Get What You Want By Asking For It

I use and love Zipcar, a New York area car-share rental service, but our last bill had an unexpected $50 late return fee. Whiskey tango foxtrot, I wondered aloud, I know for sure I returned that car on time. After calling, Dawn told me it turned out I hadn’t swiped out (to get into the cars you use a RFID enabled card) after dropping off the car. She said:

“Normally we would just try to extend the reservation, but there was a reservation right after yours. It won’t be refunded to your credit card but there will be $50 on your account for driving credit… Because like I said… I wasn’t able to refund the charge to your account. Next time, hold your card on the reader for about 10 seconds and that will end your reservation.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I prefer money to service credits, so I said something like:

I see, that’s understandable and I need to make sure to swipe out next time. I’ve been a customer with you guys for months and, but for this little mistake I made, which I promise not to make again, everything has been great and we totally love it. Just curious though, why can’t you refund the credit card $50 instead of putting a $50 service credit on the account?

There was a brief pause and then she said:

“Cause it’s a lot easier to do it this way (laughs) but if you want it back on the card (laughs), I can send it off to billing and see if we can put it back on the card.”

The call ended pleasantly soon afterwards, thus revealing the amazing power of getting what you want by asking for it. There’s no need to accept the first answer a company gives you, just because it’s their policy or procedure. Sometimes nudging just a little makes a big budge.


Edit Your Comment

  1. The Kapil says:

    “I wondered allowed” or “I wondered OUT LOUD”?

  2. DjDynasty says:

    These people aren’t mind readers. Of course you have to ask what you want.

  3. spinachdip says:

    I heart Zipcar.

    A couple of weeks ago, some jackass had parked in a Zipcar space, so I called Zipcar, who told me to park elsewhere, and I ended up going past my reservation in the process.

    A couple of days later, I noticed that they’d added 30 minutes to my bill (no $50 fine, though). That’s no good.

    So I called and explained why I shouldn’t been charged for that extra half hour, and the operator took the credited my card right there. I was stunned how easy it was.

    Granted, it was their error, but I loved that they didn’t make it a big process and the call was over in less than a minute.

  4. spinachdip says:

    @The Kapil: “I wandered a load.”

  5. entitynein says:


    Technically, his word was right, just a misspelling: []

    As for the story itself, it’s good to see that with some prodding, the CSR for the company did handle your request properly. Many a disaffected customer service rep would not have been so forthcoming with the policy.

  6. FLConsumer says:

    Interesting concept, especially if you live in a city where you don’t drive all that often. Doing the math, a service like this doesn’t work for someone in pedestrian-unfriendly suburbia, but I like the concept.

  7. TedSez says:

    Zipcar is a company that still has to convince people that it’s easy to use and a worthwhile alternative to all the other transportation options out there. So they pretty much have to be nice and helpful.

    As opposed to all the companies (airlines, phone providers, cable companies, Internet suppliers, etc., etc.) that have at least a partial monopoly or know that there are millions of other suckers out there for every million they lose, so they’ve decided that decent service isn’t worth the effort and expense.

  8. crnk says:

    And in NY, there is ALWAYS the bus/subway….so they’ve got to put a pretty attractive offer on the table…aside from just renting you a car.

  9. Kryndis says:

    @The Kapil: Huh? Did the article change? It’s correctly spelled “aloud” at the moment.

  10. As I used to ask when I was a CSR and someone was going on and on and on….

    “What would you like to do for you, sir?”

    CSRs are anxious for you to get off the phone, and you’re anxious to get what you want. Just ask for it, and go.

  11. theblackdog says:

    We have Zipcar in DC and I know people are generally happy with it, and stories like this make me seriously consider just using a Zipcar after my own car dies.

  12. spinachdip says:

    @FLConsumer: I’m finding that Zipcar is great for living in DC. For most things, I can take the Metro, but it’s not like NYC where pretty much everything is within walking/subway distance, so I need a car if I want to go out to one of the suburban stores or take the baby to the doctor.

    I was worried about racking up driving hours, but even if I’m dropping a couple of hundreds of dollars on rental, I’m saving more on gas, insurance, maintenance and parking.

  13. jmschn says:

    @The Kapil: Or, “I wondered ALOUD” zing!

  14. TheSlate says:

    Summary: Get what you want by asking for it nicely. Whoda thunk it?

  15. Buran says:

    Real reason: “because most people won’t ask, and because this way we give people a reason to use our business again, so screwing up doesn’t lose us any money and gets you to give us even more in the future.”

  16. LAGirl says:

    it’s the same with late fees + overlimit charges on credit cards. if you just call + complain, they will be nice, apologize for the inconvenience, etc, etc. but won’t give you a credit for the fee. however, if you specifically ask for a credit, then they’ll give it to you.

  17. TheCFC says:

    The reason she laughed is because she thinks it’s funny that you insist on a credit card refund instead of a credit when you claim to be such a good and frequent customer. It is a hassle for Zipcar to process a credit card refund and may involve extra fees.

    When it doesn’t make any difference to you, you should always let the store give you store credit. It saves them time and money which eventually benefits all consumers. It also let’s them know you intend to stay a customer.

