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A mile in your customer's shoes

October 11, 2010
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Every now and then it is good for a detailer or carwash operator to stand back from their business and put themselves in the shoes of their customer.

It is simply a good business practice to evaluate your detail shop to ensure it is a facility that you would patronize. This is the only way to retain customers.

The detail industry is suffering. Why? Because the motorist wants good service and they expect qualified technicians to do the work.

But customers aren’t surprised when the detail technician ends up being less than qualified.

First impressions
Perhaps your customers feel the same way about you or your detail technicians?

This is especially true if you and your techs aren’t wearing uniforms and are instead wearing 5 o’clock shadows and baseball caps on backwards, walking around in the dirty, disorganized mess typical of many shops.

Remember, the little things mean a great deal to customers, especially female consumers; over 58 percent of whom purchase automotive services in the U.S.

Here are some things you can do to make your customers feel comfortable doing business with you:

  • Keep your shop facility clean and organized. If mobile, keep your trailer, truck or van spotless.
  • Run to greet a customer and thank them for coming in.
  • Introduce yourself by name and hand them a business card, then step back and allow the customer some personal space.
  • Have an identification badge on your shirt and make sure your employees do, too.
  • Walk around the vehicle with the customer and watch their eyes to see what part of the vehicle they appear to be most interested in. Listen carefully. They’ll tell you exactly what they want you to do if you will simply pay attention to the signs and words they give you.
  • Do a vehicle condition report and have them sign it before you take possession of the vehicle.

Customer confidence
Your customer wants good service, but they won’t be surprised if they receive less. That's a danger for you.

To overcome this potential problem, use everything mentioned above, but also go over every part of the vehicle: exterior paint, wheels, engine compartment, trunk and interior.

Pay special attention to the condition of carpets, leather seats, headlines, etc. This inspection allows you to build the customer’s confidence in your knowledge of all these areas and materials.

Talk about carpet fabric characteristics or clear coat finishes during your pre-sale vehicle inspection to build rapport with the customer, as well as to transfer the liability for any serious problems back to the customer where it belongs.

Talk about the methods, steps, chemicals and tools you will use to detail the vehicle.

Remember, many customers have some experience in cleaning. They can relate to analogies between shampooing carpets or washing clothes.

Use this time to talk about any additional services you offer that their vehicle could use; something as simple as fabric protectant — they know it as “Scotch-Guard.”

Also mention other services that you provide like vinyl or leather repair, paint touchup, carpet re-coloring or dyeing and windshield chip repair.

Unless you aggressively promote these services, they won’t purchase them because most motorists don’t even know they are available or that you offer them.

Honesty is your best delivery. Only offer services that they need and will find beneficial for their vehicle.

From start to finish
The way you and your employees treat the customer from the first phone call to delivering the vehicle and collecting the money makes a difference in the confidence they have in you and your company.

First and foremost, whoever answers the phone should be friendly, trained in proper phone manners and very knowledgeable about the detail services you offer.

Consider sending your employees to certification courses. Why not? Most detailers need the knowledge to do their job.

If you can't afford to send them to a training seminar, buy manuals and DVDs that offer training information.

The way you and your technicians act while meeting the customer, giving an estimate and delivering the vehicle can instill (or destroy) confidence in your business, creating loyal customers for life or losing potentials ones.

Remember: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Unfortunately, many detailers are blissfully unaware of the impression they are making. Don't be one of them.

R.L. “Bud” Abraham is president of Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems, Portland, OR, and a 35 + -year member of the car-care industry. He can be contacted at