Rental Car Return Waste


    I observed this at a mid-size city airport yesterday. I think it goes to show that lean concepts aren't common sense and it illustrates how something simple could dramatically improve a customer experience.

    At this airport, National car rental's return lane was like most airports, with good signs, telling you to turn here and pull ahead here. It seems that every time I've rented in the past few years, an employee is always there to greet you with a portable bar code reader and printer, you get your receipt right there. I had forgotten the days when you had to walk back to a counter.

    But yesterday, there was no employee there to greet returning cars. The car that pulled ahead of me had three guys who all looked confused. After a minute, they walked toward the terminal. I asked an employee who was driving by “how do you return the car here?” “You have to record your mileage and walk to the booth.”

    So, lean question #1: How hard would it be to have a sign that says that? Wouldn't you expect many customers pulling up to have that same question?

    As I was making my 3 minute walk to the booth (it was quite a ways away), here comes the driver of the car that was ahead of me stomping back to his car. I don't think he got the memo about “record your mileage”, so he had to walk back and check. There's nothing more irritating than a delay when maybe he was running late for his flight.

    Lean question #2: How many times do you, as an employee, have to see a guy stomping back to his car and then coming back and growling at you with the mileage before you say “maybe we should put up a sign that says “record your mileage”??

    A simple sign. Thinking through your customer experience. Reacting to problems and actually fixing root causes. It's too bad that these concepts are sometimes less common than you might like.

    Think about your own processes, your internal and external customers. Are “irritations” captured as improvement opportunities? Or, do you face the same problems day in and day out??

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    Mark Graban
    Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


    1. I can definitely give you a great big “been there and done that” on that one Mark!

      I’m not in any way associated with Enterprise Rental Cars, but they have really figured out customer service and how to “add value” to the whole customer experience.

      Enterprise will pick you up (free) from a reasonable location, check you out in seconds, and have the friendliest and most professional of all staffs at every location that I have ever experienced. It’s almost scary how good they are!

      Like I said, I have nothing to gain by extolling their virtues, but they win my vote as the Rental Car Company of choice hands-down!

      Rock On!


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