Innovation fueled by pain

I’ve rented plenty of cars over the last few years, so am quite familiar with the pain Ron Lieber’s article analyzes in today’s NY Times: With Uber and Lyft Nearby, Rental Cars May Be Ripe for a Comeuppance.

As the article walks through the rental car customer’s experience, you can’t help but have empathy thinking about a Mom & Dad traveling with small kids…Dad waiting in line for a shuttle bus – fully aware that he’ll have to drive back to the terminal to load up car seats and luggage at the arrivals curb.  Or consider the exhausted business traveler who didn’t find existing exterior car damage…at midnight as a cold rain pelted down on the dimly lit parking lot.  It makes you wonder if the rental car company ever went through the experience themselves?

I’m certain that companies like Avis and Hertz consider themselves “customer centric”- but as Mr Lieber highlights, the experience can be brutal.  Yes – many pain points in the customer experience they provide are outside of their control.  For example, the location of their facilities is determined by the design of the airport – so a bumpy, lurching bus ride is, by default, built into the experience.  What these companies have missed, however, are important differences in customer scenarios.   Car services and public transportation may not be feasible for car seat toting parents. But for many others, getting from point A to point B doesn’t necessarily require taking temporary ownership of a vehicle.  Uber & Lyft have clearly studied these customer scenarios and have built innovative solutions to cater to them.  Pretty sure the rental car companies just expected that taxis and public transportation would continue to be their only competition.

How could this have played out different for the rental car companies?  They needed to step back from the day-to-day challenges of running a business to consider, not only the current customer experience they’re providing – but the future experience.  This doesn’t have to be a million dollar consulting project.  It just takes a spark to ignite a dialog.  The rest will come naturally – since good ideas always rise to the surface.

This time of year, when there’s not much more we can do to impact the year’s financials, is a great opportunity to take a step back and reflect.  Walk through customer experience scenarios and try to put yourself in the shoes of your customer.  How do you think they feel as they progress through the experience?  What could be changed?  Is there a completely new/different way to help the customer accomplish their intent?

At the core of any innovation is dialog:  people sharing ideas to identify a better way.  It doesn’t take an offsite, venture capital or a Stanford diploma to have meaningful discussions that can positively impact the customer’s experience.  Get a group of people together – people from customer support, product management, finance, marketing (the more diverse the group the better) – and have a conversation to walk through a few customer scenarios.  Infuse data points where you can and, even better, invite a few customers to participate.

Skip the formalities and simply start a customer experience dialog.  If you need some help, contact me ( to learn more about onBelay Consulting’s CX workshop format.  By proactively igniting the conversation, you’ll head into 2017 with a list of new ideas and a team that’s been energized to make them happen.


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