  18. r0n says:

    Zipcar’s ugly secret…


  19. MonsieurBon says:

    Wait a minute, why should you get any refund? You forgot to swipe out!

  20. mr_thanat0s says:

    Something doesn’t sound right, though. I’ve been a Zipcar member for over a year and have never once “swiped out.” I’ve just returned the car to its lot, locked it, and walked away – thinking the car’s GPS signaled Zipcar’s system that it was returned and locked.

    Time to check for any late fees that slipped by me…

  21. b612markt says:

    I love zipcar, and here in Chicago we have iGo too (iGo was here first.) The first time I used zipcar, I was trudging through a blizzard trying to find a Tacoma pickup under the elevated train tracks in the middle of a construction zone. I called zipcar 4 times trying to find the darn car, and eventually I found out that some lame construction trucks were boxing it in and I couldn’t even see it. I was an hour late to my car (and very cold) and zipcar knocked the hour off of my fee, even though it wasn’t their fault at all.

    I love zipcar, though iGo is cheaper. Zipcar has a superior reservation system and phone tree.

  22. padabo says:

    @mr_thanat0s: Don’t you have use the card to lock the car and that’s what “swiping out” is? They make a point of telling you to do this.

    I love zipcar. It’s saved us so much money living in Boston where it costs $300+ for garage parking. And we live next door to a parking garage with half a dozen zipcars in it, so we save A LOT of money without sacrificing access to a car.

  23. padabo says:

    @r0n: We pay an additional $900/year for supplementary liability insurance (to meet the gap between zipcar’s minimum and where our umbrella liability policy kicks in). This is to protect our assets. If we had none, we’d risk it I guess, counting on NOT being sued because there was nothing to sue for. (I am paraphrasing spouse who talked to insurance agent and convinced me of this, so I hope this is somewhat accurate.)

  24. Buran says:

    @TheCFC: If a business screws up, I have no sympathy for them if it costs them extra to fix their screwup.

    Lesson to them: fix your screwups.

  25. mr_thanat0s says:

    @padabo: The car has to be unlocked with the card, of course, but it can be locked with the built-in power locks.

    According to Zipcar’s More Details page at [] :

    “Just bring your Zipcar back when you’re done and park it in the same reserved parking spot. That’s all there is to it!”

    No swiping out, apparently. And it’s not mentioned in their FAQ.

  26. mattbrown says:

    don’t tell me that you are censoring the shitty ass expletives out of your fuckin articles now (“sh*t” was used in a post ‘later’ today). you all realize that you’d fuckin posted the word shit in the fuckin article that ran on the motha fuckin day meghan was on good fuckin’ morning fuckin cock america, right?

  27. spinachdip says:

    @mr_thanat0s: That page is for non-members, and it’s only meant to give a basic idea of the process. It’s like when electronics manufacturers say “plug and play”, they don’t just mean you can just plug the player into the wall – you still have to do other stuff, like unwrap the packaging and, like, pay your electric bill.

    From the help section: []
    “Be sure to lock up with your Zipcard while leaving the keys in the car. Even if you’re returning the car to a location that has a valet service, be sure to scan out. This tells us that your reservation is complete and the car has been returned on time. If you’re late, or don’t lock up (tricking our system into thinking you are late) then we might have to charge a late fee.

    And “Zipcar 101”: []
    “When your reservation is over, return your Zipcar to its reserved spot. Leave the keys, parking pass, gas card and any other items that were in the car when you found it. Be sure to lock the doors with your Zipcard one last time so we know you’re done, and you’ll avoid unnecessary late fees.

  28. mr_thanat0s says:

    @spinachdip: True, those are the detailed procedures. But I’ve checked all my statements and none have a late fee or extra hours (for recent ones I can remember).

    Whether I was supposed to or not, I’ve never locked up with my Zipcard. That makes me wonder about th explanation from the CSR. Why him and never me? A new policy?

  29. chrispiss says:

    Amazing. I can’t stand it when businesses say that they can’t do something or it’s impossible to do something. Then magically it turns out it’s possible. WTF! That makes my blood boil.

  30. not_seth_brundle says:

    Ten seconds is a long time to have to hold a proximity card. Does the reader give any kind of feedback to confirm that you’ve swiped out, or do you just have to hold the card to it for 10 seconds and hope for the best?

  31. spinachdip says:

    @not_seth_brundle: It rarely takes more than a second.

    The card reader has an indicator light to tell you when a card has been read.

    Or, since swiping out and locking is the same process, you know if you’ve successfully checked out if you hear the car lock. If the car’s still unlocked, you swipe again. Repeat as necessary.

  32. smallestmills says:

    One of the biggest tricks in getting what you want when dealing in customer service is appealing to their sense of “If this issue gets to my boss or their boss, will they end up giving the customer what they’re asking for?” If the CSR thinks the answer is yes, then you get what you want. Works for me (as the CSR) every time. I always refuse the first time and if it escalates (“What do you mean you won’t give me my money back?”) I disappear for a minute, make a phantom phone call, and voila, you have your money back. We bank on the customer going along with the first refusal, which almost always works.