Anyone in the carwash or detail business today knows that consumers are better educated than ever before, and on the other hand, the monies they have available to spend on “luxury items” is fewer than ever. That said, you might ask, “How can a small detail business survive under these conditions?”
Interestingly, all small businesses, including your detail business, have characteristics which can influence their success, if utilized properly:
- Small businesses are leaner and swifter. They can make needed changes faster than other businesses;
- There are fewer communication barriers between the management and the employees;
- Almost every employee deals with a paying customer; and
- Usually every employee can see and feel their contribution to the enterprise's success, resulting in enhanced teamwork within the company.
For you to position your detail business to take advantage of these strengths, here are seven strategies you can use which translate into one word, and that is service.
Step 1: Set a definition of customer service that everyone can understand.
Most businesses, regardless of size, have trouble managing customer service by virtue of the way they see it or define it. Words like "excellence," "customer satisfaction," and "meeting or exceeding customer's expectations" are often used.
If management wants to manage customer service, the problem with these words is they are all subject to differing interpretations by different employees. Therefore, the service provided to customers will vary from employee to employee, resulting in inconsistency as perceived by customers. You need a clear, easy to understand definition to communicate it to all employees.
An example of a clear definition is: "Customer service is meeting the customer's requirements, every time." This definition is very clear. It is understandable to all employees and focuses the detail business where it should focus, the external customer.
Step 2: Establish and communicate an operating policy regarding customer service.
An operating policy provides direction and boundaries for all employees to help them with each customer.
Any time the customer comes in contact with some aspect of the business they will use it as an opportunity to judge the quality of service the business is providing. For every employee to handle each customer as management would want them to, an operating policy must be established by management and communicated to all employees.
One small business defines their policy as: "We will deliver services that conform to our customer's requirements. Our services will be produced in a safe environment, and our company name will represent quality to our customers, our vendors, and ourselves."
This type of policy provides direction and boundaries so every employee can make business decisions for successful outcomes with the customer.
Without a clear definition of customer satisfaction and a clear, concise operating policy, the employee is making decisions regarding customers based upon whatever definition they have learned during their work career.
Step 3: Reinforce and insist upon every employee knowing his external and internal customers and their requirements.
Every employee, no matter what his position, produces something that is utilized by an external customer or another employee within the business (an internal customer). This could be equipment maintenance, a buff job, engine clean, etc. Regardless of the specifics of the output, someone will be expecting to utilize that output for use within one of their work or personal processes.
If the output doesn't meet the customer's requirements, many undesirable business results occur. Customers could choose to take their business to another detail business.
Your role is to educate all employees on the concepts of internal and external customers. As part of that education, employees must learn how to establish and verify the needs of their customers. Then, you must insist that every employee know the customer and the customer's requirements. Then, every action you take must reinforce the concept of customer service being the top priority.
Step 4: Value and promote process knowledge.
The employees who work in the detail business should be experts in how the detailing process is working or not working to meet the customer’s needs. But, in many cases, employees only understand how their piece of the detail process works. Few employees understand how their part of the process interacts with every other part of the detail process toward meeting the requirements of the customers.
It is your role to promote the actions needed for all employees to understand their work processes in the context of the entire work process.
Step 5: Insist upon measurement against customer's requirements.
Measurement is as essential to your detail business improvements and providing customer service as score keeping is to a professional baseball team. Measurement points the way to work process areas needing improvement.
If you do not have proactive, ongoing measurement against customer needs, the life of your business will be handicapped, if not doomed.
It's your role to ensure there is a measurement against customer's requirements. Then, you must ensure there is a mechanism to resolve the problems, which are identified through this measurement, that hinder meeting the customer's requirements.
Step 6: Create a corrective action system to resolve customer and employee problems at their root cause.
Measurement is a reflection of how customers perceive your business’ ability to meet their requirements. It is only data. Until someone acts upon that data, nothing changes. It is your role to provide a systematic method for all customer problems, identified through measurement, to be eliminated at the root cause.
Because you realize that employees should be process experts, everyone must be actively involved in running the business' work processes. In a small detail business, where every resource is critical, this is doubly important. But to effectively contribute, all employees must be educated to perform in process improvement activities and be encouraged through recognition to use that education.
Step 7: Educate all employees and encourage people through a system of recognition.
Employees are the only renewable, non-deteriorating asset your detail business has. Unfortunately, most detail businesses invest more money in the upkeep of machinery than they devote to the people. If you want to avoid the costly expense of regularly replacing employees, excessive absenteeism, and redo of employee errors, the human resource must be maintained through a system of education and recognition.
Every employee must be educated in how they support all seven steps. It's your role to act as the cheerleaders for your business. Employees will expend efforts in those areas they believe are important to you.
It's your role to tie its recognition of employees to the areas of customer's requirements, process improvements, and teamwork. Anything within your business that stands in the way of these three focuses, should be eliminated. The keys of success lie with you, no where else.
Small detail business can exploit their competitive advantages by focusing upon these suggestions. Aligning all actions around the service steps will ensure the small detail business not only survives but prospers into a medium-to-large size detail business of the future.
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, Western Carwash Association Board of Directors and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org