How to lose customers by not even trying

"The easiest way to lose a customer? make it clear you don't care about that customer." Tired old wisdom, right? Sure, but checkout how this applies to webstores - and understand the message poorly thought out webstores send customers.

The other day my saintly mother in law asked me to help her find a Volvo to rent for a week in Victoria. Hertz has them, so I said I'd check the web and get her an estimate and a phone number to call to make her reservation.

I use Firefox on Solaris - a rare combination but one that works reasonably well for most sites. Not, however, for their javascript pagecode, checks for a wide variety of browsers but essentially groups them as "ie4up" or "not ie4up" and never really uses the detail in the not IE category to accommodate users.

In my case, for example, I get the default front page reservation form - with no warnings that after I fill the thing there's no place to go because the "Submit" button is hidden under some ads on the right and can be neither found nor clicked.

So do the obvious, right? Use my HertzID to log in and see if that produces a working page - it doesn't; instead the login process informs me that "A valid member number must be entered to log in or to create/find a password. [NZX005]."

Helpful huh?

So I did the obvious: checked the Avis site (which worked properly) and helped her reserve a Ford Taurus instead of an S60.

Then I looked at the code and the servers.

The Hertz site runs on Windows Server 2003 and seems to have been ported from Windows 2000. The Avis site runs on Linux and seems to have come from Solaris 8.

The Hertz site downloads this warning first:

Copyright (c) 2005 The Hertz Corporation All Rights Reserved. (Unpublished.)

The information contained herein is confidential and proprietary to The Hertz Corporation and may not be duplicated, disclosed to third parties, or used for any purpose not expressly authorized by it. Any unauthorized use, duplication, or disclosure is prohibited by law.

The Avis site does not have this - although both use Omniture tracking with appropriate copyright acknowledgments.

Comments like: "// 032504 - dmr"; embedded in the Hertz code suggest that it was written by someone whose first commitment wasn't to Hertz - and comments like this one:

//alert('Condition = '+(!((isIE4up)||(isNN7up)||((isMozilla)&&(mozillaVersion>=1))||(isFirefox)||(isFirebird)))+'\nNetscape 7+: '+isNN7up+'\nisMozzila and up: '+((isMozilla)&&(mozillaVersion>=1))+'\nisIE4up: '+isIE4up);

add emotional depth to that assumption.

In contrast the comments embedded in the Avis code look like this:

* JavaScript method responsible for setting tracking variables and
* submitting the form when the "Express" button is clicked.

In total the impression I get from the Hertz site is that the company doesn't care about it - that's it's there because everyone's got a website and having one ticks a box.

In contrast my impression is that somebody at Avis cares about the customer experience - and that's really my bottom line: one of these two sites works, and made a sale for that company. The other site doesn't, and lost Hertz its customer.