Just making conversation


Q: Last month my wife went to Hartford, Conn., and tried to rent car from Hertz. The car we had reserved was not available and she had to wait nearly an hour. Further, she was asked some very personal and inappropriate questions.

I complained to Hertz, and I was sent a $30 coupon, assured that they have a policy on dealing with customers, and that it would be reinforced.

I emailed them back, saying the $30 is nice, but that they don’t grasp the magnitude of the questions. I explained that the reservation had been made under my name, but that because of an illness I didn’t make the trip. So there was only one driver.

My wife asked for the fuel-purchase option, and the agent asked how many drivers there were, knowing she was alone. Then the agent wanted to know where she was going, who was she seeing, was she visiting family, where will she be visiting, what is the purpose of the rental, what is the rental for, was she going to drive local or all over, what were her plans, what was she doing in Hartford for pleasure, where was she staying.

My wife said that the agent kept asking the questions as if he did not like her answers. She asked him, “Why the third degree?”

The agent said, “Just making conversation.”

My wife said it was very creepy, so she was vague with her answers. I am sure you can see why she is so upset. Hertz only responded with a generic letter. Can you get a better explanation for us?

— Barry Seth

A: That does sound creepy. I’ve rented a car many times and have never had to field that many questions.

I asked Hertz to explain why one of its employees had been so inquisitive. Hertz spokeswoman Paula Stifter told me that during the course of any rental, a variety of questions are asked to understand the customer’s needs.

“These questions usually focus on the use of a car or purpose of the trip,” she said. “We’re trying to ascertain whether the rental is for business or leisure and whether the customer might want the fuel-purchase option.”

But, she added, that’s not necessarily the end of the questions. A customer service agent may ask about your destination to find out if you want to rent a car with a GPS-navigation system, for example. The query about multiple drivers? That was to find out if anyone else needed to be added as an additional authorized operator of the car.

“Our rental representative completed the transaction asking only mandatory questions necessary during the rental process and made every attempt to avoid any questions that may be considered personal,” Stifter said.

(As to the length of the wait, Hertz’s records show that you had a reservation for a midsize car, but that during the rental process your wife requested a compact car.)

That goes a long way to explaining what happened, but I’m troubled by a few discrepancies. Your wife seemed to suggest the questions were of a much more personal nature, and I have never in all my years of renting cars heard an agent say, “I’m just making conversation.” So I would have to say one of the stories I’m getting here – and I won’t say which one – is inaccurate.

Whenever you think a customer service agent is stepping out of line (hey, it happens) don’t wait until you’re home to make a case out of it. Ask for a supervisor. Explain that you’re uncomfortable and that you’re having a negative customer-service experience. Then, tell the supervisor what he or she can do to make things right.

In your case, you failed to tell Hertz how it could make this up to you. Don’t leave that up to the imagination of an employee (they’re not paid to be imaginative). Tell them what you want. The worst they can say is “no”.

In addition to the $30 gift certificate, Hertz also agreed to waive the fee for enrolling in its #1 Club Gold loyalty program. This will allow your wife to bypass the car rental counter completely – and avoid any questions she might find overly intrusive.