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A Butt in the Seat Trumps Luggage in the Trunk

Do you really listen to your customers and provide what they want, or are you more focused on finding the most profitable way to sell your product and then trying to convince the customer that what you’re doing is actually for their benefit?

This thought crossed my mind recently as my rental car shuttle bus pulled up to the drop-off point. This rental car company is one of those that lets you pick your car from a particular row of cars on the lot. Sounds like a novel idea, except I was one of six men on the bus and there were only five cars to choose from.

You might think the first five guys off of the bus would simply take the first five cars in the row and the last guy off the bus would be out of luck. And had we been women, logic would have prevailed and that’s what would have transpired. Not so with men. The choice of a car for a man, even a compact rental, is very personal. We want one that looks fast, screams exotic and can be ours, even if only for an afternoon.

As such, we all looked at the same red Mustang at the end of the lane. One of us would get that prized steed, and the rest would protest bitterly as we raced for either the three remaining white Toyota compacts or the pea-green, egg-shaped toy car at the end of the row.

Before the bus opened its doors, we were up and had our luggage ready to go. I, unbeknownst to the others, had changed my strategy. I was in a hurry, so I made the tough decision to go ugly and avoid the rush. I set my sights on the pea-green, egg shaped vehicle. I knew I wouldn’t attract any serious glances from babes on the highway, but I’d get to my appointment on time.

What I didn’t foresee, and what foiled my great strategy, is that another of these gentlemen might also be in a hurry and decide to swallow his pride to get to his appointment on time.

As expected, the first three hombres off of the bus headed toward the red mustang. I was the fourth one to disembark, so I cut right and hurried toward my prize. I could sense someone was on my heels, but I didn’t turn around because I was single-minded in my purpose — GET THE GREEN EGG! I went straight to the open trunk and tossed my suitcase inside.

To my utter shock, when I closed the trunk and looked through the rear window, I noticed someone sitting in the driver’s seat. I felt confident I had marked my territory like a dog at a fire hydrant when I put my suitcase in the trunk, so the egg was mine. It was simply a matter of politely holding my ground.

I walked to the front of the car and found the guy who had been behind me on the bus sitting there, suitcase on his lap, trying to start the car. I stood there trying to decide whether I should ask him nicely to get out or simply hurl his suitcase over the fence into the north lane of Interstate 85.

Before I could make up my mind, the rental car lot guy sauntered over, looked at both of us, glanced at my suitcase in the trunk, then back at the guy in the driver’s seat and announced, “I think a butt in the seat trumps a suitcase in the trunk.”

Obviously, he didn’t understand the rules of rental car engagement, but it was his lot and I’m sure he had TSA connections. Arguing with him could result in my being placed on the “full body search just because we can” list when going through security to fly home. He assured me he had more cars coming in just a few minutes and asked me to wait at the drop-off point.

Dragging my suitcase back, I wondered if I missed the call from the rental car company research department asking me what I preferred when renting a car. I didn’t remember getting a call asking if I wanted a car reserved in my name or instead wanted to play a round of rental car musical chairs.

After more than “just a few minutes,” no additional cars became available. I had to wait a while before I could get on the road. I was late for my meeting.

I was sharing this story with my wife recently as we boarded a flight to Denver. We were flying on one of those airlines that doesn’t give passengers reserved seats. You know the drill here. You dash to the gate and stand in a long line for 30 minutes before boarding even starts so you can pick the “best” empty seat on the plane. Unfortunately, I never got to finish my story because there weren’t two empty seats left together when we boarded.

To make it worse, I swear my wife ended up sitting next to Mr. Butt in the Seat. I guess I must have missed the call from the airline research department asking me if I like reserved seating on airplanes.

Today, companies seem to be more concerned with their bottom line than how their often-ridiculous policies affect customer satisfaction. The truth is some policies, although good for company profits or operations, are also disastrous from a customer-service perspective. In today’s cost-driven markets, customers tend to be afterthoughts, but sound sales strategy still dictates that customer satisfaction trumps operational convenience, just as I suppose a butt in the seat trumps luggage in the trunk.

© 2013 Dan Norman. All rights reserved.

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