How to offend loyal customers, lose credibility and cause irreversible brand damage

(A satirical) franchisee manual of a fictitious car rental network called “Dandy Shifty Car and Truck Rentals” regarding their formula for success on bamboozling, ripping off, and angering customers.

While this is intended to be satire. May also be useful as a general guide with which to watch out for when dealing with any rental car business as a customer, particularly at a location that may be franchised out to an independent licensee to one of the big brands such as Avis, Budget, Thrifty, Dollar, Hertz, Europcar, Enterprise.

Pre-requisites:

  • Operate from a jurisdiction with very lax enforcement of Consumer Protection Laws and regulations (e.g Australia) knowing that authorities have next to no resources for market surveillance and are very unlikely to come after your business on their own accord.
  • Take your customers as fools, especially international customers assuming they have not got the means to come back at you once they leave the country to go back home to their country of origin.

Steps to take:

  • Advertise your cars at absurdly low daily base rates (which if rented out alone at the advertised rate would be a net financial loss) in order to entice customers, and get them through your door ready to hit them with a barrage of up selling.
  • At the time of pick up, get your employees to use fear of significant financial loss by rattling off an up selling script of eye watering expensive (financial) protection options should things go awry on their lovely journey. This is a low margin business and viability of your business depends on selling add ons and other ancillary revenues. Threaten to reprimand your employees if they don’t up sell at least one add on per hire at the counter.
  • If the customer declines all the add ons, silently sneak on roadside service as this tends to be lowest priced add on. The subsequent agreement walk through gives the customer a sense that your business is upfront and honest as well as softening them up enough offering a chance for your employees to sneak on extra add ons by drawing the customer’s attention away from the add on they never asked for, through your employee deliberately skipping over it with their pen pointing, particularly if a large block of text is involved.
  • Conveniently forget to hand a copy of the signed agreement to the customer in order to hide the above. Once the customer drive off the lot, it is far less likely they’ll bother coming back to ask for the agreement, and subsequently won’t discover the extra add on(s) until long after the hire has concluded and after they’ve returned home.
  • If the customer has an accident, bonus points. Get one of your buddies in a panel repair shop to provide a hugely inflated quote and then stick on your own additional blanket administration fee on top of other administration fees. Chances are the customer will just hand the invoice directly to their insurer to deal with it without scrutinizing it themselves.
  • If they inquire politely about the unexpected charge(s) on top, start acting high and mighty, belittle them and be deliberately obtuse by saying “It’s in the agreement that YOU signed and agreed to” without actually pointing out where.
  • When they come back and say “these don’t appear to be properly detailed nor documented any where.”, simply respond by thanking them for providing their feedback on disclosure and skirt around actually answering their question.
  • When the customer advises they will now open a case with the small claims tribunal in your jurisdiction (to be held via teleconference mediation). Then offer a refund via a friendly worded email stating “as a gesture of good will” but what ever you say, AVOID apologising or admitting fault or wrongdoing. Admitting fault here could open up your business to a wave of like claims against your business from similarly affected customers.
  • Your star rating on Google and FB reviews flagging? Get your own employees to post multiple 5 star positive reviews for the rental car locations your business owns in order to try and flood out and counter the negative genuine reviews from actual customers that document irregularities they may have experienced with you.
  • When challenged by a customer whom recognises many of the staff names against the 5 star reviews, try and justify your failure to disclose your conflict of interest by saying “but the staff are customers too!” (but further fail to disclose they get their vehicle hires free as a perk)
  • The customer may try to school you on your own country’s consumer laws. Employ delay and placating tactics by fobbing them off saying you’ve referred the matter to your “compliance department” (which may or may not even exist) who are investigating and looking into the matter and lace the E-mail with as much corporate buzzword laden bullshit as possible about how you take corporate responsibility and ethics seriously.
  • If and when the customer advises they have now referred the matter (including screen-shots of all your fake reviews) to Consumer Regulators in your jurisdiction to obtain their comment on the matter… Drop all the previously provided (flimsy) excuses and delete as many fake reviews in haste as quickly as you can (irrevocably confirming your misdeeds) and completely decimating what little credibility your business had left in the customer’s eyes.

