Rollercoaster tracks

How to ACE customer loyalty after a complaint

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When things go wrong, what marks out a world class organisation from the rest of the crowd is what they do about it. Customers know that not everything goes right all the time. Sometimes, they’re left disappointed by a service failure.

What matters, is what you do next – because how you handle the situation makes the difference between customer disappointment and negative word of mouth, or improved loyalty, satisfaction and advocacy.

Let’s look at my recent experience of hiring a rental car from New Zealand based Ace car rentals for a case study in customer service and complaints good practice.

It’s been a long time since I last needed a hire car. Ace left me with such a positive impression of good customer service and a reasonable price on a New Zealand holiday ten years ago that they were my first port of call. Their name had stuck in my mind - loyalty works!

Naturally, I wanted to shop around for the best deal, so I dipped into my junk mailbox and retrieved a selection of spam e-mail from companies partnering with my preferred airline loyalty scheme,

It wasn’t long before Ace topped the list, despite not being an airline partner, as they offered a competitive price and better deal even taking into account the effect of bonus Qantas miles. Their website was pretty easy to use, with clear pricing for the zero excess insurance option. A few clicks and I’d paid the full amount on my card. Job done, a hassle free weekend away beckoned.

Sounds like a positive experience so far, right?

As with so many things in life, there are always irritating niggles. It wasn’t until the end of the booking process that I found out about some additional costs, including a $2 per day charge for registering an extra driver. My emotional customer journey took a little dip, but I frowned my way through. I clicked the e-mail telling me about ‘online check in’ and pre-registered our drivers’ information to make for a really simple pickup at the weekend.

Here’s where the customer experience journey became a proper rollercoaster

You know the feeling – when you realise that little dip you just had was the one before the big drop hidden round the corner. As you crest the rise, you see the track falling away in front of you and your stomach lurches as you plummet downwards. So went my emotional satisfaction at this point of the customer journey.

Why? Sometimes, it only takes a small thing to hit a customer’s emotional buttons and turn satisfaction into disappointment (or worse, anger). For me, finding out (after I’ve paid in full) that I’ve been double charged for a free item sits pretty high up the list. Only now – after payment – does a pop up box tell me Ace Plus actually included my one additional driver for free.

It might only be the cost of a cup of coffee, but that’s not the point when you feel like you’ve been overcharged unfairly. Besides, they make
really good coffee in Wellington, New Zealand, so a cup of daily joe is serious business. Time to complain!

How an organisation handles a customer in this situation marks out the good, the bad and the ugly in customer service. Customer satisfaction with complaint resolution has been shown to have a positive impact on customer loyalty [1]. Customer complaints are the definitive ‘moment of truth’.

I e-mailed my complaint to Customer Services. Response time was good and I was told it’d been passed to the right person to deal with. The e-mail I received back contained an immediate apology and a refund of the driver fee without question. No surprises there, you might say – that’s basic stuff.

Many companies would mark this as resolved now and move on to the next customer. As their e-mail also explained the full terms of insurance cover were actually available on the website, I decided to send a couple of screenshots of my booking customer experience flow, to explain why that didn’t occur for me.

How did ACE rentals show world-class complaint management?

World class companies don’t just listen, they take action - and they tell you what they’ve done about it too.

My customer service advisor replied (I call her ‘mine’, because it felt like there was a real personal commitment by now). She explained that my feedback was being sent to the web team and changes would be made to the new company website being released next week to fix the problem.

Great stuff – listening, learning and fixing the problem for others. This wasn’t just a glib promise. Her e-mail had a personal tone that conveyed genuine excitement about the website upgrade the company was about to make. In a few convincing lines, I got a sense of commitment and belief in her company, its service values and a personal desire to improve the situation for customers.

Employee attitude matters in creating customer satisfaction

But wait, there’s more!

The next day, I received the follow up satisfaction survey from my rental weekend. I filled it out, gave an honest ‘3’ for the booking experience (everything else was 9-10) and referred to my complaint. Like everyone else’s, their survey said they take feedback seriously.

What marked out Ace car rentals as different was the e-mail I received shortly after hitting ‘submit’ from my customer service advisor (yes, the same one). She told me how they read every single one of their feedback comments in detail. They obviously do. My internet provider could learn a thing or two from Ace.

She then gave me an excited update on exactly how the web team had fixed my issue and why it would improve the customer experience for others.

Why did Ace car rentals show world class complaints performance here?

  1. They made it easy to complain and did the mechanics of complaint handling competently
  2. They made it personal. A genuinely committed and interested employee showed passion and personality in getting to the root cause of my issue.
  3. They responded with immediate changes showing they’ve learnt from my complaint and fixed it quickly to make a better experience for everyone. No IT excuses, no defensive justifications. Just action to fix the problem.
  4. They joined up their learning processes. Survey feedback provided by another route has been connected to an open customer complaint. They gave a personalised response (from the same advisor) showing commitment to individual customer experience.
  5. They kept me in the loop. I feel listened to, that my views (however wrong!) were important and that they’re striving to create the best customer experience for everyone.
Below average organisations ignore or dismiss customer feedback.
Average companies respond to it.
Above average companies do something to make things better.
World class leaders learn, improve and take action that rewards loyalty and shows genuine commitment to delivering the best customer relationship.

In this case, Estelle from Ace car rentals made sure they aced their performance in complaint management.


  1. Andreassen (1999) “What drives customer loyalty with complaint resolution?” : Journal of Service Research 1999;1;324.


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