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Perception is reality

October 11, 2010
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Oscar Wilde defined a cynic as “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Boy, he sure knew detail customers, didn’t he?

Customers in the detail industry are often skeptical of the services we offer. They are quick to see a big price tag but not the value behind it.

Unfortunately, many of these customers have been exposed in one way or another to a shady car care business. These experiences have been fueled by undercover television news reports that cast a spotlight on a very small number of crooked operations, giving a negative impression of many well-operated detail and automotive businesses.

Do not despair — there is a remedy. We can create a relationship of trust with our customers by exceeding their expectations, making sure they understand the value of the detail services we offer and by clearly explaining the work we will perform and why.

Exceed customer expectations
Our customers have many options when it comes to choosing a detail business. Ask yourself what makes yours stand apart? If you offer a courtesy safety inspection or shuttle service, make sure your customers are aware of it. What is the point in going above and beyond if your customer does not see the value of what you are doing?

Teach your staff to know and point out these perks to your customers. Make sure you or your sales staff outline the key advantages of service when presenting those services. It is your trained technicians who know the customer’s car better than any other detail shop in town. This is how you win customer loyalty.

For example, the dry cleaner and laundry I use for my shirts sent a note with one of them saying they had replaced a button free of charge. While this might seem small, they won my loyalty by going the extra mile, and telling me what they did. By the way, they charge 50-cents more than other laundries.

Also consider the simple act of kindness and the benefits you can reap from it. From phone calls to meet and greet, if your staff is friendly, your customers will respond.

Many customers are unaware of the benefits of good detail service. It is your job to make them aware.

Paint a picture
When recommending a detail service, try to see it from the customer's point of view. Don't just tell them they need something because you say so. Tell them why the service is important and how it affects their vehicle. Is it a preventative maintenance issue? Safety?

You lose a sale because you don’t say enough, not because of a few dollars more. The more you explain, the more your customer will understand and trust you. Your customers make purchase decisions based on trust. Illustrate as much as you can to your customer.

Educating your customer requires professional sales tools. Does your detail chemical supplier provide those for you? If not, find another supplier. They owe it to you.

More than a bill
Customers have several choices as to where they can take their vehicle for detailing. According to informal studies about one-third of customers defect from a detail shop after the first service. Why does this happen?

Among other things, a common reason was the detailer did not explain “work performed and associated charges.” In other words, they lost customer loyalty because they did not show the customer the value of their work.

One of the biggest missed opportunities for customer loyalty is making sure customers understand what they are getting for their money. The detail industry is distinguished from others because our customers leave with a tangible good feeling. You need to build on that.

Your sales person is responsible for making sure customers understand the value attached to the dollar amount spent. A good process to use for this is active delivery. Active delivery is vital for conveying the value of a detail. At the time a customer comes to pick up a car, make sure the advisor evaluates the vehicle with the customer and ask if there is anything more that can be done, anything missed, or not to their satisfaction.

Using active delivery ensures your customer completely understands the services performed. Value is defined by our customers' perceptions. By exceeding expectations and clearly presenting services we can prevent customers from becoming cynics. These extra steps to build personal relationships with our customers will gain customers' trust for life.

R.L. “Bud” Abraham is president of Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems, Portland, OR, and a 37-year member of the car-care industry. He is also a member of the International Carwash Association Board of Directors and can be contacted at