Success Criteria:

Sufficiently Paint your own business as a Mickey Mouse operation run by total clowns at the helm. 🤡🤡🤡

Based around an actual hiring experience together with other experiences and anecdotes from both car hire customers along with actual (former and current) car hire company industry staff.

 

How to offend loyal customers, lose credibility and cause irreversible brand damage

This picture can not be explained

Update: 1st August 2020 – The Agent rang thanking me and mentioned it was given to someone in Ngāruawāhia intended to be distributed by local children for a local letterbox drop (possibly as part of a fundraiser I believe). Still strange where it ended up though.

Box of about 1,500 Real Estate flyers left under a tree in a ditch at the Waterworks Dam on Hakarimata Trail. I really don’t understand why anyone would go to the trouble of hiking in a box load of glossy flyers, then leave it under a tree all alone. Very weird and odd…

Box of Real Estate flyers dumped on Hakarimata Trail

Initially though it was gear or supplies for track maintenance and/or weed control, but seemed really weird to keep it in a cardboard box, so peered through the opening.

Took the box out of the reserve and dropped it off to Lugtons (Hamilton based Real Estate agency). While I was initially hesitant to touch it, It didn’t appear to be used to transport/hide drugs or any other nefarious activity, and I did not think the colourful flyers made for healthy fertilizer hence the reason to remove it.

In hindsight… Could be as innocuous as someone wanting extra weight to hill train with but simply aborted the idea halfway with the intention of picking the box back up upon coming back down (but never did or otherwise forgot).

This picture can not be explained

Drowning does NOT look like drowning

An interactive website I found that provides information on recognising signs of drowning in a child along with the opportunity to practice recognising these signs.

URL: http://spotthedrowningchild.com/

The key take away here is that… Drowning does NOT look like drowning

Quoted from the site… “Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.”

Recognise Drowning in a pool

The Youtube videos utilized on the site are from the Lifeguard Rescue (Channel)

Drowning does NOT look like drowning

Thrifty Car Rental Franchise Caught Posting Fake Reviews

Update: June 2019 – Thrifty Australian Head Office have also since been notified and have advised they have since started working with their Dandenong based Licensee, Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd, to gradually remove the offending reviews posted by franchise staff.

Have also been fielding the occasional E-mail from those purporting to be past employees of Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd, describing Working Conditions, Internal Culture issues, etc, however have chosen not to elaborate on those here in this particular blog post.

Topping off personally my single most disappointing consumer experience to date either side of the Tasman that I can recall… upon looking to place a review regarding my last hire experience with Thrifty Car Rental out of Mickelham Road, (Melbourne), discovered that the franchise owner along with certain senior staff of franchise operation Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd, had posted several of their own reviews whilst failing to disclose their commercial and/or employment connection to the business…

Lawrence (Vic.) Pty Ltd. T/A Thrifty Vic Car and Truck rental – Glenn Lawrence…
Personally I think that these guys are the best rental company in Victoria. They always have great service a delivery on time with a smile. I would recommend them to anybody.“ 
– S
ource: Google Maps
(This has since been removed upon advising I had referred the matter to the ACCC and CAV)

Thrifty Franchise owner Lawrence (Vic.) Pty Ltd for Dandenong, posting a 5 star review of his own business. This has since been removed.

…Being the owner, of course he would think and say that about his own business. Some disclosure in his review would have been nice.

Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd’s Chief Financial Officer, Peter Sowinski, was also discovered to have placed multiple 5 star ratings of a number of Thrifty Car and Truck rental locations…

Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd’s Chief Financial Officer, Peter Sowinski, placing 5 star ratings for various Thrifty locations. (Weipa Thrifty is owned by a different Franchise)

Some more ratings placed by the same individual. He has placed 5 star ratings on at least 8 (possibly more) locations owned by Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd along with 5 star ratings for a handful of other Thrifty Locations owned by other business units.

Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd’s Chief Financial Officer placing several 5 star ratings for Thrifty Car Rental locations owned and operated by Lawrence Vic Pty. ltd.

 

Also came across this… Known employees (confirmed upon glancing at their profiles) including the owner of Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd are seen posting fake ratings and reviews for Thrifty Vehicle Sales location that they operate in Dandenong. (These have since been removed in haste upon advising I have turned the matter over to the ACCC and Consumer Affairs Victoria)

Fake Reviews posted to the Thrifty Vehicle Sales page in Dandenong by those in the employ of the reviewed business (Lawrence Vic Pty ltd). These have now been removed after advising I had referred the matter to the ACCC and CAV

Furthermore, if you glance at the rest of the profiles from where the ratings and reviews have come from, quite a few of them I feel appeared (at least to me) to be from direct friends to one of the Staff in question (Profiles liking and commenting on posts from the staffer’s profile and vice versa or more apparent, the staffer appearing on the friends widget of those profiles).

While friends of staff are well within their right to place a review if they are genuine customers, a potential conflict of interest is present and this should really be disclosed within any review they post as per the ACCC Guidelines in respect to asking friends to leave a review.

More Lawrence Thrifty staff posting positive reviews, this time for Thrifty Weipa. (While this may be a different business unit to Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd, they are still part of the Australian Thrifty Car Rental network and any such review should disclose this)

Thrifty Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd employees posting reviews for Thrifty Weipa. While a different Franchise, they are still part of the same network and should be disclosed.

 

An older review from 3 years ago posted by another employee of Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd…

Another Google self review from a Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd staffer for Thrifty Car and Truck Rental Campbellfield.

 

Here’s a more recent glowing review for Thrifty Car and Truck Rental for Footscray…
(the statement “…team that works together to achieve their goals” caught my eye as it’s not normally something posted by a genuine customer)

(The review below was quickly removed after I posted a temporary review publicly challenging it)

Glowing review of Footscray Thrifty Car and Truck Rental posted by a staff member of Thrifty Footscray. This was quickly removed after posting my own review to challenge it.

From then I looked at the reviewer’s other review for Coles Express, a service station very close by Thrifty Car and Truck Rental Footscray where he mentions “…as part of my job for a rental car company…”

Same employee mentioning he worked for a car rental firm. No surprises which one.

 

…All the above fake reviews were the ones that were known about and could be directly linked to Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd personnel.

The last fake testimonial above was only caught by virtue that the staff member in question had posted in another review mentioning he worked for a rental car company.

In my mind, it certainly raises the question…
How many of the other customer testimonials could also be fake or otherwise have been posted by Thrifty Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd personnel?

Wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd management possibly encouraged their employees to engage in the practice particularly since the owner himself was seen placing at least a couple of his own fake reviews.

Reviews posted to Lawrence Vic Pty ltd. New location: Thrifty Coburg in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. While an individual review from a profile where this is their only review is not sufficient by itself to raise a red flag, the ratio of such reviews do raise a red flag with me.

Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd’s newer location, Thrifty Coburg, Melbourne, Victoria. 4 out of 6 reviews revealed anomalies. 3 out of 6 reviews were posted by people with only 1 review with a 4th review from below…

The reason why this looks fishy…

  • The ratio. Out of 6 total reviews, 3 were made by reviewers with only 1 review,
  • One of them being especially and suspiciously hyperbolic. “Wow, what an experience” is a sizable red flag to me as such reviews have in the past often been found to be fake upon my own investigation. How often would one be so over the moon renting from a car hire place?
  • A 4th review was made by a reviewer who has a total of 5 Google reviews to her name. However, out of those 5 reviews, 4 of them are for Thrifty locations all operated by Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd, another red flag…

 

This reviewer has a total of 5 Google reviews to their name. 4 of them for Thrifty locations, all operated by Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd. I suspect this is more than a coincidence.

There is a Michael Nguyen who works as a manager for Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd’s Thrifty Footscray location. Whether he is the same Michael Nguyen who posted this (in my view) rather anomalous, “written like an advert” review for Thrifty Vehicle Sales Dandenong is not able to be definitively confirmed as there are a ton of People called Michael Nguyen in the Melbourne Area, Never the less, the prose is very unlike a customer would normally write.

While I acknowledge that Lawrence Vic Pty ltd isn’t alone in such antics (Far from it), Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd is the first business (that isn’t an outright cold calling boiler room “wire” scam operation) who I have both personally had any sort of interaction with and seen engaging in the posting of falsified testimonials.

Overall my hire experience with Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd was far removed from my usually smooth hire experience under the Thrifty brand in Australia. I will admit to letting my guard down in this instance due to trust built up from multiple positive hiring experiences before hand under the Thrifty brand. Issues with the Lawrence Franchise include…

  • Failure to disclose upfront the full fee structure in their written legal documentation in respect to minor damage caused by a small Roo jumping into the side of the vehicle. An undisclosed and non-specific 3.5% Administrative fee was levied on top of other Administrative fees and was not disclosed to me verbally nor in writing. (I understand as of September 2020, Thrifty Australia have now rewritten their Terms and Conditions to better disclose this to cover their network of outlets and franchises, however, was not disclosed as per their terms and conditions as of 2018 at the time of the hire)
    Note March 2021: Have since had a large portion of that refunded back to me.
  • Upon contacting the Licensee’s HQ at Dandenong thinking that these matters would be easy to clarify, I was instead met with a defensive attitude from one of their accountants (who I now learn has since left the organization) with the chain of communication abruptly closing at “Thanks for your feedback on our disclosure” with no further attempt by Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd to explain or otherwise point out where in the written agreement these charges applied.
  • Failure to provide a copy of the agreement at initiation of the hire requiring several follow ups. (This doesn’t appear to be an isolated incident with Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd.)
  • Upon eventual receipt of the above, discovered a break down add on I never requested and which I strongly believe was snuck on by the RSO under IMO obvious pressure by his bosses to meet his monthly sales target. The RSO agent I strongly believe highlighted the agreement in such a way to conceal this and had most certainly purposely drew my attention away from it during the walk through of the said agreement.
  • On presenting a New Zealand Driver’s license, Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd demanded 2 x Australian Phone numbers and an Australian Address. No where was this stated anywhere on booking nor the unified thrifty.com.au Website. This is different from Thrifty Melbourne Airport and Thrifty Melbourne city (Spencer st) where no such requirement exists.

Their employment ads suggest a rather Sales driven culture I feel (“…totally focused on achieving targets and budgets”) and this has been emphasized in Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd’s ads far more than for Front line roles advertised by other Vehicle Rental agencies (operating under the Thrifty banner or otherwise) I feel.

I have also since dropped a note to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) to let them know of Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd’s conduct.

If would be fair to say that I hold the management of Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd personally responsible for the matters arising out of my hire with them. Nor have I ruled out possibly taking out a case against Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) when I’m next back over the ditch on business.

To date, this remains by far and away my single most acrimonious experience as a customer to any business either side of the Tasman. I would expect to see these sorts of business antics 20 years ago in Mainland China (when things there were less developed) and not in a country such as Australia.

While I have since continued to rent through other ‘Thrifty’ branded business units in Australia without experiencing anywhere near the same sorts of issues, my continued custom with Thrifty as a brand is now under review (particularly so now that NZ AA and Thrifty Australia between them seems to have ended the hire car deals for us NZ AA Members).

In a nutshell…
I consider trust extremely important in any transaction I undertake and Lawrence Vic Pty Ltd through their conduct I feel have completely failed to demonstrate this.

 

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