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The CX Angle Podcast: CX Winners and Losers – Hertz and Kroger
We are in the midst of a Customer Experience (CX) revolution and customers are demanding an enhanced experience. In this episode of The CX Angle, NTT DATA Business Solutions Corporate Communication Manager, Jeremy Cross, and Customer Experience Account Executive, Ryan Kubec, discuss recent customer experiences with both Hertz and Kroger, and their observations about what kind of experience they are delivering through the lens of good CX.
Read the transcript below or listen to the podcast.
(Jeremy Cross) Welcome back to another episode of the CX Angle podcast. This is Jeremy Cross, joined by my colleague, Ryan Kubec.
(Ryan Kubec) How’s it going, Jeremy?
(Jeremy Cross) It’s going well. We’ve taken a little bit of time off because of the holidays, but happy to be sitting down and chatting with you today.
We’re going to be getting into a conversation, going back to our CX winners and losers. And today, Ryan and I are going to be talking about two different examples of companies that I would say we have an affinity for — that we are seeing some stumbling blocks. We’re seeing some places where they could be heading towards that CX loser category. And we wanted to point out a few things that came to mind and tie that back directly to, well, what could they be doing differently?
If you want to succeed at creating great customer experiences, you should be doing certain things. And we want to help these companies that we frequent to maybe take a look at what they’re doing and get a chance to say, hey, maybe we need to step back and maybe we could be heading down a path of there’s some improvements that need to be made. So I’m going to let you kick it off here in our conversation. What’s the one company that you’re bringing to the table here that you’ve noticed some things about and you have some suggestions for?
(Ryan Kubec) So we’re not trying to say these are bad companies, but there’s definitely room for improvement. And because we have experience with them, we’re just sharing personal testimonial feedback here.
Mine is a company that I’ve interacted with and been a loyal customer for the better part of the last 10 years. And that is Hertz Rental Car. I’ve probably rented anywhere between, on the slower years, 15 and on the busier years, 35-40 cars per year in my various roles of being a traveling consultant and working in sales. Traveling all over the place. And I hold them to the same standards as I do the airlines and the hotels, right? And all those places where you can kind of bundle. And if they’ve got any type of tie to Expedia or Booking.com or Kayak — all those websites — they’re kind of held to the same standard. And so that’s really where I’m holding Hertz. And some of my frustration is with their touchpoints for a customer. So specifically on their website, their design is, in my opinion, unintuitive and fairly poor. So when you log in — and I realize people listening are not able to see what I’m looking at — but when you log into the Hertz website, it doesn’t really change.
So nothing is really personalized. The only thing that changes is it says, “Hello, Ryan Kubec” in the top corner. It’s got my number. That’s fine. Great. Having a consistent experience is great. But if I want to rent a car or I want to check my rentals. So, renting a car is right there on the on the landing page, and that’s great. It’s already going to pre-populate any discount codes for what corporation I’m working with. You put in where you’re going to pick it up, what time and where you’re dropping it off. Although that’s fairly standard. That’s fine.
But if I want to go check existing reservations that I have, which I do frequently — I do this with airlines, with hotels and with the rental cars – because trips can change at the last minute. Things get rearranged, you need to add a vehicle, someone isn’t going to make it to the meeting, so I’ve got to book a vehicle, or someone else is going to make it and I’ve got to cancel. There’s nothing on this home screen that says My Reservations. You actually have to go search for it. Across the top, they’ve got their different header links — Rent, Deals, Gold Plus Rewards, Locations, Business, Support – but none of this is personalized to me, even though I’ve already logged in.
If I want to go find my existing reservations, I have to hover over Rent and all the way down at the bottom is just says view, modify or cancel. Doesn’t even say my rental is existing. So the very first time I had to do this, it took me a decent amount of time to find it. I was clicking on my name, going into My Profile — and that doesn’t have any of that there — but once you actually get into where you can modify your reservations, it shows upcoming reservations, and that’s fantastic. It’s got the date of the reservation and the time that you’re picking that vehicle up and that’s it. So and frequently I have multiple trips booked all at the same time, you know, multiple weeks out. And if I don’t remember, if I know I’m going to Cleveland next week, and I’ve got to change that car rental, if I don’t remember exactly what date or what time, now I have to go back to my calendar to look for which date is February 3rd, because it doesn’t say that’s a Wednesday, or it doesn’t say that’s a Monday. So you’ve got to go in and find it and search for it. It’s just extra steps, right? I realize that we’re nit-picking here.
(Jeremy Cross) I don’t think that we’re nit-picking. I’m seeing this for the very first time. You showed me this morning and in looking at it, it’s reminiscent of a 20-year-old website.
(Ryan Kubec) This could in design, and I don’t know who worked on this site. I don’t know which partner they’re working with or if they did this internally. To me, just my personal perspective looking at this is they didn’t design this site with people who were actually renting cars in mind. How do they behave? What are their needs? They got a lot of information about what they offer as a company. It’s very informative if you wanted to learn a lot about Hertz as a company or what type of classifications of vehicles. Certainly they’ve got all of that here. But from a traveler’s perspective or someone who’s going to rent these vehicles, it’s not very helpful. It’s not very intuitive. The My Account area or My Profile area doesn’t show a lot. And like we said, you need to know what date you have this reservation. And what would be really helpful is also saying, where is that pickup location? The sad part is, is I know they have the information, because when you drill into the reservation, it’s there. But why aren’t they putting that right there on the Upcoming Reservations page so it’s easy to navigate?
Again, when I log into my Marriott account or my Delta account, all of that information is right there. It tells me exactly what hotel, what city I am in, what the dates are, tells me what flight I’m on, what city I’m going to, what the dates are with Hertz. It just gives me a date and the time.
(Jeremy Cross) Now, when I asked earlier, you said the mobile app is a completely different experience from what you have on the desktop app.
(Ryan Kubec) Yeah, and that’s kind of the second point, is that one of the key pillars or just foundational principles of good customer experience is a seamless experience — true omni-channel. It doesn’t matter what device or what your entry point is. Same information, same experience. The Hertz app is vastly different from the website.
So I’m going to take a second here. When I pull up the Hertz mobile app, same thing … my home screen, it’s telling me my status. It’s got how many points I have, which is great. Upcoming Reservations, once again, it only gives me the date and time, but doesn’t tell me where. I’ve got to drill in to get that. They also have a reservations tab, which is nice, and this will actually tell me where I’m picking it up. But why not just extend that to the home screen. And then in the account area, this is fantastic, as it tells me how many rentals I have this year. And as far as I know, this is the only place I can find this information, which, again, as a frequent traveler — for me and other people who are listening, who travel a lot — knowing statuses is not the most important thing, but it is definitely something that you pay attention to because it makes your traveling a little bit more enjoyable.
And so with Hertz, you rent 20 cars in a calendar year. You end up in President’s Circle, a little bit easier checkout. You get to go pick your vehicle typically from a nicer vehicle selection. Again, just some of those things that make traveling a little easier and enjoyable for people who do it a lot.
I’ve tried to find on their website how many rentals do I have per year, and I cannot find this information. So I’m not saying it’s not there, but I’ve spent more time than I would be willing to admit trying to find that data on their website. And when I’m logged in and I cannot find it, the only way I’ve been able to tally that up is going and looking at my previous reservations going back month by month and seeing how many I had and physically counting them myself. In the mobile app, it’s right there. So, again, just a different experience. And I think users are probably more accepting, saying it’s okay for me to have slightly less information in a mobile app. That’s fine. There’s a much more robust selection when I log in to the website. But having completely different information in different places is really at this point unacceptable.
(Jeremy Cross) Well, it seems like they are almost approaching it as renting a car with Hertz is a one-off. Like in a few weeks a group of us are heading down to Florida for a friend’s 40th birthday party, and we’re going to have to rent a car. It seems like Hertz would be marketing towards me as a one-off — you need a rental car while you’re in Florida? Here, look at Hertz. I know this isn’t the case, because I have a buddy who has rented with Hertz for years and stays loyal to Hertz, which is amazing to me that with an experience like this, what keeps people staying loyal?
(Ryan Kubec) Yeah, they do have a good loyalty program. And for most travelers, you kind of pick a path and you stay on it because you don’t want to have to start over right now. Like I said, I’ve been renting with them for the better part of 10 years. And, you know, I get nice vehicles and it is easy to rent with them. It is easy to cancel. Their customer experience is typically fantastic. We’re strictly talking about the CX in the in the context of their website versus their mobile app.
