Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Do you service the car or the customer?

October 11, 2010

Some auto detail business owners tell me their job is to service the car. Others tell me they’re more concerned with the customer, not the vehicle. In other words, “Fix the customer, not the car.”

Think about it: How often have you been disappointed with the service received at a business? Good businesses, I have found, work very hard to establish a warm relationship with the customer. As one business owner told me, “I have to see the customer before I see the car.”

Outclass the competition
The death knell for any detail business is poor customer service. If you expect to outdo your competition, you better plan on outclassing them with top service.

How do you know if you’re connecting with your customers? Well, several key determining factors of great customer service include:

  • Knowing details about your customers and what their specific needs are today;
  • The ability to get the detail work done when you say it will be done, thus becoming a more convenient option; and
  • Knowing when the customer should come in again.

Having all of these issues under control provides your customers with a compelling reason to return on a regular basis and not look elsewhere for detail services.

A common complaint
Customers fundamentally have several problems with automotive service.

First, the owner often speaks in technical terms that are a foreign language to the average person. Automotive service in general has always been a puzzle for most customers; this has grown worse in the 21st century.

As you describe the complexity of what will have to be done to the vehicle the customer’s mind begins to drift back to their old VCR perpetually flashing 12:00.

The best way to talk to the customer is in a manner that they can understand and appreciate. If they don’t get that feeling from you, they will keep shopping until they find a detailer that provides this comfort level.

Ultimately, a customer must take your word for what should be done to the vehicle. The customer has some sense of feeling at home with you. Remember, comfort precedes trust.

Treat a customer like a houseguest
Along with not understanding the service needs of their vehicle, customers also are generally uncomfortable in a detail and repair shops. Oftentimes these businesses present a bare-minimum waiting room and a whole lot of testosterone in the shop.

Think of your favorite business; they never treat you as though you are only there for a price. First, they always ask you how you are, and then offer you coffee of some other beverage to relax. Maybe they have wireless internet in a classy waiting room if you need to catch up while waiting for your vehicle.

Consider your customer’s comfort throughout the sales and service process. Create a written plan for employees so they understand the way you want your customers to be greeted and treated during the sale and afterwards.

For instance, should your cashier offer the customer coffee or walk them to the waiting area? Do you want the technician to explain the detail service to the customer or would you rather have a dedicated sales person perform this task? Your employees will benefit from understanding what is expected from them and you can maintain your standards of customer service in each and every sale.

Keep score(cards)
Just when you think it can’t get any more comprehensive, now detail shops can present customers with a vehicle’s “scorecard.” This data reveals:

  • When customers have had detail services last performed,
  • What services are outstanding and should be completed today; and
  • Services to consider for a future visit.

People don’t like to be sold something they don’t need; seeing that it’s not all due today is refreshing. They put their shields down and really get behind this process; this is not at all like the game some other detailers play with their wallets. It builds trust that you aren’t just trying to grab everything you can today, and you must be very confident that customers will be very content to keep returning for all of these scheduled visits.

This approach also encourages customers to think more about getting all of their detailing services done at your shop — because it eliminates the mystery making them feel confident in the vehicle sense. This translates into increased loyalty from customers, and today, that’s the name of the game; loyal customers.

More detailers need to capitalize on this relationship building opportunity. Today’s customer wants convenience and peace of mind in the least amount of time. This approach can be a logical extension of shop management and the perfect differentiation to keep customers loyal to your 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 Western Carwash Association Board of Directors. Abraham can be contacted at buda@detailplus.com.