAir, with the aggressive blue/yellow interior. I agreed, which is remarkable given how much I dislike purple. Clearly, I am not a huge fan of the Irish airline but more than the colors, it was the fact that nobody was shouting at me to buy lottery tickets that made me feel more comfortable flying WizzAir. After a rather wild wedding weekend we flew to Austria (with FlyNiki, which had a pink/white with jeans style going on) and made our way to Linz for some family visits. That cloudy Thursday morning came along and we decided it was about time to head out to an old friend living in VögelnHäfen (or something like that) and then to get to Budapest, where we had an early flight to catch on Sunday. We headed down to the airport and easily located a miniature trailer park that seemed to be the central hub for car rental. Things looked promising as the automated door swung open (outwards, nearly taking my girlfriend’s mother down by knock-out). No less than five options were available: Hertz, Avis, Europcar, Sixt and a local company of which I do not recall the name. Nevermind though, since their only suggestion was to take the train.

Act, don’t tell. Part I.
Ever since I found out about Avis’ “We Try Harder†campaign (corporate motto since 1962, apparantly), I have really started to take a liking in the brand. So when offered such an abundant choice, I suggested to start at their desk to see what they had to offer. As it turned out, the answer was “nothing†and the others didn’t have much to add to that.

  • Avis did not really try harder. We asked a car to get from Linz to Budapest, but none were available at Linz airport. That is fair enough. But when we told the dude – I cannot describe him any more accurately – that we were flexible in picking up the car in a nearby location (like Salzburg or Vienna) and at a different moment (like the day after), I would have expected a little bit more initiative from his side. Not only did he leave it up to us to keep on suggesting potential other rental locations, he also had to look these up in what appeared to be the “Big Book of Avis Locations – The Austrian Edition†and give them a call to check if there was anything they could do. The computer on his desk looked really lonely.
  • Hertz was our second choice since, besides the local car rental company suggesting a train ride, it was the only other desk that came with someone sitting behind it. Everyone else seemed to be enjoying a two-hour lunch break. His solution, after again a half-hearted browsing routine that lacked both solution driven thinking and a centralized database of available cars, was the following offer: 5.000 euros for a car that we could use for the next 3 days. For a moment, renting a helicopter seemed more reasonable.
  • Our last option was Sixt. After a few phone calls back and forth, we were told that they would have to get back to us later that day because they apparently had trouble finding out if they still had any cars available.

It was at this point that I decided to think out-of-the-trailer-box. When all seems lost, I typically call my mom. True story. But this time, I figured there was someone else that was in an even better position to come to our rescue. So that’s when I called our office manager. Two hours after Myriam picked up the phone, the problem was solved. BCD travel, our agency for business trips, had arranged for a car that would be waiting for us the day after, in Salzburg at… the local Hertz office. At a considerably lower price than renting a helicopter.

“We Try Harder†is a great slogan, but like any other slogan, it creates expectations. People will actually expect everybody representing your brand to really try harder. If you say that you are Hertz and “They Are Not†this typically implies that you are different for all the right reasons. This time Avis and Hertz both tried equally hard: not very. Obviously, the apparent absence of any access to a centralized overview of available cars did not help the employees and it could be argued that they were just doing their job. But when your advertising makes all these promises, the job is not about renting out a car to go from point A to B between day X and Y. It is about offering a solution for a transportation need that your customer is facing – your opportunity as a brand to act, instead of tell. In the end, Hertz did rent us the car and earned the money. But they did not make us happy. Myriam did.