retail news in context, analysis with attitude

This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

I've been a Zipcar customer for a number of years. Especially when I'm in Oregon, teaching at Portland State University - what I like to call my "adjunctivity" - it is enormously convenient to use a Zipcar, since there are many of them parked near both my apartment and the campus. Plus, I love the idea that Zipcar is a disruptive influence, renting by the hour, offering cars that are out of the ordinary, and challenging the traditional rental car business.

Except … it was just a little over a year ago that Zipcar was acquired. By Avis. A traditional rental car business.

This year I've found that the Zipcars that I've used have been a little bit dirtier than they used to be. I've found that there are more Fords than Minis … in fact, there are no Minis in the fleet anymore, and one of the real pleasures of using Zipcar used to be able to occasionally rent a mini convertible for a few hours. And, when I called Zipcar at one point to complain about a particularly dirty car, leaving a message that I wanted them to call me, and leaving my number, they never called back.

I could just smell Avis screwing up a good thing.

The other day, I decided to stop by the local Zipcar office in downtown Portland to chat about what I felt was a slackening in the company's brand promise. It was interesting … they said that as far as they knew, cars were no dirtier than in past years … they explained that Minis had been purged from the fleet because they were high maintenance … maintained that there had been no change in Zipcar management since the acquisition by Avis … and suggested that if my call had not been returned, it was because, well, I left it on the wrong voicemail.

But, they put a one hour credit on my Zipcar account. For which I am grateful.

But … while I'm willing to give Zipcar the benefit of the doubt, I have to admit that I'm not completely persuaded. This is a slippery slope … and there are an increasing number of alternative services to choose from. Zipcar has to be careful not to lose whatever advantage it may have.

I'm not confident, because the fellow I talked to at Zipcar seemed to miss something very important. I could've sent an email. I could've made another phone call. But I cared enough to go out of my way to visit the office … which means that I'm way more than just a dissatisfied customer.

Customers only do what I did when they care. Businesses that miss that signal simply don't.

That troubles me.

That is what's on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

KC's View: