Professional Carwashing & Detailing

What to do when you're accused

October 11, 2010
Ever detailed a car and been accused of stealing the customer’s valuables or money? You know you are innocent, but how do you prove it?

“There was a $20 bill in the console. Did you take it?”

“My IPOD is missing from the glove box; I’m sure one of your detailers stole it!”

“My wallet is gone from my car. I know you or your employee took it.”

Any of these sound familiar? What do you do when this happens?

Maybe the customer will calm down and eventually find the lost item. Maybe not.

Maybe you or your employee is charged with theft. Maybe not.

If you’re prepared, you should be able to solve the matter and save the customer, no matter what the situation.

Preventive maintenance
In this column, we talk a lot about first impressions. Positive first impressions of you, your employees and your facility can go a long way in keeping accusations of theft to a minimum when your customer’s personal items occasionally end up missing or are misplaced. Making sure you and your employees look and act professional goes a long way in squasthing customer fears.

One importanat step in minimizing theft is to take extra care in hiring and training employees. Hire people who look and act like professionals and train them to do so. Teach your employees how to respond if they are accused while you are away in the office or off-site.

Invest in criminal background checks for all interviewed applications and talk about your shop’s reputation and the part your employees play in it. If your detailers have pride in their facility, they will be less likely to be tempted and do something foolish.

Standard procedure
You must have a standard procedure in place when your employees are accused of theft. Remember, in this instance, you are guilty until proven innocent. Regardless of what the case may be, you should handle accusations in the same fashion.

When you get a call accusing you or your employees, first listen very closely. Let them do the talking, never interrupt or say, “That couldn’t be my guy!” After they are done explaining the situation, your immediate response should be, “I’m terribly sorry. I will check into this immediately, but let me assure you that our company does a thorough background check on all our employees. The employees that detailed your vehicle have been with me for (number of years) and I have never had a problem with him/her.”

The next part of your procedure should be to ask questions to clarify the situation. These questions help the customer think back to when the item was last seen and to stop continued accusations. (When did you realize it was missing? When did you last see the item? Where do you normally place the item?)

If you are accused, do NOT get defensive. Listen carefully, promise to talk to the employee(s) involved, respond quickly, and invite feedback.

Be careful in replacing items because this could be construed as an admission of guilt. You will want to appease the customer in any way you can, but keep in mind that you might open yourself up for further action.

If you do replace the item, be sure to tell the customer that you or your employees would never steal because you work extremely hard for your reputation and feel terrible about the loss and do not want to cause the customer anymore inconvenience.

What if the item is “high-dollar?”
First, call the customer and ask for a meeting. Explain to them that being like them, a consumer, you can understand and relate to their position of doubt. It is a terrible thing to have something of such value missing.

During the meeting with the customer say the following:
  • “I put my reputation and integrity above any and all things and have all my life. I will continue to do that until the day I die, or sell the business.”
  • “I would never personally take anything that was not my own. That is one of the commandments of my business and my employees know that. It is a commandment that is never up for negotiation.”
Another statement I personally find to have a good impact: “Mr. Customer, recognizing your frustration, I am willing to take a lie detector test. However, when it comes back that I am telling you the truth, I want you to promise me one very important thing: You will have your vehicle detailed by my company.

Honesty is always the best policy
Have you ever had a customer play the part of an “investigative reporter” to test your business’ honesty? Many customers leave a dollar or five dollar bill under the seat for the purpose of testing your honesty.

A customer once hid a $5 bill under his seat. Our policy is to put all customer “loose items” in a plastic bag, which my employee did. When he came to pick up the car I pointedly told him about the $5 and he admitted he placed it there to test our honesty.

Other times you can be a hero. While detailing a lady’s car we found a ring she had lost. When she came to pick up the car we gave it to her and she started crying, it was her deceased mother’s wedding ring.

Honesty is always the best policy.

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