TMCnet News

Customer Service for Dead People
[January 16, 2009]

Customer Service for Dead People

TMCnet Contributing Editor
Recently in New Zealand there was a tragedy on the Fox Glacier. Ashish and Akshay Miranda, brothers in their early 20s from Melbourne, were on the glacier when they were buried under 100 tons of falling ice, chunks as big as cars, according to eyewitness accounts.

Their parents, Ronnie and Winnie Miranda, were in Christchurch preparing to return to Australia after the tragedy when car rental firm NZCRS informed them that they owed the company at least a thousand dollars, since the keys to the eight-seat van were in Akshay's pocket, and hence buried under 100 tons of ice as well. Authorities said it would be weeks before his body was recovered.

Rental car company director Edwin Chan told the New Zealand Herald the firm had to recoup about $800 for the van to be transported 418 kilometers from Fox Glacier to Christchurch, and hundreds of dollars more for a new transponder key to electronically unlock the van. Chan estimated the total cost at $1,600.
"Nobody will do it for free," Chan said, adding that it's an "unfortunate" situation: "We feel for them. If there are things that are going to cost the company, we have no choice but to recover the costs. They should ... travel with insurance. It's not up to us as a company to pay for the costs."
The firm declined to charge per day overdue fees on the van, even though it was due back Sunday the 11th and as of Thursday still had not been returned, at a loss of about $390 and counting to the company.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who also serves as Minister of Tourism, called the rental company "crass at best" for trying to recover the money from the dead boys' parents. He acknowledged that while the company may be legally right, it should show some compassion: Charging the family, he told the Herald, was "crass at best and at the very least, bad business practice."
Is it now? Interesting question.
Reader comments seem to support the idea that the rental company shouldn't have to eat the costs just because the customer is, uh, dead. "JT" from Auckland posted that yes it's a tragedy – "however tragedies occur to tourists all around the world. Thus travel insurance was invented. It's called personal responsibility."
And reader Cameron Wilkes asked "should funeral homes not charge for their services because a family member has died and the family is upset?"
Aussies professed themselves "shocked, shocked" not only over the rental company expecting the family to make good on its debt, but also that a motel owner refused to waive a $100 charge for the room the parents didn't use when they departed early.
The Melbourne Herald Sun weighed in unsubtly, blaring the headline "Heartless Kiwis demand parents pay for dead Melbourne brother's bills." One notices the supposedly heart-filled Herald Sun nowhere offers to help defray the family's expenses. Of course it's always easy to strike a posture when it's somebody else's wallet getting dented.
"Everyone is making us out to be the bad guys. We're running a business," the motel owner pointed out, adding that the family agreed to pay the bill.
Chan said he was upset the keys were buried under the ice with Akshay because he was not permitted to drive the car, according to the Herald Sun. "They have both been told not to drive the car," he said of the brothers. "The father and cousin were supposed to drive."

Chan also observed that the search and recovery efforts on behalf of the government for the boys cost thousands of dollars, and pointed out that they had entered an out-of-bounds area. "At the end of the day they have cost the New Zealand government a lot of money," he noted correctly.
"I do have compassion for them. But they obviously can't expect me to pick up the pieces," he said.
He has at least one Aussie supporter – one Herald Sun reader wrote to ask "should Mr. Chan have to go home and say sorry kids, you can't have dinner tonight because someone died because they weren't smart enough to follow instructions?"
So what are the CRM issues here?
Quality of customer service. Did Chan's rental agency provide top quality service? Evidently so – there aren't any complaints about the van or the service provided.
The quality of the customer relationship. Leaving aside the issue of repeat business at this point, let's look at how the relationship was perceived by the customer, who broke the rental company's rules by allowing unauthorized drivers. Sure we all do it, but the agreement is the agreement – if we're discovered by the agency allowing an unauthorized driver to drive the car, well, we'd have pretty thin ice to stand on to complain as well.
Putting it on a relational level, if I find that my friend's been letting his no-good worthless brother-in-law drive my snowmobile when I told him not to let anybody else drive it, and the clumsy yahoo wrecked it and broke his leg, and the bill would be $1,600 to have it fixed, I would not be disposed to say "Oh don't worry about the costs" just because the clod has a broken leg.
Call me heartless, crass, whatever, but if it happens to you then you can be Mother Teresa and take the hit. Me, I'm going to collect.
The Mirandas showed how much they valued the relationship with Chan when they let Akshay drive the van, I for one do not criticize Chan for thinking okay, I can't rent my van out because the key's in the pocket of the kid I specifically told not to drive, who was in a restricted area where he shouldn't have been on the glacier, and the family didn't pay for the insurance that would have taken care of all this, call me crass if you want, Mr. Prime Minister, but I don't see why that skins my cat to the tune of $1,600 plus lost future rental fees.
So the bottom CRM line is that Chan's in the right. Some readers of the New Zealand Herald's story wrote to say it's a pennywise and pound-foolish approach for Chan to recover his costs, since it might deter others from visiting New Zealand.
There is a CRM principle, not invoked in print frequently, but everybody's aware of it, stating that some customers just aren't worth the trouble. And if this incident keeps people who break rental agreements and ignore restricted area signs in dangerous areas away from New Zealand, then maybe that's all to the good, and maybe they should go elsewhere instead.
Say, Melbourne.

David Sims is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of David's articles, please visit his columnist page. He also blogs for TMCnet here.

Edited by Jessica Kostek

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