Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Customer Service Plus!

Good customer service…and bad, are both easy to spot. When a former job regularly required me to use hotel banquet facilities, I could tell within the first 30 seconds of my hotel check-in whether or not I could expect prompt and courteous service from the banquet staff. The key was the hotel manager’s philosophy towards customer service. If the manager was committed to top notch service, it was evident throughout the hotel. Unfortunately, the opposite was also true. If the registration staff was inattentive and sloppy about their responsibilities, I knew I’d likely be in for shoddy service across the board.

As a frequent traveler, I depend on good customer service to help smooth out the rough edges of a business trip itinerary. Poor service can ruin a trip. Good service is what makes you believe you can continue taking Frequent business trips without going completely crazy. Because good service is so critical to business travel success, I feel strongly that when I experience it, I need to recognize it and show appreciation for it. I recently experienced some excellent customer service from an Enterprise Rental Car employee, and the story deserves to be told.

I had 3 hours and 20 minutes to make a 28 mile drive from Columbia, MD to Washington National (Reagan) Airport. My GPS told me to expect a 53 minute trip. I was already looking forward to relaxing over a meal at the airport before my flight. I decided to avoid I95, knowing that it is often a parking lot, particularly at rush hour. Instead, I took Route 29 south. I did the first 22 miles in about 30 minutes, and I was feeling very confident. Then I hit Silver Spring, MD, and the traffic began to back up. Before long, I realized that Route 29 was taking me right into the heart of DC. At one point, I was 7 blocks from the White House. And the traffic had all but stopped. Finally, it did stop, because of an accident ahead. After sitting through 7 light cycles without moving, I decided to turn around, but on my alternate route, I encountered another accident. It suddenly dawned on me that not only would I not have time for a meal, but I might actually miss my flight.

Eventually, I got onto the beltway only a short distance from the airport. I carefully watched for the rental car return signs, particularly since I had picked the car up at a different airport and had no return directions. Only after entering the rental car garage, did I realize that Enterprise did not have a location at the airport at all. It was at a nearby off-airport location. I quickly asked for directions from an Avis agent, and realized I’d have to get back out in traffic. I followed US 1 as instructed, but soon realized I was approaching a split in the road, and neither choice looked like it would get me to the Enterprise location.

I pulled over to call, and I finally reached Kate (the Great!) at the Enterprise location for Reagan airport. By this time, I was pretty stressed. I explained my predicament, and she very calmly began to give me directions. At one point, I was at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery. Kate, sensing my high stress level, continued to speak calmly, and said she would stay on the line with me until I got to her location. She carefully walked me through every exit and turn, until finally I saw the Enterprise lot.

Kate told me she’d be waiting outside for me, and she was. As the branch manager, she had arranged for an agent to produce my receipt immediately upon arrival. Then, as I began to grab my bag from the trunk to go catch the shuttle, she said, “Get back in the car! I’m driving you to the airport!” All the way over, Kate remained relaxed, which had a very calming effect on me. In the end, by the time I went through security and arrived at my gate, boarding had already begun. It was clear that without Kate’s over-the-top customer service, I would have missed my flight for the first time in almost 25 years of business travel.

That’s the kind of outstanding service that makes me want to rent from Enterprise every time. Sometimes their off-airport locations are inconvenient, but the customer service they provide is second to none. Thank you, Kate, for going above and beyond. That kind of service ensures that I’ll be a loyal Enterprise customer for years to come!

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Catching enough Z’s is sometimes a challenge. I’m not a huge nap person, but I read recently that a short “power nap” in mid-afternoon can often provide a necessary boost in energy. I’ve tried that, and it often makes me feel even more tired. A better solution for me seems to be regulating my bed time.

As kids, my brothers and I always had a bed time. With five boys to raise, I’m sure my parents were simply looking for a little down-time before heading to bed themselves! We kids always felt like we had to go to bed earlier than any of our friends, so having a bedtime was always a negative thing for us. Not so much these days. I’ve learned that I do best if I have a regular bedtime and stick to it, which is sometimes easier said than done.

I try to eat wisely (I said ‘try’), and I often get an hour of exercise most every morning. But according to Consumer Reports, if I don’t get 7 hours of sleep, I’m increasing my risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. 7 hours it is! My current routine involves turning in at 10:15PM and getting up at 5:15AM. And I try to keep close to the same schedule on weekends. Thanks to TiVo, many of my favorite 10PM TV shows can be viewed at my leisure.

Even so, I don’t really get the full 7 hours, because it sometimes takes a little while to get to sleep. I’ve considered heading to bed at 10PM instead, but I just can’t make myself do that yet. I’m probably lucky to be asleep by 10:40PM. One thing that helps is to have something to listen to as I drop off. I know this goes against conventional wisdom, but I find that I need something to drown out the thoughts that flood my head when it’s time to sleep. So I’ll play a TV show from my phone, or turn on Pandora radio, both of which shut themselves off eventually. I’m often surprised to learn later how quickly I actually drop off…which is evident when I realize how little of a TV show I actually remember hearing.

I tend to get more sleep when I’m traveling for business. After a full day of consulting or teaching, I find that after I eat a light dinner, I am often too spent to get any work done at the computer. So I’ve gotten into the habit of going to bed early. Sometimes before 8PM! If I get up at 3:30 or 4:00AM, I’ve had plenty of sleep, and I have several hours to exercise and get some office work done before I have to begin teaching again. Except for frequent late night airport arrivals, I’m often more rested after a business trip than I was before.

How about you? What’s your optimal amount of sleep? Do you get groggy in the afternoon? What tricks do you have for getting to sleep quickly? Your ideas just might help me to stay more consistent with my own approach to sleep, which is apparently still necessary, because right now it’s about 2 PM, and …..Zzzzzzzzzzz!