It was for an unpaid parking ticket for $60, one that the rental company had already paid. The company had notified the renter via email that her credit card had been charged, though certainly the renter knew it was her responsibility. And it was written in the contract. “Okay, I don't understand how you guys can just take from my account without asking. That's illegal!” the renter responded.
And then there’s the recovery company who found the wayward renter posing with the rental car in photos on Facebook. “It appears they [renters] are trying to live up to a predetermined image they have set for themselves,” says Kevin Carter of Collateral Consultants.
“Kids these days.” It’s a common refrain, but these days, the phrase could describe a generation that some have labeled as carrying a sense of entitlement not seen in recent generations. It is the generation, they say, that was nurtured on a quest for self-esteem without real accomplishment or effort; the generation lacking personal responsibility, the ones whose helicopter parents indulged their wants and needs. It’s the generation with a shelf full of participation trophies.
This label is attached to Gen Y, also called the millennials, who are now old enough to have some purchasing power. And they rent cars.
Carter has come to understand that they desire to attain their parents’ status, but they want it now.
“This leads to this ‘clinging to their reality phase’ we often encounter,” he says, which becomes a problem when recovering the car. “We observe it in the reluctance to surrender the rental unit, which is usually followed up with a myriad of excuses of why they cannot surrender or return the rental; all of which is an interruption to the lifestyle they have laid out for themselves.”
Excuses. Jenn Romanowski, CFO of Ride Share Systems, the New Jersey Dollar licensee who dealt with the parking ticket issue — a millennial herself — has seen enough of them:
“I didn’t drive the car for two days; do I have to pay for them?”
“I rent from you all the time; what's the best you can do for me?”
“I just don't have the money right now.”
Or this famous one, “I’m in the hospital.”
“Renters feel like it's ‘Let's make a deal,’” she says. “They expect the rental agent to be friends with them, and to understand their life stories because we're there to help them.”
Is this attitude becoming more prevalent? If you believe it is, then you will see it happening everywhere. But debating its pervasiveness is immaterial. The issue is how to deal with it.
For Romanowski, it’s about sticking to the rules but knowing when to bend a little — and applying it to all types of renters.
“We have to be firm but friendly,” she says. “If a renter has an emergency, we ask for a hospital record or proof and state we will be flexible on the recovery or outstanding rental charges.”
Romanowski's company is more flexible on late fees if the next renter isn’t inconvenienced. She’ll waive the handling fee for tickets for regular customers who call and acknowledge they’re outside of company policy — with a notice that this one free time won’t be offered again.
“Beyond that, we try to hold true to the posted price because the words ‘the last time I rented, you gave me a free upgrade’; they expect it,” she says.
Another former operator puts it more bluntly: “My opinion, it's time the customer is told no when he demands what he is not entitled to,” she says. “A polite but firm no. A no with a smile, but still a no.”
Nonetheless, no generation is defined by one trait. The millennials are also defined as highly educated, self-confident, ambitious, tolerant, technologically savvy, incessant multi-taskers and social media driven. They volunteer. They’re the most ethnically diverse generation in America.
Sure, you could throw up your hands about “kids these days.”
Or you could stick to your guns and also see these defining characteristics as opportunities. As this, the largest consumer generation in history comes into its own; a little understanding of their complete makeup will help attract more of them to your business.
And just remember that, after all, the label “millennial” is still just a label — across the rental counter you’re dealing with a real person.