WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif.: 8 November 2012 — Customer satisfaction with rental cars has increased for a third consecutive year, reaching its highest level in seven years, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2012 North America Rental Car Satisfaction StudySM released today.
Now in its 17th year, the study measures overall customer satisfaction with renting cars at airport locations by examining six factors (listed in order of importance): costs and fees; pick-up process; return process; rental car; shuttle bus/van; and reservation process.
Overall satisfaction in 2012 averages 769 on a 1,000-point scale, up from 758 in 2011, and exceeds a high of 767 previously set in 2006. Overall satisfaction in 2012 is driven by increases in scores across all factors except reservation process, which is down by one index point, compared to 2011. The greatest year-over-year improvements across the industry are in the shuttle bus/van and cost and fees factors.
Overall satisfaction among the business and leisure/personal customer segments also increases from 2011, with each segment reaching the highest satisfaction levels in seven years. Overall satisfaction among business customers increases to 762, up from 753 in 2011, while satisfaction among leisure/personal customers improves to 774, a 12-point improvement from 2011.
"The rental car industry continues to step up its game, building on improvements in the rental car customer experience made over the past several years, while also benefiting from higher satisfaction levels with cost and fees relative to prior years," said Stuart Greif, vice president of the travel practice at J.D. Power and Associates. "However, there still are tremendous opportunities to leverage technology to address customer pain points in the rental car experience. There is also an opportunity to make the most out of staff interactions with customers and raise customer satisfaction levels even higher."
The study finds that customers' positive or negative encounters with staff during the rental car process contribute to their overall satisfaction. Overall satisfaction among customers who are greeted with a smile at the rental counter when picking up their vehicle averages 795, compared with 647 among those who are not greeted with a smile. Similarly, the gap in satisfaction between customers who are greeted with a smile during the return process and those who are not is 149 index points (801 vs. 652, respectively).
"While the investment in the vehicles and running rental car operations is significant, how much does it cost to provide a genuine warm smile?" said Greif. "A friendly greeting and attitude toward helping customers goes a long way, and it doesn't cost millions of dollars."
While business customers tend to be more critical of their rental car experience than do leisure/personal customers, they also tend to be more loyal. The study finds that 33 percent of business customers say they "definitely will" rent from the same brand again, compared with 26 percent of leisure/personal customers.
"Business customers tend to rent more frequently, so they are more aware of what to expect and they are often pressed for time, thus speed and efficiency are critical to their satisfaction," said Ramez Faza, senior manager of the Travel Practice at J.D. Power and Associates. "Therefore, business customers tend to be tougher graders. Leisure/personal customers tend to shop around more and search for the best value and are often more satisfied with cost and fees than are business customers. These insights are somewhat counterintuitive, because business customers are not paying out of their own pocket, whereas leisure/personal customers are spending their own money."
Among leisure/personal customers, 41 percent selected their rental car company based on price, while 13 percent based their selection on past experience with the brand and nine percent based their selection on special promotions or discounts. Among business customers, 24 percent selected their rental car company based on price, while 16 percent based their selection on past experience, 13 percent based on their company's travel policy and 12 percent on membership or rewards programs.
Timeliness of service is a major topic across industries, and renting a car is no exception. On average, customers spend slightly less than 10 minutes each waiting on the shuttle bus or van; in transit to the rental car facility; and returning the vehicle and being transported back to the airport. The pick-up process takes longer to complete, an average of nearly 17 minutes. This reflects much longer wait times for customers who pick up their vehicle at the counter versus those who enjoy the speed and efficiency of counter bypass programs or kiosks, both of which result in higher levels of satisfaction with the pick-up process than does the use of counter pick up, even at dedicated loyalty member counters.
"Rental car companies must continue to balance the need to serve their customers more quickly with the need to improve service," said Faza. "There are benefits to reducing wait times, as customer satisfaction tends to decrease after 5 minutes at any given stage of the process."
Enterprise ranks highest in customer satisfaction among rental car companies, with a score of 804, performing particularly well across all factors. National follows in the rankings with 788, performing particularly well in the return process factor. Alamo ranks third with 773 and performs particularly well in the shuttle bus/van factor. It is notable that the three highest-ranked brands--Enterprise, National and Alamo--are all managed by Enterprise Holdings.
The following tips may be helpful to consumers when renting a car:
- Know your insurance coverage. Your own auto insurance policy or credit cards may include personal liability coverage. Prior to renting, review your policy.
- Compare prices for town vs. airport pick-up locations. In some markets, you'll save money by taking a bus from the airport to your hotel and renting your car there, as long as the additional time is not an inconvenience.
- Consider joining a rental car company's loyalty/membership program, which offers benefits such as free airline miles, discount pricing and the potential to bypass the check-in counter when you make your reservation in advance.
- Consider renting a hybrid model when taking long-distance trips. If you are renting a car for several days and will be refilling the tank once or twice, a hybrid vehicle may save on fuel costs.
- If you're planning to use a mobile phone while in the vehicle, check ahead of vehicle pick up whether hands-free pairing or Bluetooth is available in the vehicle. If not, pack your own Bluetooth or other headset for your trip, as many states have laws that do not allow using your hands to operate the phone while driving.
The 2012 North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study is based on responses gathered between October 2011 and August 2012 from more than 12,100 evaluations from business and leisure/personal customers who rented a vehicle at an airport location between September 2011 and August 2012.
About J.D. Power and Associates
Headquartered in Westlake Village, Calif., J.D. Power and Associates is a global marketing information services company operating in key business sectors including market research, forecasting, performance improvement, Web intelligence and customer satisfaction. The company's quality and satisfaction measurements are based on responses from millions of consumers annually. For more information on car reviews and ratings, car insurance, health insurance, cell phone ratings, and more, please visit JDPower.com. J.D. Power and Associates is a business unit of The McGraw-Hill Companies.
About The McGraw-Hill Companies
McGraw-Hill announced on September 12, 2011, its intention to separate into two companies: McGraw-Hill Financial, a leading provider of content and analytics to global financial markets, and McGraw-Hill Education, a leading education company focused on digital learning and education services worldwide. McGraw-Hill Financial's leading brands include Standard & Poor's Ratings Services, S&P Capital IQ, S&P Dow Jones Indices, J.D. Power and Associates and Platts, a leader in commodities information. With sales of $6.2 billion in 2011, the Corporation has approximately 23,000 employees across more than 280 offices in 40 countries. Additional information is available at http://www.mcgraw-hill.com/.
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