The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the travel industry and nowhere is that more apparent than in the rent-a-car sector where traditional giant Hertz filed for bankruptcy and competitors have slashed the purchase of new vehicles.
It would seem to be the sort of formula that might result in a collapse of customer service but a new study by J.D. Power indicates that hasn’t happened. Customer service levels remain high and Hertz actually tops the chart this year,
“As with other travel suppliers, this has been an incredibly challenging period for the car rental industry,” said Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power. “Despite these economic headwinds, the major rental car companies have been able to maintain high levels of customer satisfaction throughout the pandemic, largely through great customer service and enhanced cleaning protocols to build confidence with travelers.”
Rental car companies have found themselves between the proverbial rock and a hard place this year. The pandemic has resulted in a massive reduction in travel and a consequent reduction in demand for vehicles, especially at major tourist and business destinations. At the same time, rental firms have had to respond to the crisis by ensuring cars are properly inspected, cleaned and sanitized after use and before they can be turned over to another customer.
Traditional maintenance has become particularly important this year, as rental firms have all but stopped replacing their existing fleets to save cash. Bankrupt Hertz has, if anything sold off a sizable share of its vehicles to raise cash.
Hertz came through in the end, according to Power, scoring an industry-leading 852 on a 1,000-point scale. That marked its second year in a row as the industry leader.
“While the rental car and overall travel industry has faced challenges during the pandemic,” said CEO Paul Stone, “From the beginning of their journey to the end, our customers’ satisfaction is the heartbeat of everything we do.”
Enterprise came in at a close number two for the second year in a row, at 849 points, with Alamo falling just a point behind, at 848.
At the back of the pack, Budget scored just 818 points, with Avis second-to-last at 834.
The survey was an extended one, and the results included responses from many customers who rented before the pandemic struck the U.S. hard in March, Power noted. Once the country started to head toward lockdown, researchers discovered, consumers reacted favorably to those companies who made “any effort to address” the pandemic, said Taylor.
All told, 7,364 business and leisure travelers who rented a vehicle at an airport location from August 2019 to August 2020 were included in the J.D. Power 2020 North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study.