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February 09, 2012
By Carol Wallace
Director, External Communications

I recently landed in Baltimore Washington International Airport and headed to the rental car pickup counter. When I arrived, there was a long line at Enterprise – and only at Enterprise. I was about sixth in line, but saw that about four customers were at the counter being served simultaneously.
 
I dutifully pulled my reservation and driver’s license out of my bag, entered a semi-catatonic waiting stance, then looked up to see the darndest thing. One of the agents walked out from behind the counter and greeted the next person in line with a formal handshake.
 
It was such an unusual gesture for this routine activity. It was so formal. The customer stood up a little taller, looked the agent in the eye and said “I’m David, nice to meet you too.”
 
Thus, their exchange of information for a rental car began. I thought the agent must be one-of-a-kind – sort of like the intern Kenny on 30 Rock. Then, it happened again! The next agent walked purposefully out from the high counter to the next customer, looked her square in the eye, delivered a friendly handshake and guided her to the counter.  
 
When I first saw the long line at Enterprise, I assumed it was because of the low fare I too had booked online. This personal customer service didn’t make sense. You already had us at “low fare.” What is the deal with the handshake? I saw other customers in line getting ready for the greeting. Some had to put away their PDA’s (!)   Others shifted their bags to the left hand to return the handshake. 
 
Mostly, the entire line was bemused. There was little sign of impatience and while the line took time to move, each ‘next customer’ knew it would soon be their turn. I must admit, I did have a momentary impulse to decline the handshake due to germs. In this case, I decided, only the courtesy would be contagious.
 
After I was greeted and courteously walked the four feet over to the counter, the agent began typing the form. After the usual insurance questions, she asked where I was headed today. Then, she asked what I do for a living. I told her I work in technology PR and she continued by saying she was thinking of doing that once.
 
When it was time for me to sign the papers, she again walked all the way around to my side of the counter, passed three other agents and customers and showed me where to sign and initial. She then finished off the entire transaction with another warm handshake and a genuine smile. I was simply delighted with the whole check-in experience.
 
Authenticity is a killer competitive advantage for a brand – especially when demonstrated in person. The Enterprise experience transformed the tedious into a pleasant exchange. The paperwork must be completed and it takes time. Why not take the time to connect with the customer with a pleasant conversation as a distraction to the necessary transactional exchange? 
 
Someone at Enterprise was sharp enough to walk through the customer experience and identify a simple but powerful improvement. The new customer experience was created for very little “I” that I’m sure is delivering a big “ROI”.
 
In the end, the extra time each agent took to personally greet and guide each interaction is rewarded with a delightful customer experience for the dozen road warriors who visited the Enterprise counter at BWI that day.