(Jeremy Cross) Interesting. I mean, it’s not as if when we’re talking about car rental, it isn’t a congested industry. You have plenty of options when it comes down to car rental. And so you would think from the perspective of, “OK, how are people going to interact with us,” they’re probably not going to be calling us unless they absolutely have to. So it’s going to come through mobile and through desktop. And those experiences should be seamless, and it should be easy to get the information that you’re needing.
(Ryan Kubec) So, Jeremy, you had a company that you wanted to talk about in the same context.
(Jeremy Cross) Yes. So growing up here in the Midwest, living here in Cincinnati, you cannot go anywhere without hearing about Kroger, the largest grocer in the country, to my knowledge. So the pickup service isn’t something new that Kroger has been doing. They’ve actually had this for at least a year’s time, maybe even longer than that. It was once called Kroger ClickList, and in order to drive new people to this service, they decided to waive the $4.95 fee at the end of last year. And I don’t believe that they really thought about this. And I want to make it very clear that I’m speaking about one Kroger in particular. I can’t say that this was representative of the entire chain, but I also can’t say if others in the Kroger family ended up experiencing the same thing that our local Kroger did, this is something where there were two things that popped out to me.
There wasn’t a lot of internal alignment, and it seemed as if they might have had some silo’ed portions of the organization. Let me drill down and explain. So the Kroger pickup — for those of you who’ve never used it — you go to the website, you go on the mobile app, you fill up your cart, you select the time of day timeframe, about an hour window, where you’re going to pick up your groceries. You go to the designated place at that particular Kroger, you dial in a phone number, and somebody answers and says, what’s your first name, what’s your last name? We’ll get your order together and bring it right out.
Typically, this process, you’re in and out within five, maybe 10 minutes at the upper end of it. So this past weekend, literally this past weekend, I have my younger two kids in the car and pull up to Kroger, it takes 35 minutes for them to bring my groceries out to the car. And this is just one place where I’ve noticed that they’ve had this increased demand on this service, but don’t appear to have the infrastructure in place to meet the marketing demand that they have generated. And that’s what we’re running into. Earlier, it had been receiving a phone call from them saying we’re not going to be – and I say earlier, meaning earlier experiences — where I might receive a phone call saying you were supposed to pick up between 3 -4 p.m., can you come between 4-5 p.m.? Which tells me they don’t have enough people in the store actually doing the shopping. They’re overrun there.
Or when you get to picking up your groceries, waiting 35 minutes — or when they don’t answer the phone. Because that’s the other issue that you run into is that you call the number and nobody answers the phone; it dials to the front of the store. You get somebody at the front of the store saying, “Thank you for calling your local Kroger, how can I direct your call?” And you’re like, oh, I’m just here to pick up my groceries, then they transfer you to the back again. Tells me that they don’t have enough people in the back end to meet the demand of delivering groceries to cars.
(Ryan Kubec) So you had to call the store. Was there an option, a digital option, too?
(Jeremy Cross) There’s no digital option. It’s all about once you get there, you have to dial a local number, which then should transfer you to the back of the store to that particular Kroger pickup department. If nobody answers there, just like any business in that situation, if you were calling Home Depot and tried to reach the paint department, and the paint department doesn’t pick up, you get directed to the front of the store. That’s what happens with Kroger.
As I started to look at this, it seemed as if they were trying to – and number one, waiving the fee last year – they were trying to drive people to this service of theirs. I mean, don’t get me wrong; I will pay them $5.00 each time for them to do my grocery shopping for me, because it means I don’t have to go in and navigate the aisles. They’re doing it for me. $5 is a nominal fee. When you look at it in the scheme of things …
(Ryan Kubec) During a busy time I would pay $5 to have someone else just wait in the checkout line for me.
(Jeremy Cross) Oh absolutely. And so they’re trying to create a great customer experience of meeting customers where the customers are. The customers are saying, hey, yes, we’ll pay you the money, we’ll pay you a service fee to have you do this for us because of the value.
But what’s now happening is they’re not able to meet the demand, at least with the particular Kroger that I’m speaking about. Our local one that we have, they’re not able to meet the demand. And what they’re doing is they’re actually creating a negative customer experience by not being on time when the orders need to be picked up. And I can say specifically, my wife and I, we select times based on when our kids have activities or when we’re picking kids up from daycare. It’s like, let’s pick the kids up from daycare, then we’ll swing by Kroger, pick up the groceries and head home.
(Ryan Kubec) Yeah. That service has to fit into your life. It’s supposed to be an added convenience for you, not something else you have to schedule around.
(Jeremy Cross) Exactly. And if we’re going to get to the point where we’re talking about — I mean, they are moving in a positive direction. They are not the only ones who are offering a pickup service, but they are certainly ones that are trying to offer a robust experience with simply getting groceries — something that you do on a weekly basis, or multiple times a week for some people. They’re doing this in order to meet customers where they are, and not being able to do that because of — and again, I’ll say I think, if I were to assess where they’re going wrong, it seems as if there isn’t internal alignment.
So marketing had an idea saying, hey, let’s drop the fee on this. Then you have HR and staffing. Each store has to be able to meet that demand, and that’s not happening there. Or they are too silo’ed. But it’s internal alignment that’s detracting from the customer experience at this point.
And I know others are doing it. For example, Wal-Mart is doing this as well. Wal-Mart has a completely different model for doing this. And I’ve not used theirs at this point, I’ve only heard this from colleagues who have used it. But they use the GPS within your phone to know when you’re driving up, and they meet you out there. So, to my understanding, you don’t have to dial a number. You just drive up. They meet you outside. There you go. So, in my assessment of these experiences, Kroger is going to have to really make sure that they’re on top of their game, because there is competition within the space.
(Ryan Kubec) Sure. And we’ve talked about that in the past. I mean, getting a head start is good; doing something is great. You definitely want to think that through. You want to make sure that you have the back-end infrastructure like you mentioned, to be able to support it, because the last thing you want to do is promote heavily, promote a brand new feature, a brand new experience, and then have that experience be bad.
So I don’t know the exact scope of how Kroger is rolling that out, if that’s in every store or if they’re doing pilots. If they’re doing pilots and they’re getting that bad experience feedback, that’s probably the right way to go about it. Select a group of stores — maybe that just happens to be the one you’re in. So that way they can improve that process. But they are ahead of stores not doing anything. So that’s good.
As we’ve discussed in previous podcasts, you’re never going to design the perfect process right away, but you need to get started with something. That also helps if you can start small and slowly roll that out. And sometimes marketing and execution aren’t always on the same page. It sounds like that also might be it. If they didn’t test out whether this was something that they can scale before they ran a promotion that they’re going to waive the fee and double the traffic overnight. That may be something where you see a disjointed customer experience that also might negatively impact the customer.
(Jeremy Cross) Like you were saying, the clients that you speak with who want to do too much at once. And like you said, yes, get started. But as you were saying, start small or start in one particular area or if you don’t know where to start, find a partner that you can work with that can guide you through this. That’s my understanding, and I know that’s what you do with the people that we work with, is guide them to where they want to get eventually, but be that trusted voice to say, trust me, start here or start small or let’s look at what is your goal at the end of this.
(Ryan Kubec) Yeah. And that sometimes is a challenge that you have competing requirements, competing budgets … things of that nature. Everyone wants to look good and say, hey, I improved my area. And so that’s something that we do with consulting. And we’re not the only one. There’s a lot of people that do this where they come in and share it.
What’s your end-game customer experience that you want to put in place? What makes sense to start with, how do we sequence this? And then not just sequencing individual solutions, whether that be a customer portal, whether that be a mobile app, whether that be some type of additional feature or new service that you want to provide. But then what are the different levels or releases or iterations that we want to do? So there’s going to be bumps and hiccups with every single thing that you do or little learnings that happen. And when you try to do too much, you roll out 15 different features as opposed to rolling out two. Well if each feature has one little glitch in it, now you’ve got 15 all at the same time. You have 15 things that are negatively impacting an experience versus maybe one or two things that a consumer is willing to look past and say, that’s no big deal. And then, slowly iterate over time.
