Like most industries that offer consumer goods, the car rental industry must provide excellent customer service to ensure its continued success.
NP Auto Group, which supports NextCar, Priceless Car Rental, and Rent-A-Wreck brands, understands the importance of continual improvement for both its corporate-owned and franchised locations throughout the United States and the world.
Training and franchise support are priorities for NP Auto Group. Rather than outsourcing these critical components, they facilitate them in-house at their Laurel, Maryland headquarters that is home to the company’s call center and its training center, which features an actual rental counter with mock workstations.
We recently spoke with “Pat The Trainer” Bowie, who has an extensive training and development background in the car rental industry dating back to 1994. Pat has been working with NP Auto Group since 2004 providing training for everyone from the counter employees, reservation agents, management, and back-office team members of NextCar, Priceless Car Rental, and Rent-A-Wreck.
She explained, “If there is a need for a new or revised process or procedure or other information to be produced and rolled out to team members, training is involved.”
Given that Pat works in a department with exactly one employee — herself, this is no small feat! You may wonder how she is able to provide training for hundreds of people as a department of one. Pat explained that it begins with preparing and maintaining a somewhat flexible training schedule with cutoff dates. She uses blended learning utilizing in-house classroom training, live webinars, and a Learning Management System (LMS), which offers over 300 courses available to her users 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
“I believe in blended learning with automation,” she explained. “Technology streamlines many things. With the use of an LMS, along with the live webinars and in-person classes - at least during non-pandemic times — I have the resources needed to offer thorough training to a variety of workers across three different brands.” Depending on when an employee has onboarded their new hire training with Pat might be on their first day or within the first week of their new job.
“When creating training on procedures or processes that I’m not familiar with, I will keep asking questions from my content experts until I understand. If I can understand, then I can develop training that is tailored to my audience to ensure they will understand and ultimately be successful in meeting the company’s objectives,” she said.
Training That Provides Real-World Examples Of Good Customer Service
“We are in the car rental business, so above all, what we look for is customer service,” Pat said. "We need to make sure that [customers] are getting exactly what they’re paying for which is a positive experience. This includes a clean, reliable, safe vehicle at a reasonably good price.”
The process of car rental is highly automated and much of Pat’s training focuses on technology and automation. “We are always looking at more ways to get it done faster while maintaining customer service,” she said.
Beyond the technical aspect of training people to use the software, customer service is her number one priority.
“Customer service is a two-way thing,” she explained, adding that internal customer service to the company’s employees is just as important as that which they will later provide to the general consumer.
“We can’t do anything without our people,” Pat said. “People are our greatest asset.”
“We have to treat our people right. If we expect them to treat our customers’ right.”
Pat does a great deal of coaching within the organization with individual team members including the call center. She works hard to prepare employees for real-world customer service scenarios along with making sure employees and franchise members are comfortable using the technology that automates their rental car business.
Putting her actress hat on, Pat will tell stories that enable her trainees to immerse themselves in realistic “what if” contexts that demonstrate how to respond to things that a customer might potentially say.
Preparing them to face their front-line customers — the folks who are going to be renting cars — is the training she looks most forward to conducting and is the most common type of training that she does.
“Naturally, you can’t think of everything that someone might say, but if you give them that good base platform, they can use their critical thinking skills from there,” Pat explained. “They’re going to be okay.”
Brand Consistency Is A Team Effort That Fuels Continued Success
Once their initial training ends, Pat told us that employees are generally teamed up with a “buddy” at their locations to further things along with the assistance of location managers who will work with and coach them going forward.
That said, training is never really “over.”
“Refresher training has to happen,” Pat explained, adding that people’s skills will intermingle over time and confusion can set in, making refresher training vital to ensuring skill sets and brand consistency both remain at their peak.
Imparting sage advice, Pat shared something that she says to “her employees, managers, and franchise team members”.
“We are in the car rental business. When we buy a new car, we don’t just fill it with a full tank of gas and expect it to run on that same full tank of gas for the 6 or 8 months that it’s in our fleet,” she said. “We have to keep putting more fuel in it.” “That’s the same thing with our people. To keep their skills fresh, we have to keep refueling them, coaching and motivating them.”
When it comes to gauging the success of training, Pat told us the measurement depends on the program. A high percentage of her trainees’ jobs relate to the software, so she can tell right away how successful they’ve been in completing transactions.
Internal customer service success can be gauged by how well team members work together. External customer service is gauged by our customer’s feedback and our net promoter scores.
For those working in the call center, Pat explained that she, along with the management of her call center often listens to the reservation agent’s calls and interactions with their customers. If you’ve ever called a business service center, you may be familiar with the automated message, “This call may be recorded for training purposes,” and wondered if it is actually used in that way.
“Well, I can tell you, we absolutely, use it for training purposes,” Pat said. Pat listens to the agent’s interaction with the customers to discern the specific feedback and coaching needed which often includes giving kudos for a job well done.
Other measures of training success include statistics and sales information that relates to their work.
More times than not, the training success is marked by a trainee simply saying, “Thanks. I’m so glad I came to training. Or I really learned a lot. Or I’m so good at my job because of your training.”
Pat is indeed good in her role as a trainer. Auto Rental News awarded her with the coveted Professional of the Year award in 2016.
Those working in human resources or training are often the behind the scenes people that you would not expect to be considered for this type of award, Pat noted. “I was very surprised to receive it.”
She said she was informed of the award during a Friday morning meeting and that she would be receiving the award the following week in Florida.
Her response? “Oh, I can’t go. I have a class next week.”
Pat’s dedication to her craft is what earned her the nickname, “Pat The Trainer”. She told us that every time she would call a rental car location or introduce herself to anyone, she would immediately say “I’m Pat The Trainer,” and in no time, the moniker stuck permanently and it is how everyone refers to her.
The “T” in “The” is capitalized and of great importance to Pat, as she feels it’s the bridge that connects her name and her profession.
Pat The Trainer is always looking for new ways to do things, to reach people, and keep them motivated. “Sharing and helping others, seeing their light bulbs go on, hearing their confidence, and seeing them advance in their careers, there is such a satisfaction in having a part in that,” she said.
It is this adaptability and dedication that ensures not only her continued success but that of NP Auto Group, as well.
About NP Auto Group
NP Auto Group headquarters is located in Laurel, Maryland, and has Nextcar Corporate Rental Car locations throughout the Maryland area. NP Auto Group also provides support for the Baltimore Rent A Wreck Corporate Store along with the NextCar, Priceless Car Rental, and Rent-A-Wreck Franchises in and out of the U.S.
About Our Training Spotlight
Latitude’s Training Series spotlights a wide variety of training programs from various channel industry organizations. Learn first-hand from actual training executives as they express tactics and success from their training programs, designed to help our readers gain knowledge of business practices.