My first job out of college was working for the Hertz Corporation at the Seattle Airport. It was 1978 and the country was coming out of a major gas crisis and still feeling the pain. I was hired to be a manager for the company that espoused to be #1 in the car rental market. I had applied to the company that advertised “We’re Number 2 so We Try Harder”, but I was thrilled when I received the job offer from the company that dressed in black and gold.

All new counter personnel and managers were sent to San Francisco for a two week new hire training. The first two days were spent building pride on why Hertz was #1 and what set it apart from its competition. It was exciting to feel a part of a dynamic, innovative organization that was determined to stay ahead in the market and claim the largest slice of market share.

To do this, the company was always looking for how to gain the competitive edge. There is not a lot of difference between a Hertz Ford Focus and a National Car Ford Focus. So the key differentiator was going to be in the customer experience. And this is where Hertz jumped ahead to make its mark and determine its dominant position in the industry.

Looking through the lens of the customer and the breakdown of their two main customer categories, it became the first rental car company to create a #1 Club line at the rental counter to separate business car renters from vacation renters. This allowed the businessman who wanted fast, quick, efficient service to be served and get on his way. Vacationers could be served in the manner they preferred with prolonged dialogue on where to go in Seattle, best restaurants, and of course, conversation on the weather.

This concept was quickly innovated to become a service experience called the #1 Express Club. Targeted for the business market, it offered the business woman to bypass the airport rental counter and go straight to a kiosk in the garage and pick up her keys and go to the car. This was enhanced by another innovation offered with the pre-printed rental agreement. Hertz was the first car rental company to collect frequent travelers data and have it preprinted at the city of rental so the customer didn’t have to take the time to give the same information over and over.

Innovation combined with competence and confidence in the implementation and execution of the continuous improvements in the customer experience let Hertz maintain its #1 position for many years. Today, you can literally go straight to your car from the plane, keys are in the ignition and you are ready to go.

While it has been many years since I’ve put on the black and gold uniform, every time I see the Hertz logo, I am reminded that in business you can never be content with the status quo, you must continually push the bar on creativity, and listening to your customer is the most important thing you can do.

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