(Jeremy Cross) Well, I think for our listeners — for those who are at companies that might be looking at their own customer experience and what are they doing with CX — I guess the learnings that come out of this would be, is your customer experience omni-channel? Are you meeting customers where they are? Where is their point of entry. If they’re coming in with mobile, does the mobile seamlessly integrate with the desktop? Are you giving them the information that they need at that point or are you serving your own interests? So do you have your customers in mind with that?
And the other side of things is internally, is everybody in alignment on where your organization wants to go with their customer experience? You know, that is one of the things you can definitely be looking at here, because without these pieces, you might not be failing at customer experience — which is that’s not what we’re suggesting about both Hertz and Kroger. They’re not failing at customer experience, but they’re certainly faltering, and there are areas of improvement that they could be looking at in order to make sure that they are providing that seamless customer experience that their customers are looking for.
(Ryan Kubec) And again, we’re talking a lot more from the technology standpoint, some of these additional features. So take away from the Hertz example that functional design and having a true omni-channel experience is important.
That is frustrating for me as an end user to have to remember, is this information on the website or is it on the mobile app? Where do I have to go to get the information I’m looking for. The functional design — I don’t gamble, but I would be willing to bet that they did not design their site with travelers in mind who frequently travel — their most loyal customers. If they say they did, I doubt they really got input from those travelers, because I would have told them from day one that as soon as I try to take a look at my upcoming reservations, I can’t tell where any of these things are. You didn’t even put the location on there. That would have been — and it’s such an easy thing — the data is all there; it’s how do you present that to your customers?
That said, Hertz does a fantastic job with a lot of their other features. They’ve got a quick checkout now where they’ve got a partnership with Clear, which actually had a very, very good customer experience. I just signed up for them not too long ago. Maybe we’ll cover that at another time. But they also have another feature where, when you’re running late to the airport, you can sign up ahead of time to where they’ll meet you at the rental car place, and then rather than having to get on the shuttle and wait for that to get there and then get over, they have somebody that when you pull up, they jump in the car with you and they drop you off right at the departure gate. So you get to the gate a little bit quicker that way. Fantastic.
And their customer loyalty does work. As we’ve both said, we’ve got some frustrations with the CX that we’re getting from these companies, but neither of us has changed. The rental car I have right now is a Hertz car. I still am a loyal customer because I don’t want to start over. So customer loyalty does work, but it has its limits, because marketing and promotions also work. And my one thing holding me back is I don’t want to start over. But if National or Enterprise or Avis, or any of the other chains said, hey, we bought some marketing data, and Ryan’s been Presidents Circle for the last seven years, let’s go after him and offer him a certain amount of points if he moves over, and we’ll grandfather him into the highest status tier. That would probably push me over the edge. So there’s some limits to loyalty. And certainly Hertz is a great company, but they have areas that they can improve on.
(Jeremy Cross) And I would say the same thing with Kroger here. As Kroger tries to become more innovative, as they redo their app, as they rethink the daily and weekly experience of going to your local grocery, I would say there they’re going to hit speed bumps. They’re going to hopefully learn from those and then make those changes. I know for a fact that with my local Kroger, as you exit the building, it says they’re looking for e-commerce clerks. So they are aware of the fact that they have a deficit there and that they need to fill that gap. It’s just the speed at which they can do that. And they’re trying to juggle will maybe one too many balls at a time right now and risking dropping them all as opposed to maintaining what they’re doing. But it’s not been enough to force me to do all of my shopping at Trader Joe’s or find another grocer.
(Ryan Kubec) Sure. And it is interesting, as we’ve gone through this, I’ve been having flashbacks to one of our previous episodes where we talked about some of those core pillars in CX. And those are definitely things that we’re talking about here, where these companies are coming up short, definitely are falling short in those areas where they’re not meeting something in one of those pillars, having a true omni-channel experience, starting small, not biting off more than they can chew, having a true strategy, all of those pieces. So if you haven’t heard that episode, definitely go back and check that out.
(Jeremy Cross) Absolutely. And we’ll make sure we put that one down in the notes, because those are the core pillars of CX. I think a lot of these conversations, they do come back to that. There are reasons why they are the pillars of CX.
Well, thank you very much. We’re going to wrap this one up today. We hope that you’ve enjoyed listening today and learned a little something. And we hope to see you on the next episode of the CX Angle podcast. Thank you.
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