Real Rentals

Find out what our ¡¥secret shoppers¡¦ experienced at three different rental outlets.

There's nothing like a reality check to give you a fresh perspective, or maybe even a kick in the pants. With that in mind, a few of us on staff at Rental Product News rented carpet cleaners to evaluate not only the real-world performance of these machines, but also to rate the entire rental experience in terms of customer service.

Jenny: Hardware store staff helpful

I chose to rent a carpet cleaner from the rental department of my local hardware store, which is part of national chain. I'm a regular customer at this store, however, I rarely rent from them. The store is beautifully organized and clean, and the employees are always friendly and extremely helpful.

I approached the rental counter and asked if there were any carpet cleaners available for rent. I was told there were several Rug Doctors available but the two commercial cleaners were out on rent. I asked what the difference was and the staffperson explained the commercial models have superior suction power and a rotating brush, whereas the Rug Doctor machines use a vibrating bar. She said some customers insist on the commercial machines. I expressed some concern over whether the Rug Doctor was what I wanted to use, since my carpets were severely stained.

The staffperson then went in back to the shop and pulled out a commercial carpet cleaner. She said she doesn't like this particular brand because they aren't reliable. In fact, the one she showed me was broken. She also pointed out they weigh about 20 pounds more than the Rug Doctor, which she added is very easy to use and reliable. I was then convinced that this would work for my needs.

The staffperson walked me over to the Rug Doctor machines and asked if I needed help choosing a detergent and pointed out the different sizes available. I mentioned I needed a good spot remover and she outlined the differences between all the various kinds. I was given a quick overview of the how the equipment works and then was given assistance getting the unit into my car.

The Rug Doctor performed very well. In fact, I was very pleasantly surprised at the difference it made in my carpet.

Overall, this rental experience was positive. The most interesting aspect of this transaction was hearing the staffperson's opinion of the commercial machines. The only suggestion I can make to the staff of this hardware store rental department is to remember to find opportunities to upsell. At a couple of points during the transaction, there were opportunities to add some weight to the bottom line - such as promoting the 24-hour rental for a few dollars more or explaining the superior efficacy of the premium spot remover, but they were not acted upon.

Eric: Big box chain lacks follow-through

My portion of this tale comes from a sunny Saturday afternoon in the wide aisles of a big box store, although my first impression was anything but roomy. When I entered the rental area from the parking lot, it was through a small single door where I immediately had to step over and weave around a pressure washer, tiller and customers hanging off the end of the counter. That said, the shop was clean and well staffed and I was helped immediately by a well-attired young gent who knew his stuff. When I explained that I needed a carpet cleaner, he walked me right over to where they were, asked several relevant questions and suggested what he thought would be the most appropriate model. He proceeded to explain how the unit worked and made sure I had enough solution before heading back to the counter.

I have two large, mud-loving dogs and beige carpet with stains they are responsible for. I asked about spot cleaner. So far, this employee had been very knowledgeable, and I was ready to buy whatever he said would work. When we returned to the aisle, however, he really knew nothing about any of the spot removal products they carried and didn't think they would be necessary.

Once home, I got started immediately and everything went quite well initially. The machine was in good shape, very simple to use and I was racing along leaving brilliantly clean carpet in my wake. Then it started spitting out trails of brown goop. Admittedly, I should have monitored my solution levels more closely, but I had no idea this was a possibility and was very concerned with the future of my carpet. I was able to rectify the situation and finished the room without further incident.

The next step was to clean stairs and upholstery with the attachment. I was very disappointed when the attachment just didn't cut the mustard. By the time I completed the job, my stairs and couches looked much the same and that part of my sunny Saturday is lost forever.

I returned everything with time to spare. The shop was empty, and I had to wait a short while for someone to surface. This new person asked how everything worked out and I responded that it did a marginal job. Despite the brown goop incident, I was happy with how the carpets turned out. I was just quite disappointed in the stairs and couches. He nodded, thanked me, and handed me my final receipt.

What are the lessons to learn? Friendly and knowledgeable staff are essential to give DIY renters confidence they can tackle the job. Perhaps most importantly though, be certain the customer is happy when they walk out the door. Address any dissatisfaction immediately, and despite a lackluster experience, your willingness to spend the time and fix the situation might just be the extra customer service that brings them back in.

Lisa: General rental center goes the extra mile

The general rental center I called to rent my carpet cleaner from has provided me with rental equipment several times in the past. I noticed, as soon as they picked up the phone, however, that there was extra attention being paid to customer service this time.

My typical conversation with the counter person would last under a minute. On this occasion, the employee on the other end of the phone took extra time to explain the pricing ($20 for four hours, $29 for all day), asked if I needed the upholstery/stair cleaning tool (I did) and recommended the rental center's chemicals. When I said I was interested in the chemical, he walked me through exactly how much I would need and decided that I didn't need the largest bottle. I appreciated that he didn't try to oversell the chemical - there's nothing worse than storing a bottle of carpet cleaning chemical you might never use. At the end of the conversation, he told me the total cost of renting the carpet cleaner and accessories, including the deposit, so I knew exactly how much I was going to be charged when I arrived.

When I arrived at the rental business, I was greeted as soon as I walked through the door, even though there were two customers in front of me. After a short wait, the counter person pulled up my order. She walked me over to the machine and, even though I told her that I had operated this type of equipment before, she gave me a refresher course on the basics. She then grabbed the chemical and stair accessory with no reminders (in previous visits, I've had to remind the counter person about both of these things). Before I took the machine away, the counter person pointed out the phone number on the receipt and told me to be sure to call if I had any questions or problems.

The machine was clean and operated efficiently. It's been a couple of years since I've used a commercial-type carpet cleaning machine and I noticed the difference in how quickly and easily the carpet was cleaned compared to the "at-home-type" carpet cleaner I bought at a big box store.

When I returned the machine, once again I was greeted as I walked through the door. The same counter person was there and she asked how everything went and chatted as she processed getting my deposit back. I definitely noticed the extra effort everyone at this general rental center was giving compared to past visits. Both the equipment and employees earned a gold star.