Wednesday, September 15, 2021

#136 Zipcar Nightmare

 #136 Blog Post - Thursday, September 16, 2021

Posted by Denny Hatch

How Brilliant Technology Morphed into
A Gawd-awful Back-end Nightmare

Peggy and I are pensioners. Six years ago, we downsized from a center city rowhouse to a center city 2BR apt. We sold our big, beloved ten-year-old sedan and saved $12,000 a year—garage space rental ($250/mo), insurance, gas, servicing and yearly wear-'n'-tear repair costs. For starters, public—a great bus system plus subways—here in Philly are free to seniors. Uber, taxis and Enterprise per-hour carshare for grocery shopping were a tiny fraction the cost of car ownership.

Alas, Covid-19 hit. Enterprise axed its carshare system We were still way ahead of the car ownership game. We relied on the kindness of friends to take us shopping, ordered groceries to be delivered and I often schlepped to stores with a market bag on two wheels.

A friend of Peggy's in the building mentioned the Zipcar carshare parking lot was a half block away. Cost: $9.00/month membership plus an hourly rate depending on the car—gas and insurance included. Peggy joined instantly, mainly for routine shopping trips to the big grocery and wine stores.

• We reserved a Toyota Corolla ($14.75 per hour) for two hours starting 2:00 p.m. this past Sunday. The first hour was magical.

•  We walked the half a block to the parking lot and instantly spotted the pristine new white Toyota Corolla.

•  The car was live, online and in contact with Zipcar computers.

• Peggy turned on her iPhone and went to the Zipcar App, tapped on drive, then tapped on Unlock. The doors instantly unlocked.

• The keys were in the small tray next to the gearshift. The deal: never take the keys out of the card. When stopping for an errand, stick the keys in their little home, exit the car and go about your business. Use the Zipcar App to lock and unlock the car..

• On returning to the car with full shopping cart, simply unlock, load the trunk and drive off.

We made two stops—state liquor store for a three-week supply of red and white wine plus some beer. At Philly's Famous 4th Street Deli, Peggy waited in the car while I picked up dinner. Whereupon we headed for home.

We continually marveled at the magnificent technology and the pleasure of having a lovely little Zipcar on beck-'n'-call just half a block from our apartment. Brilliant. We had fallen into the cream pot.

By three o'clock we were ready to turn in the car. "Do we need anything from Acme?" Peg asked. "Yogurt, Windex, oatmeal and ice cream" I said. Peggy pulled into the parking lot of the small Acme supermarket three blocks from our apartment and exited the car. 

The S**t Hits the Fan 

In Peggy's sign-up e-literature, she was told a special Zipcar membership card would be mailed to us for use in an emergency. For example, if the iPhone battery dies and we can't enter our pass code, we can tap on the upper left windshield with the card and the car will respond enabling us to get in and out.


Peggy's iPhone was fully charged. The system had been working flawlessly.

We pushed the Acme shopping cart of groceries to our Toyota and Peggy tapped Unlock.

Zip. Zero. Nada. Niente. Nothing.

A message from Zipcar appeared on her tiny screen. "Out of range."

We were standing next to the car.


She tried it again and again. Four times.

Same message each time.

It was 3:00 p.m. Bright sun. 87˚. We made our way back to the bench outside the Acme entrance. We had one unused hour on our rental.

Peggy called Zipcar.

"Use your personal card," Peggy was told. It'll unlock the system."

"We're brand-new members," Peggy replied. "We have not received our card in the mail."

The Zipcar lady directed us to return to the Toyota and and said she would try to unlock the car from her office. No dice.

"The message says the car is out of range," said the lady. "Get closer to the car."

"I am standing next to the car."

Suffice it to say over the next two hours Peggy was on the phone eight or nine times with five different Zipcar people. In every instance Peggy was required to give her name, date of birth and last three digits of her driver's license and then repeat what had happened.

The TSRs were uniformly nice, polite and, alas, utterly unhelpful.

"The car is offline," said the Zipcar woman. She told us to expect a call in thirty minutes.

We waited. After 30 minutes had passed Peggy called Zipcar.

"Okay," expect a call from roadside assistance in a few minutes.

Peggy got a call saying Zipcar was extending the rental period one hour and we should be happy to know we would not be charged for the extra hour.

In another call were told the ETA for roadside assistance would be 30 minutes. They will tow the car and then deliver all the groceries to our door.

Twenty minutes later we received a text saying Bob's Auto would be arriving. His ETA was 180 minutes. There was a number to call Bob's Auto and Peggy called.

"My husband is 86 and I'm 76. There is no way to start the car. We are three blocks from home. We are not going to wait in this parking lot for three hours.

"You can't start the car?"

"No. We're locked out. We can't start the car."

"I can't tow the car if it's not running," Gus said.

Peggy and I were prepared to ditch the car in the Acme parking lot and forfeit the wine, beer and groceries just so we could get home.

It was getting close to six o'clock. We had been in the parking lot nearly three hours. Another call to Zipcar. Name. Date of birth. Last three digits of driver's license required.

"Oh," said the woman in mid-conversation, "The car is back online. You can start the car."

Mirabile dictu! Peggy opened the car door. The car started. We got home. Wine and groceries were saved. (Ice cream not so great.) Car was delivered to its parking space.

Takeaways to Consider

• Many of today's direct marketers are besotted with technology. The once-huge Direct Marketing Association (née Direct Mail Association) changed its Unique Selling Proposition (USP) to "data-driven marketing." Within two years the DMA was deader than Kelsey's nuts. Literally outta business.

• Alas, when technology goes awry, relying on an A.I. fix is seldom the answer. Old-fashioned, low-tech, person-to-person, Keds-on-the-ground physical contact and hand holding is the only way to deal with a screw-up.

• "Zipcar was co-founded by Antje Danielson and Robin Chase based on existing German and Swill companies in January 2000." —Google

• The company—in business for over 20 years—treated us as though this were the very first time this ever happened to a new customer.

• "Times of adversity and customer screw-ups may be the only times when you can really show your customers how much you love them." —Malcolm Decker

• Who the hell knows where on the globe the Zipcar customer help phone bank was. All the TSRs had slight accents but not identifiable. Mumbai? Aruba? Beijing?

• We needed a capable Zipcar person here and now to come to this Acme parking lot and let us into the car so we could salvage our purchases and get an Uber home.

• Okay, back-end marketing is not as sexy as creating direct mail promotions or jazzing up websites and watching the traffic. Back-end marketing is the guts of direct marketing and the key to profitability.

• Put another way, treat a customer poorly and...
  1) You lose the customer.
  2) All the money spent acquiring that customer is wasted.
  3) All projected revenue from future sales is lost.
  4) You can expect blistering reviews from Yelp, TripAdvisor, Amazon, etc.
  5) No referrals from delighted customers.

• Consider hiring secret shoppers—people with no connections to your business.  Have them order goods and/or services and purposely make mistakes to put your customer service people through hoops. Whereupon they report exactly what happened—the good and the bad—and the names of the perpetrators.

• Zipcar should include this caveat in its membership fulfillment material:
It is recommended you wait to receive your personal Zipcar ID Card in the mail before renting for the first time. It's your backup.

• IMHO when a car goes dark and offline, I absolutely believe tapping the windshield with a little plastic card will not bring it to life. I further believe Zipcar is operating under a deeply flawed system.

• Will we ever use Zipcar again? Put it this way: if you walked into a dark room and got whacked on the head with a baseball bat, would you go back into that room?

• Peggy wants to use Zipcar again. I'll be using Uber and taxis. Plus my two feet.



Word count: 1474


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At age 15, Denny Hatch—as a lowly apprentice—wrote his first news release for a Connecticut summer theater. To his astonishment it ran verbatim in The Middletown Press. He was instantly hooked on writing. After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army (1958-60), Denny had nine jobs in his first 12 years in business. He was fired from five of them and went on to save two businesses and start three others. One of his businesses—WHO’S MAILING WHAT! newsletter and archive service founded in 1984—revolutionized the science of how to measure the success of competitors’ direct mail. In the past 55 years he has been a book club director, magazine publisher, advertising copywriter/designer, editor, journalist and marketing consultant. He is the author of four published novels and seven books on business and marketing.


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Wednesday, September 8, 2021

#135 Blogpost Women's Right to Choose


#135 Blog Post - Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Posted by Denny Hatch

A Marketer’s Plan to Guarantee
Every Women's Right to Choose

Dear Direct Marketing Colleague,


As if all of us didn’t have enough ugly news to deal with, Texas just iced the mudpie.


This cranky blog was launched in April 2018 in hopes of helping to correlate old-fashioned direct marketing knowhow into the very different new world of digital communications. 


Sixteen weeks later—-in April 2018—the specter was raised of women being forced revert to the barbaric practice of using wire coat hangers and knitting needles as the final options to their right to choose.


I was as appalled then as I am now.


During my 60-year career in marketing, the continual challenge was (and is) coming up with practical solutions to solve knotty problems. I scribbled off a letter to my great friend and colleague Roger Craver, the country’s best-known liberal fund raiser.


The situation was not as dire three years ago as it is today. Roger suggested I was ahead of my time.


