Visit Modern Campus

Five Frustrations: Lessons for Higher Ed After An Awful Car Rental Experience

The EvoLLLution | Five Frustrations: Lessons for Higher Ed After An Awful Car Rental Experience
There are some fundamental parallels in customer expectations across all industries, and higher education leaders could stand to learn from a recent failure in the car rental space.

I am an Enterprise Plus Gold Level rewards program member. Although eduKan’s main office is located in Great Bend, Kansas, our staff is geographically dispersed across the state. The only rental car company that has locations in all of these various cities is Enterprise, so we have enjoyed a long-standing business relationship. Overall, the experience of renting vehicles from Enterprise has been pretty seamless; however, the only tangible reward I have enjoyed as a Gold Plus member is a priority lane with a shorter line at the airport reservation center.

So you may be asking why a story about a rental car company is in an academic journal. Last week, I reserved a car and the series of events and exchanges reminded me of some of the same issues students face when interacting with their colleges and universities. As a former VP for Enrollment Management, I am keenly aware of the institutional goal to create a lifetime of loyalty: from prospect to student to alumni. The impact of the poor use of technology throughout a lifetime of engagements can severely damage this loyalty. What follows is a comparison of my experience with Enterprise to a student’s experience with an institution.

1. Captive Audience

Because Enterprise is the only rental car company that meets our geographic needs, we are forced to choose them as our rental car provider.

Students face a similar perception of captivity when choosing a college. While there are many options in addition to the traditional three-credit-hour lecture class to earn credit, like CLEP tests and PLA, most students don’t realize these options exist and are simply following the prescribed degree path of the institution by default.

2. Attempts at Technology Simply Creating Frustration

Last week, I made a reservation through the Enterprise website. Within 20 minutes I received an email from Enterprise offering a 10-percent discount on my next rental. I tried to modify my existing reservation to take advantage of the discount. The system would not allow me to modify my reservation. In an effort to try an alternative path, I clicked through the email to make a new reservation and delete the old reservation. When I clicked through the email link for the discount, the system did not auto-populate my information. Not a big deal, but the technology exists to make this happen and Enterprise is either not tech-savvy enough to program it or doesn’t really care about the customer experience.

We do the same thing in higher education. We invest countless dollars on technology: learning management systems, student information systems, interactive content, classroom technology and interactive websites. But do we ever really look to see how this experience impacts students?

On the academic side, professors are not trained in technology-led pedagogy. They do know how to use the technology in a sophisticated and engaging format.

Administrators are out of touch with how much more technologically advanced students are compared to most (if not all) of the faculty and staff on a college campus. Our administrative systems are often cumbersome and make seemingly simple tasks—enrolling in and paying for courses, for example—a challenge for today’s tech-savvy student.

This leads to a very frustrating experience for students who regularly use technology in almost every other part of their lives.

3. Expose Bulls#$%

As I completed my quest for the discounted reservation, I noticed that the rental amount was 5 percent less than the original amount, not the 10 percent promised. Now I am frustrated and feel taken advantage of by a key vendor. If I were face-to-face with a customer service representative at a counter, I would have been at a disadvantage, unaware of the different pricing levels and would simply be forced to accept the quoted price.

We see many parallels in higher ed as well. Technology allows students to simply NOT accept the information from the traditional “sage on stage” format many professors use to convey information. In that scenario, students had almost no way to effectively challenge the accuracy of the information the professor presented. Today, students are savvy at online research and have access to an unprecedented amount of information that can be used to challenge a professor. Quality professors should see this as a challenge to continuously improve their courses by staying current on updated research and industry information.

4. Lost in the System with Powerless People

Frustrated and fuming, I called customer service at Enterprise. As a member of many other reward programs, I feel appreciated when I dial the special phone number for elite-status members, the system recognizes me, welcomes me by name and asks if I am seeking help with a specific item the system knows I have purchased. Enterprise, however, offers no special treatment for Plus members and their system simply drops the caller into a queue. I explained my situation and hoped the agent would simply say, “Sorry for your frustration, let me modify your original reservation with your 10 percent discount.” Did it happen? Nope. The agent needed a discount code, which was not in the email. Without that code, she was unable to assist me. Instead, she transferred me to member services. After the transfer, I was given the opportunity to, “Select 1 for National or 2 for Alamo.” Wait … no options for Enterprise. Since I didn’t choose, the system kicked me out!

How often do we send our students across campus to different departments to take care of an issue? Even more frustrating for students, especially those at a distance, are the policies we have in place on our campus that limit the ability for staff in one department to handle a student issue in another. Some progressive institutions have one-stop kiosks where one empowered person can resolve most issues on the spot. How many colleges mystery shop their own staff to see how students are treated? I would surmise very few.

5. Social Media Fails

Completely frustrated, I turned to Twitter and unloaded on Enterprise. I was really and truly hoping someone at Enterprise was monitoring Twitter and would realize a Plus Gold level member was upset and reach out. As you might guess, that did not happen.

Many colleges think if they have a Facebook page or their admissions and academic departments send out an occasional tweet, they are engaged in social media marketing. Very few actively monitor social media channels for discussions regarding their institution and miss the opportunity for meaningful engagements.


Occasionally, discussions surface about treating students as customers, but they seem to lose traction amidst headier trending issues, like MOOCs. My observations and comparisons above are less about customer service and more about using technology to make the student experience engaging, enriching and enlightening without frustrating, annoying and complicating.

Author Perspective: