I've been using Zipcar for almost ten years. When it first started the customer service was like what you experience with venture backed companies that want to grow. They lived by the rule that the "customer is always right" and their field force was on top of vehicle maintenance. Along the way, Zipcar proved how disruptive the car sharing model could be. It was to many of us, the long term rental alternative to Uber and Lyft, and it still is. Eventually AVIS bought the company, and unfortunately, the brand is not the same.
The benefits of Zipcar that far outweigh traditional car rental options still remain. Every car comes with a Gascard, so gas is free when you need to fill up. The car is equipped with an E-Z Pass so tolls are free. You don't have any paperwork, as all you need is your ZipCard which you swipe on the car to unlock and drive the car. There's no lines, no waiting, and if your fellow Zipcar community members do their required duty, the car is clean inside and has enough gas for the next renter.
Unfortunately, over the last five or six rentals, not one has been as good as the pre-Avis ownership days.
The first bad rental experience was at JFK Airport. The Zipcar wasn't properly checked in when it was returned, so when I went to claim it, the car wouldn't recognize me, as the last renter was still the official user. The Avis team was clueless to how Zipcar worked and I ended up spending an hour working with the team to get in a car and on my way. The next rental was in Miami and the previous renter didn't return the car to the Zipcar spot, parking it in an adjacent garage, with a different exit gate that required a pass. Beyond wandering around trying to find the car, and having Zipcar support "honk" the horn so I could locate it, as GPS was only "close" not dead on accurate underground, another hour was spent locating the car, then when I found it, seeing all kinds of trash including a bunch of opened soda cans, water bottles, receipts, and discarded tube of lipstick. More recently, in Los Angeles the two of my recent were dirty outside, and low on gas. The coup de gras though in L.A. was a rental where the cars are in a valet section of a garage that is full of regular monthly parking residents. Even though I showed up ahead of some "regulars" I found that they were getting their cars ahead of me, and when I asked the cashier why I was waiting, her comment was "we take care of our regulars first as they take care of us and Zipcar doesn't."
Each of these is a "people" problem. People rent the cars, and in the "car sharing" model, we are responsible to one another. The facility issue in L.A. is one of where management is paid by Zipcar for the rental of a space, but their staff is left to take care of the renters, who take away tip money they receive from the regulars. Compare this to the Zipcar location in SF I like to use, where the car is stored in the garage of my favorite hotel, and where the doormen and valets pool tips, (and every stay the head doorman is tipped by me.) I get the car exactly when I need it, as does every renter simply because their behavior reflects on the hotel, not Zipcar.
This week, in Milwaukee my Zipcar Gascard didn't work. I used my own credit card at Zipcar's instruction to put gas in the car (again the gas level was below the car sharing suggested "always leave half a tank or more paid for by Zipcar" level. The agent who approved the use of my own personal credit card and said he would a) give me an hour of future credit (he didn't), would send me instructions on how to receive a credit back on my credit card (he didn't) and would move me to another car the next day as I had reserved the same car for the next day at the same price but at a different location (he did.) When I arrived Friday to grab the replacement car the local Zipcar ground force was examining my rental that had a cracked taillight and a dented trunk. They agreed that I should not drive the car and swapped me to another car. That's when the next round of fun began that I found out when my bill arrived.
The bill was almost double the day before's cost. There was no "hour of credit" and the rate was higher, which in turn kicked in higher taxes. This morning I called Zipcar and spoke to Christopher who took all my points of concern down, said he was going to give me two hours of credit and raise my dispute to the right people. He understood the issues and wanted to get them corrected, but was powerless to resolve the matter.
Sure I could keep the bill at $20.00 more and not deal with it, but the issue isn't the money only. It's the time wasted on each rental, which is why I hope the powers at be at Zipcar return the brand to what made it. A very customer oriented one that cares first about their renters, makes sure cars are properly maintained, not only about the bottom line.
If companies like Bird and Lime can hire chargers to check in the scooters each night, Zipcar should have "agents" who over night check out cars, make sure gas is in the tanks and the cars are free of cash, not only have their ground force do their best to check on the cars once a week, which is the current model. Heck, I bet those Bird and Lime Chargers could be their night force.