Cruise America Runs Aground When It Comes To Customer Service
PAN of the WEEK: Cruise America RV Rental & Sales
8950 North Federal Blvd., Federal Heights, CO 80260
Seldom have I experienced a business that is so daft when it comes to understanding its customers. Based upon a single three-day rental of a 30-foot motorhome this past week, I believe I could teach a graduate-level business school course on how to misunderstand your business niche, relying strictly on Cruise America as a case study.
The Mesa, Arizona company, a 38-year-old family owned business, is the largest recreational vehicle rental company in America. The problem is, Cruise America seems to have lost sight of the “recreational” aspect of its mission in favor of a mechanical, perfunctory execution of the unfriendliest sort of vehicle rental service.
I honestly believe that the worst U-Haul rental location I’ve ever visited is more customer friendly than the Cruise America rental center in Federal Heights, Colorado, where my family and I picked up our motorhome rental.
No one at the Federal Heights location, which has all the vacation charm of a tire-repair shop, smiles. No one welcomes customers. No one thanks customers. No one inquires about your destination, your satisfaction or your needs. Indeed, no one seems the least bit aware that Cruise America is in the vacation and entertainment industry.
I think the Cruise America ethos is actually comparable to what you might expect from a disgruntled parking lot attendant – although that may be unfair to parking lot attendants.
Truth be told, if I hadn’t gone out to our car and phoned company headquarters in Mesa to complain, I never would have gotten off the lot with my reserved RV at all.
Why? Because Cruise America’s so-called “Hub Manager” at the Federal Heights location insisted that I watch a 23-minute video on how to operate an RV before he’d release the vehicle to me, even though I assured him that I had already watched the entire video as recommended on the company’s web site.
To say that the “Hub Manager” was unpleasant and combative is an understatement. He told me that I scare him because I wouldn’t comply with his rule that each customer must watch the Cruise America video on site. He said he has had other customers who claim they watched the video online only to go ahead and damage the RV after renting it and ignoring the warnings of the video. In fact, he bragged that he has made some loyal Cruise America customers watch the 23-minute video as many as eight different times.
Imagine how long Hertz would stay in business if prior to renting a car it required each driver to watch a 20-plus minute safety video – and then refused to believe customers when they attested to the fact that they had indeed already screened the video online? (Ironically, the founder of Cruise America was a former president of Hertz.)
Since I was unwilling to invest another 23 minutes screening a video I had already viewed – and it turns out that despite what the Hub Manager maintained, there is zero requirement that Cruise America customers ever watch the video – the Hub Manager told me to take an inglorious hike and to forget my $300 deposit, since he wouldn’t refund it to me because of my insolence.
But for the fact that I’m a stubborn customer, our family weekend outing and my $300 would indeed have been flushed down the refuse tank.
When I asked the Hub Manager to provide me the name of his supervisor so I might appeal, he refused. Undeterred, I went outside and on my mobile phone tracked down Sean Dickinson, a pleasant and apologetic executive at Cruise America headquarters. Dickinson heard my tale of woe and after his calls to the Federal Heights location, my family and I were out of the driveway and off on our holiday.
Dickinson told me, without yet knowing I was a journalist, that my experience would be used in refining the training Cruise America provides to its customer service personnel.
To wit, Cruise America needs more employees like Dickinson. But the problem, I’m afraid, runs deeper than a dismal Hub Manager.
Indeed, I would strongly advise Dickinson and his bosses, brothers Randall Smalley and Robert Smalley Jr. – the sons of company founder Robert Smalley Sr. – to take an actual aquatic cruise or visit a nice resort hotel and compare the customer service they receive at those vacation spots to the experience of Cruise America travelers.
While it might be convenient for Dickinson and the Smalleys to blame the Hub Manager in Federal Heights, they allow him to continue to treat their customers worse than fingernail dirt. Someone so poor in customer service isn’t in place by accident. The Smalleys enable him and his surely crew of rental agents to haunt unsuspecting vacationers.
To be the largest RV rental company in the country, Cruise America must do many things right. Our vehicle itself was splendid and the cost for our rental was really quite affordable, even in these difficult financial times.
Nonetheless, it is hard to imagine how truly successful Cruise America would be if it designed its rental centers to feel like vacation launch pads and if it trained all of its service agents to send each and every customer off with a smile and a warm bon voyage.
Our first Cruise America experience was an experiment. If it had gone well, we planned to rent another motorhome at the end of this week for a second mini-holiday. As it is, we now plan to use our own mini-van and stay at a hotel instead. None of us can face the prospect of returning to the Federal Heights rental center.
Our lost business alone will cost Cruise America thousands of dollars in the years to come. That’s enough money to invest in better training for its Federal Heights staff.
The bottom line is this: We loved the motorhome but will never again entrust our family vacation to some grumpy parking lot attendants.
[This story originally appeared on Examiner.com]