How good is your company’s customer service? I bet you take pride in it. You have signs hanging on the wall that say how much you value your customer. You have systems to make sure customer complaints are followed up and you even do surveys. Clearly you care. All of that is great stuff and means a lot. But do you do the powerfully small thing that Avis did? I don’t. And I should.

Just two weeks ago I was in Minneapolis for a meeting and planned to stay the weekend with my wife. Our plans were unexpectedly cut short, so instead of returning the car on Sunday as planned we had to return it the Thursday before. You’ve been to these places. You know the drill. You drop off the car, they scan it in and you get an email receipt. It’s usually seamless.

But not this time. I never got that confirming email. By Sunday morning I still hadn’t heard anything from Avis. Concerned, I called up their customer service department (who were open on a Sunday, of course) and asked about the rental. I was told that the car had never been checked in and was still shown as rented.

OK, that’s not good, I thought to myself. Not only am I being charged for the extra days but there may be some concern as to where the car actually is. Will Avis still charge me? Accuse me of stealing the car? I braced myself for a fight. But I got something different. “No worries,” I was told by the customer service rep. “Let me get to the bottom of this.” I was put on hold for a few minutes.

The rep came back on the phone. He was trying to get in touch with Minneapolis but couldn’t at the moment. However, he had better news. “I’ve marked your car as returned and credited you back the extra days, Mr. Marks,” he said matter-of-factly. “Thank you for being an Avis customer. Is there anything else I can do?”

Do? I was expecting a battle! Instead, I got a thank you. Avis just took the car back, no questions asked. It was a powerfully small thing to do – and it left such an impression that I’m writing about it here.

Full disclosure: I’m an Avis “Preferred Customer” because I frequently travel. I rent cars from them all the time. I have a long history with the company. I pay my bills. I never complain. So maybe all of that factored into the conversation. But I’m hoping that it didn’t. I’m hoping that’s the way they are with all their customers, Preferred or not. I have no reason to believe otherwise.

The whole incident made me think of my clients. It’s not unusual for a client to question the amount of time we charged for a service performed. We charge for 3 hours but the customer claims we only worked 2.

Do I behave like Avis? Or do I argue instead.

Unfortunately, the answer is…sometimes I behave like Avis and sometimes I do not. Why not all the time? I know why. It’s my ego. It’s my frustration. It’s my anger that a customer is taking advantage. It’s my need to always feel like I’m right. But I’m not. When a customer has an issue I have to remember the powerfully small thing that Avis does. I must concede. Move on. Not argue.

Why? Because for the most part people are good. They’re not trying to take advantage. They have legitimate concerns. They don’t want fights either. They’re just not happy sometimes and they’d like to be acknowledged. And besides – there are bigger fish to fry … and more important (and profitable) things to do with my time.

Big companies have figured out this powerfully small thing. I should too.

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