The oldest case for VRM is one that has hardly improved in decades: car rental. Few business categories do a worse job of matching specific customer needs. Or a worse job of doing even the very limited range of services to which they limit themselves.

For example, Enterprise. I had a car booked for this evening in Santa Barbara that I would drive for the next week and return to the same airport. Price: $205 for an economyh car.  Nice deal. But, thanks to the common difficulty of getting from Airport A to Airport B, I’m arriving at 11:45 this evening, after Enterprise is closed.  So I called the company from the airport in Denver, where I’m sitting now.

The robot asked if I’d like to answer a one-question survey if I stayed on line after the call. I pressed 1 for yes. The reservations agent explained that I couldn’t change the reservation for pick-up tomorrow morning, but would need a new reservation. This one would be $245. Why? The short answer: because that’s what The System says.

So the survey robot asked me to say whether I was satisfied with the agent’s service (not the company’s, meaning the agent gets penalized, I would guess). On a scale of 1 to 5 (where 5 is most satisfied), I punched in 2. The robot expressed electronic unhappiness with my dissatisfaction, and told me to leave a detailed message. When the promt for that came, I started to talk and the robot instantly interrupted with a “Thank you,” and hung up the line. Is there a better way to compound customer unhappiness than that?

So I want to take this opportunity to appeal to anybody in a responsible position anywhere in the car rental business to work together with us at on a customer-based solution to this kind of automated lameness. It can’t be done from the inside alone. That’s been tried and proven inadequate for way too long. Leave a message below or write me at dsearls at cyber dot law dot harvard dot edu.

Let’s build The Intention Economy — based on real, existing, money-in-hand intentions of real customers, rather than the broken attention-seeking and customer-screwing system we have now.

[Later…] Just booked a Budget compact car through United for $196.86. Got miles with it. By the way, I am a long-standing member of Budget’s FastBreak club. There was nowhere on the reservation I just made to note that. Makes no difference. Just pointing out how lame “loyalty” programs are too. I have minimal loyalty to Budget (which, over the years, has generally been okay). As of now, I have antipathy toward Enterprise.