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Knowledge is power

October 11, 2010
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The key to running a successful detail business is answering your customers’ questions before they ask them.

Every time a prospective customer visits your shop, they’re looking for answers. They want to know if you can provide the service they require, they want to know what your pricing structure is like. They want to know how long their visit will be, and they want to know what your shop and staff look like.

They also want answers to questions they won’t be willing to ask you. Most likely, they won’t ask you because these are considered “impolite” questions. And the answers to these questions will most likely determine who gets their business: you or your competition.

So how do you handle these customer concerns? Quite simply you must be ready and willing to address these without your customer being forced to ask or make assumptions of your business.

First, a review of the basic concerns customers have:
  • Can I trust you?
  • Do you really know what you are talking about?
  • Do I like you?
  • How are you different from your competition?
  • If I do business with you, what’s in it for me?
These and other similar unasked questions will determine if you make the sale. As much as you would like to tell the customer that he can trust you, that you’re a very competent detailer and a likable sort of person, it is someone else who has to answer these questions with an unqualified “yes.”

And who is the “someone else?” Of course, your existing customers are the only ones who can answer these questions for you. They answer those questions every time they give you a referral or a testimonial.

Building a customer base
So how do you get testimonials and referrals? In a book titled, “The Little Red Book of Selling” by Jefferey Gitomer, the author states it quite succinctly, “You only get them if you deserve them.”

Testimonials and referrals are simply a report card on how well you did satisfying your customer’s personal and vehicle needs. The best way to get them is to ask if customer satisfaction in your detail service is at its highest after the detail is completed.

If you’ve done a good job, most customers will take pleasure in the opportunity to assist you.

What your customers are saying when they give you a testimonial or a referral:
  • You can trust them;
  • They know what they are talking about; and
  • I like them and you will, too.
Another question is, “How are you different from your competition?” Incorrectly, most detailers try to focus on this question before any other questions are answered. Why? Because most detailers focus too much on the competition; they are fearful of them.

As Gary Spense, renowned defense attorney, states in his book “How to Argue and Win Everytime,” the problem is we give our power to others when we focus on them. Make sure you’ve answered the other important questions before answering how you are different than your competition. If you don’t, you are doomed to failure.

It is important to address all the other key questions before focusing on how you are different than your competition. If you don’t, you could lose the sale.

For those of us in the detail business, whether involved in retail or as a supplier to the industry, we know that we provide our customers a service or products that are difficult in many instances to differentiate from our competitors.

Take, for example, chemicals. Is there really a difference between the carpet shampoos from the “Big Three” in detail chemicals? How do they present that difference? And, while you know you’re a better detailer than the competition, how does the customer know that? What do you do, or what can you do to show them you are better.

If you can’t differentiate your detail service from your competition you’re in trouble because you end up being a commodity in the eyes of potential customers.

Face it, there are no real differences between true commodities, such as lumber, sugar or grass seed. So if your detail service is viewed as a commodity and you do nothing to change this you will struggle in the battle to get business.

On the other hand, I marvel at the loyalty of some detailers who will only use the detail products from one particular company. How does a chemical company that provides near identical products as its competition generate such loyalty? They do it by providing to a quality of service that exceeds the detailer’s expectations.

And they do it consistently, over and over again. Have you ever had to cut prices? The more your detail service is perceived as a commodity the more you have to compete with your competition based on price.

To avoid having your detail service perceived as a commodity; you need to take a good hard look at yourself and answer the following questions, “How am I different from my competitors” and “How is my detail service superior to my competition?”

Stand out in a crowd
If you can’t discern any defining differences between your detail service and your competitors, how do you expect the customer to do so?

As author Jim Collins said in his book “Good to Great,” “One thing is certain: you absolutely cannot make a series of good decisions without first confronting the brutal facts.”

You must address these questions of differentiation head-on or you’ll end up being treated by prospective customers like a commodity; forcing you to compete by lowering prices for your detail services.

One last thing to remember in order to get the customer’s business is: “No one likes to be sold, but everyone likes to buy.”

Which of these questions’ posed do you think is the most important? By far the most important is, “Do I like you?” No one wants to do business with people who are annoying, or self-centered.

All things being equal, people would rather do business with people they like being around. But ultimately, how well you answer all of these unasked questions will determine your chances of getting the prospective customer’s detail business.

R.L. “Bud” Abraham is president of DETAIL PLUS Car Appearance Systems, Portland, OR, and a nearly 40-year member of the car-care industry. He is also a member of the International Carwash Association (ICA) and Western Carwash Association (WCA) Board of Directors and can be contacted at