I’ve just returned from a few business trips and had a really positive customer experience from a very unlikely place that I think is share-worthy. To provide some background, about two weeks ago, our travel coordinator advised that we were transitioning all rental car business to National Rent-A-Car. Say what?I was asked to sign up for a National “Emerald Club” card to help facilitate billing and service. Not needing or wanting to sign up for another loyalty club, and not attaching any meaning to the National brand, I entered this transaction/relationship with a hefty amount of cynicism and a dash of remorse! And I am a glass half full kind of guy! The online experience was fine. It was nothing to write home about (or better yet write a blog post about :)), but it was fine. It was when I moved into the offline world and had my first in-person encounter with National Rent-A-Car when the magic started to happen. After flying in late at night to the Indianapolis airport, I deliriously stopped by the National in-airport desk to check-in and was told, “No need to do so - just proceed right to the Emerald row (yada yada yada) and pick any car you want”. Pick any car you want? This really didn't sound plausible to me. In my travel-weary state, dealing with National for the first time, I was skeptical once again. When I saw several cars available that were far more interesting than the mid-sized car I had signed up and paid for, I asked the attendant if it was really okay for me to take ANY one at my mid-sized rate and, to my astonishment, he said "Absolutely!" I got in a nice Chevy Traverse and had a great experience with it. This was my first surprise and delight from National Rent-A-Car. Not yet the stuff that blog posts are made of…but a solid experience no doubt. A week later, I was traveling to St. Louis and now understood the program. So when I approached their desk in the airport, I saw the sign for the Emerald Club saying to go on the shuttle and pick out any car I wanted in Emerald row. Once again, I was delighted at the wide selection of interesting cars available and chose another car that completely exceeded my expectations… This time trying out a hybrid car for the first time ever. The mundane, somewhat painful, task of car-rental had just turned the corner from a nightmare to an adventure of sorts for me. In two weeks, as a brand new customer, I was put in control of my experience and was given open choice. Hello blog post. I will now look forward to the opportunity to rent cars and especially from National in the Emerald Club. My collective National experience was really notable to me in a few ways. First, it exceeded my expectations in terms of speed, ease, quality and value. Second, it was entirely consistent across two different airports. Third, it has redefined the notion of renting a car from being something tedious that I dread, to more of an adventure that I look forward to. In short, they have created a brand and experience that now means something to me. It has me thinking of other ways that they could appeal to me further and more regularly with additional products and perhaps content. For example, if they asked, they could find out that I am a car guy. Knowing this, I'm certain they could figure out content and offers to throw my way. Maybe partner with a publisher to offer me a free car magazine for my flight home? Second, if they asked, they would find out that I am an active family vacation planner and also a very devoted father. I'm sure that I am not terribly different than many of other dads that are driven away from their children and families on business trips. Knowing this, what could National due to further add value and/or surprise and delight me? How about a Matchbox National car to take home to my kids? How could, and should, they be incenting me to provide feedback about my experience – perhaps a simple tablet right when I drop the car off with a few key questions: Did we exceed your expectations? Will you rent from National again? What is the one thing we could do better serve you? Would you be willing to provide a rating for us? No doubt they would uncover that I am a highly satisfied advocate of their brand. Then, what could they do to reinforce that and help facilitate spreading of that message amongst people that matter to me? No matter what the answers to these questions, National Rent-A-Car and the Emerald Club have created meaning with me. By exceeding my expectations, they have created a brand advocate that is now willing and interested in engaging further with them. Just like the awesome, iPad replete, work stations provided at LaGuardia’s Delta terminal or the USAA representative who ended a recent call with me by thanking me for my 23 years of membership, for my Father’s service to our country, and by wishing me a happy birthday…National Rent-A-Car came out of nowhere to create (blog-post worthy) meaning for me. I will end this post with a few words I would never in a million years thought I would utter: you really should give National Rent-A-Car a try. Happy travels.