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I have long held the belief that the car hire business is one huge opportunity for a company to get it right, build true brand loyalty and clean up. All my experiences suggest that no one is even close to pulling that off. A recent experience yet again confirmed my worst fears and trust in brands is at the heart of the issue.

I am a regular hirer of cars, at least 8 a year. For that reason, I have an annual insurance policy that covers any excess claims, meaning I don’t have to buy the expensive additional insurance that is sold at the pickup desk.

A recent hire from Lisbon airport with Sixt seemed fine until I returned the car. Two microscopic marks were identified and an immediate bill for 180 euros was deducted from my credit card. Despite my protestations it dawned on me that I had been questioned about my own separate insurance throughout the hire process and extensively on return. I quickly understood why, they bill me and I claim from a third party. How convenient and easy to convert microscopic marks into easy cash especially with a plane to catch and no time to argue.

It is in the pursuit of a fair resolution where it has become clear how badly misaligned are the physical and digital customer experiences leading to an abject failure to protect the brand.

And indeed it is complex. We hired through a third party site (Rental Cars who have proven to be excellent), Sixt themselves and the franchise in Lisbon airport who they have handed their brand over to. The guilty party are clearly the franchise but of course my disagreement is with Sixt and it is their brand at stake.

A phone call to Sixt moved from the UK to Germany, everyone along the way claiming not to own the issue. An email from Germany to ‘someone who is responsible’ (no name given) promised a phone call that would sort it out. No phone call emerged so I rang again and was passed through two more people, eventually to be told the only, yes only, way to deal with this is to email the Damages department. Their automatic message promising a response in 10 days immediately says that my concerns are unimportant to them. Sixt have failed to deliver on their promises so far so I predict that I will hear nothing until I eventually have to ring again.

So what is happening here? Well Sixt have devolved responsibility for their brand to a third party who care more about generating additional revenues than protecting the Sixt brand. I now do not trust the franchise in Lisbon and by association I do not trust the Sixt brand either.

The physical and digital customer experience seem totally unable to connect to each other never mind align and therefore are incapable of generating any kind of positive brand amplifier.

The ironic thing is that there is no cost to me. I know the excellent Hire 4 Car, insurance product will cover my costs. I have already cancelled a future booking with Sixt and switched to brand that I trust more. The physical and digital customer experience had a chance to rebuild that trust but has so far failed.

The brand experience has at least got me talking. I am networked to many people who use car hire in Lisbon.

They are next on my list.

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