Disclaimer: I usually don’t waste time writing open letters to corporations unless there is some gross violation of civil or human rights. This letter is definitely not that. However, there are some larger points that I felt could be made by sharing some of the horrible experiences I’ve had an Enterprise.
To the Enterprise Holdings Leadership Team:
I’ve recently had a terrible string of rental experiences at Enterprise. I want to make sure this is framed correctly because I’m not complaining about not getting the car I selected online. I’m never really concerned about that. I understand how the business model works and that guarantees don’t exist. The issue has been the length of time it takes to get a car. My last few visits have taken about an hour apiece – one whole hour. If I was vacationing, I would be annoyed but not apoplectic. All of these recent rentals have been for business, and as a small business owner, every minute of my time counts. When I reserve a rental car, I need it for a very specific deliverable that has a very specific deadline, which means I cannot spend hours of a workday waiting on something as simple as a rental car.
But honestly, the wait time that I have experienced isn’t even the core issue. If it were, then I would simply go to another branch or another rental company in the city. The disconcerting reality is that the company’s overall culture and lack of compassion have a disproportionate impact on poor people and people of color (which oftentimes severely overlap in my city and in cities across the country).
There are two major points that I want to make here, and Enterprise has done a wonderful job of outlining those points in its claim of “the Enterprise Way.” The company claims to take care of its customers, communities, employees and its environment, which is a very noble claim. I’m going to focus on the first three of those in this piece, but there is much to be said about a blatant lack of concern for the environment, as well.
As an Enterprise customer, I definitely don’t feel like Enterprise takes care of my needs, but I do have options. I have a car already. At any point, I can go buy another car. I can also get anywhere in the city to rent another car from another company. Most of the customers at the South Jackson location that I frequent don’t have any of those options. A good number of those people operate on the margins of the economy, so they may not have a relationship with a traditional bank (roughly 7% of Americans are “unbanked,” meaning they don’t have a bank around and nearly 20% are “underbanked,” meaning that they have a checking or savings account but also obtain financial products and services outside of the banking system) or have access to a major credit card due to the proliferation of predatory lending in low-income communities.
Now, some of these folks do benefit from Enterprise’s acceptance of payment by money order. And that’s a good thing. However, those same people suffer from long wait times and extremely poor customer service because there seems to be an utter lack of concern for their situation and compassion for their struggle. I will pause here because you may be thinking, “Well, that’s not so bad. Enterprise isn’t the only company that treats poor people that way.” And you would be right. There are countless other companies with business models built on treating poor people poorly. But it’s still wrong.
There are scores of articles available on the impact lack of transportation has on people in low-income communities. In a city like Jackson (which is not that different from a whole lot of other smaller urban centers in the South), public transit is virtually nonexistent and wholly unreliable, and the layout of the city necessitates the use of an automobile for getting where you need to go. Uber and Lyft haven’t really taken hold yet, and even if they did, I highly doubt they would be available in the neighborhoods where poor people live. The fact that Enterprise will pick customers up and drop them off puts it squarely in the center of the critical transportation equation for many people (and again, that’s a good thing). But if Enterprise is no more reliable or timely than public transit, it simply contributes to a broken transportation system that has a crippling impact on certain communities who desperately need vehicular mobility in order to achieve any sort of economic mobility.
Since I have experienced some seamless rentals with Enterprise (mostly at airports or in suburban neighborhood locations – read: where unpoor people rent vehicles), I know that Enterprise’s business model doesn’t rely on exploiting the vulnerabilities of poor people. Unfortunately, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that from a casual observation of activity in an Enterprise that serves poor people living in low-income communities. That suggests that the company is failing its employees by not providing the level of training, support, and oversight that allows them to do their job effectively and even more importantly to launch their careers.
Almost all of the Enterprise employees at the branches I frequent in Jackson are young African-Americans. For many of them, it’s their first job after graduation, and that makes sense because Enterprise has a very strong presence at many HBCU career centers (again, kind of a good thing – kind of). What’s extremely problematic is that these young people do not seem to be gaining any of the critical skills necessary to help them on their journey to successful professional careers at Enterprise or anywhere else. The lack of problem-solving or critical thinking skills may not be Enterprise’s fault, but the company could invest in training or development opportunities that encourage the development of those skills. The lack of customer service and communication skills are definitely Enterprise’s fault, and that has a very real impact on the the long-term employability of employees.
I have deep personal experience with this because I hired a former Enterprise employee as my first full-time hire. There’s a deeper story that has to do with forecasting and shifting project needs, but the hire was woefully unprepared to perform most of the basic tasks required in an agency like ours – or any other agency or company for that matter. Now, he was an extremely hard worker, which is probably why he was a stellar employee at Enterprise, but he did not gain any other skills that would allow him to be successful in other positions within that company or in any other company. And I can’t stress enough how important that is for young people of color to expand their network and increase their skill set at every single job they have. Yes, some of that is on the employee, but companies like Enterprise must also be intentional about creating and sustaining programs and cultures that encourage learning an array of transferable skills, particularly for young people of color. We do it, and we have three employees, so I’m pretty sure Enterprise can figure it out.
At the end of the day, I may just have to remove Enterprise from my list of business vendors. It would make things less convenient, but I also cannot consciously support a company that displays such an utter lack of concern for its customers and employees, particularly when so many of those folks are people of color.
If you read this rant all the way through, please comment and share your thoughts, especially if you have worked or currently work at Enterprise (or somewhere like Enterprise).