As the sharing economy matures, players like Zipcar are getting schooled in the fine art of customer service.
The Avis-owned car-sharing pioneer has been hounded by online consumer complaints even as it aggressively expands its fleet and locations.
In New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., customers have taken to Yelp to gripe about dirty cars, rude reps, unreturned emails, last-minute changes and overall lousy service. “Boy, am I disappointed by Zipcar. Why is it that the once-wonder child of the sharing economy has now fallen from grace?” Hayley M. of San Francisco wrote Aug. 2. In New York, 10 of 13 recent Yelp reviews of Zipcar were negative.
Zipcar is not alone. Two-year-old Hertz On Demand has been plagued by terrible customer reviews as well.
Zipcar defends its service and insists it does respond to member feedback. Anthony Fatone, gm of Zipcar New York, said the company uses email, phone and social media “to address concerns, fix problems and educate people on best practices for being a Zipcar member. Learnings are then passed on to our member experience team.”
Still, some argue that is not enough, adding that Zipcar could take a lesson from peer-to-peer car-sharing brands like Getaround and RelayRides, a model that has auto owners renting to consumers with the brand as middleman. Zipcar’s model, on the other hand, means more turnover, more wear and tear, and many more renters.
P2P players have learned it’s easier to prevent customer problems than fix them. Their tools: personal attention and public pressure. Via P2P, customers and auto owners publicly rate each other, with a good rating meaning one is favored for future transactions.
Corporate car-sharing brands could also use ratings in a different, more effective way, suggested Jeremiah Owyang, partner at Altimeter Group. “Customers could be alerted that Zipcar is rating them internally and that bad ratings could result in fines or having their Zipcar membership revoked,” he said.
Arun Sundararajan, professor in New York University’s business school, proposed that Zipcar could provide car-care reminders to renters dropping off. “Based on customer feedback, Zipcar could study the patterns of customer-sharing behavior by region and do spot inspections as needed,” he said.
Neal Gorenflo, publisher of Shareable Magazine, noted that treating customers by way of a script is also a turnoff. “Instead, how about a lighthearted phone app where customers report the quality of the car they are picking up or returning.”
Zipcar countered that it already screens and rewards customers. “Our members go through an application process and are provided with tips on how to be a part of our car-sharing community,” Fatone pointed out.
Zipcar and Hertz On Demand aside, there are some bright spots. Daimler’s year-old car-sharing program Car2go has earned mostly positive reviews on Yelp so far this year. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on Enterprise CarShare, launched this past May.