A few weeks ago, while cruising the highways of Southern California in the Ford Mustang GT500 I rented from Hertz, I was forced to skip two unmanned tollbooths. As crimes and misdemeanors go, this loathsome act probably would not have landed me on the "most wanted tollbooth skipper" list. But I hated the fact that I owed California $2.50 ($1.25 for each toll), and I wanted to do the right thing. I also knew that both tollbooths took a picture of me and my license plate, so there was no way I was going to get away with my heinous crimes.

When I finally exited The Toll Roads system, I received a card with the URL, http://thetollroads.com/missedatoll. The solution should have been simple and painless ... it wasn't. It was so painful, in fact, that it prompted one of the most popular blog posts I've ever written entitled, TheTollRoads.com: An Abject Failure in Customer Service.

I am always astonished at how quickly bad news and stories about bad experiences travel. The story was picked up and shared by hundreds of people. It was well amplified by social media as well as traditional media. The total reach wasn't big by modern standards, but it did strike a chord with many people and did reach beyond my usual network.

This is not news, nor is it particularly interesting in 2012. But here's the interesting part: I just received a letter via snail mail from Allen P. Thomas, Sr. Supervisor, Hertz Customer Service that is so extraordinary; I want to share it with you.

Dear Mr. Palmer,

We recently saw your post on the Huff Report dated June 29, 2012, and here at Hertz we always want to help our customers when their in our cars, even if it isn't exactly our issue. I was sorry to see you had such a problem with paying your tolls.

I have enclosed $50.00 in discount coupons to apply on your next rental with Hertz. I hope your next visit to California or Hertz rental destination is free from these types of distractions.

Thank you for using Hertz for your rental car needs.

Allen P. Thomas Sr. Supervisor Hertz Customer Service

In my original story, I did mention that, because I was in a rental car, the license plate had too many violations associated with it to allow me to pay online. But I did not blame Hertz, nor mention them in anything but the best light. I am a Hertz Gold Club member, nothing special; in fact, the only benefit I receive from Hertz is the convenience of walking directly to my car. I'm loyal to Hertz, but only because of the professional way it treats its business customers. I don't have a special deal or special rates – I'm just an ordinary low expectation, low profit client for them. I mentioned them in my blog post because I was really enjoying the Ford Mustang GT500 they hooked me up with, so the car (and Hertz) were on my mind. And, no, Hertz did not upgrade me for free -- I saw it on the lot at the Long Beach Airport, was excited that they had the GT500 available (who can resist an overpowered Mustang while driving in CA), and paid for the upgrade.

If I was a loyal Hertz customer before this episode, you can imagine how I feel about Hertz now. I don't know Mr. Thomas, I will never communicate with him, but Hertz literally struck gold. For setting up a listening post, paying attention to the Interweb, the Tweetisphere and Facebookistan + $50 in coupons, it now has a true brand ambassador and a vocal advocate with a story to tell.

How simple was it for Hertz to accomplish this? Very. You can do it for your business with Google Alerts for free, or with any of a hundred paid tools. Hertz could also have simply used TweetDeck or SocialOomph or Hootsuite, or any of a hundred free or low priced social media listening tools. These programs are so easy to set up and monitor, there is absolutely no excuse not to use them.

If you're interested in building brand ambassadors for your business, learn to set up social listening posts and use them. It is literally a requirement for success in a connected world. Wondering about the ROI? Just ask Hertz or me. Remember, if you don't take care of your customers ... someone else will.

Shelly Palmer is Fox 5 New York's On-air Tech Expert (WNYW-TV) and the host of Fox Television's monthly show Shelly Palmer Digital Living. He also hosts United Stations Radio Network's, Shelly Palmer Digital Living Daily, a daily syndicated radio report that features insightful commentary and a unique insiders take on the biggest stories in technology, media, and entertainment. He is Managing Director of Advanced Media Ventures Group, LLC an industry-leading advisory and business development firm and a member of the Executive Committee of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (the organization that bestows the coveted Emmy® Awards). Palmer is the author of Television Disrupted: The Transition from Network to Networked TV 2nd Edition (York House Press, 2008) the seminal book about the technological, economic, and sociological forces that are changing everything and, Overcoming The Digital Divide: How to use Social Media and Digital Tools to Reinvent Yourself and Your Career (York House Press, 2011) For more information, visit shellypalmer.com.

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