You are invited to judge my early blog post in light of this week’s development… and add your thoughts in the Comment Section.


Or… email me direct with your thinking and, if you care to, give me permission to run your words in the Comment Section.


Thank you.


ISSUE #16 — Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Posted by Denny Hatch

TO:            Roger

FROM:       Denny Hatch

DATE:        July 24, 2018

 How to Forever Guarantee All Women's Right to Choose: AWRTC!

Several years ago we discussed the potential threat to Roe v. Wade and what to do were it repealed.

• Back then Obama was POTUS. 

• SCOTUS was reasonable. 

• God was in Her heaven. 

Alas, with the Kennedy resignation plus the wackadoodle Trump Cultist Congress, the situation is suddenly dicey to dire.

If the idea described below flies, no matter what SCOTUS, POTUS, lower courts, Congress or the states decide about Roe v. Wade, safe abortions will be forever available—free—to all women of child-bearing age in America.

State abortion ballots prepare for post-Roe world
Many states have turned to both ballot measures and legislation to enact abortion policy in the event of a dramatic Supreme Court decision.

The key sentence:
If you live in California, Oregon, Washington, New York State or Massachusetts, it’s pretty likely that abortion will remain legal like it was in New York and Washington before Roe.

Elsewhere—especially for desperate rural poor and minority women—it’s back to the 19th century—wire coat hangers, medical quacks, fatal infections, fetal agony, infanticide and suicides.

Step 1
• Give me 15 minutes with Warren Buffet to propose a new profit center for his NetJets.

• Followed by one-on-one meetings with other rich-rich FORBES 400s—Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, George Soros, Larry Page, Larry Ellison, etc.

• Set up a 501c3 corporation.

• Fund agreeable hospitals in those states permitting abortions to expand into major women’s health centers to handle the influx of women.

Make available free condoms, free birth control pills, free morning-after pills.

• Set up a national communications and transportation network to enable women in need to come and go to and from these facilities on short notice—via motor coach, puddle-jumper aircraft and—for long distances—Buffet’s NetJets.

 • Time targets: 18 hours max round-trip point-to-point (e.g., Indiana - New York is 737 miles. NetJets).

• Extended time for difficult cases.

Step 2
• When Democrats reclaim a federal majority, sponsor a bill whereby U.S. Passport requirements are waived in the case of 18-hour excursions in and out of the country. Call them “Temporary Health Exit-Return Visas” (THERV’s).

• Locate hospitals/clinics in Canada & Mexico on the U.S. borders. Perhaps 4 on each border. Start with communities very close to the U.S. border with existing hospitals or clinics to be upgraded (including good housing for the workers). Plus, of course, near-by world-class airports. (See below for two possible venues.)

Negotiate with Canada and Mexico. This should be an attractive proposition to these two governments, as the major expansion of several health facilities will improve the lifestyle of the local communities and account for an influx of new jobs.

• Supply each agreed-upon venue a big infusion of cash to expand into world-class women’s health facilities.

• Set up a nationwide communications and transportation system for pregnant women of any age in America to access these facilities for safe, 18-hour travel and termination procedures—Free.

• Employ Buffet’s NetJets for long distance travel; use motor vehicles, helicopters and piston puddle-jumpers for shorter distances.


Word Count: 497

If you agree with the above, kindly forward this post to friends, family, colleagues plus your state and federal representatives. Thank you.

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  1. Alas, Denny, faster than you can get all this done, SCOTUS and other forces that hate giving women control over their own bodies would find ways to defeat it. Abortion clinics in Canada? The news this morning was about the Trump government's refusing to allow a Canadian citizen entry into the United States because he had invested — invested! — in a corporation that raises marijuana in a state where doing so is legal.

    The only way to get rid of horrid anti-abortion (and soon to come, anti-birth control) laws is to get the bastards behind them out of power and, in some cases, into prison where they belong.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to Comment.
    The reason for the 2 Step plan is:
    Step 1 can be executed NOW while women's right to choose is legal is some states.
    Step 2 is post 2018/20 where a dramatic change in government will allow for passage pf as short-term temporary health exception to Passport regulations. This plan will then circumvent all state and federal anti-abortion laws.

  3. Your New York Crank may be a little over the top Denny but his bottom line seems right on. Get the bastards out of power. They know not what they destroy.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Peter.
      Based on the incoming today, it's depressingly obvious how wildly split the country is. I invited all wrote in to post their comments in this section, hoping to generate some debate. I love discussion—pro and con. Makes for interesting reading.
      Thanks again. Cheers.

  4. Brilliant. Thank you. I'm glad I know you. Also, once established. doctors in home states will make themselves available for post-operative consultation, if needed.