By Keith Duplessie
Detail business owners seldom consider the overall customer experience when dealing with a stop-in or telephone customer. Yet, those experiences are just as important to the customer as the quality of detail — maybe more so.
The detail businesses pulling away from competitors understand the importance of the total customer experience. If you have ever spent a day at Disney World or Disneyland, you know how to relate to an “experience economy” business. When you visit a Disney business, you do not evaluate your day by technical descriptions but in terms of your experience.
The friendliness, cleanliness and ambiance are what you remember. You simply assume the technical stuff will be correct. When customers describe a detail experience, they do not go into a dissertation about chemicals, extractors, buffers, etc. They describe the service (or lack thereof) and, ultimately, the experience they had with the business. However, if you are like most technically oriented professionals, when you try to give customers reasons to buy from you, you recite techno talk about chemicals, buffing pads and other jargon.
Customers come to you because their cars are dirty and/or their paint is scratched or dull. And they are not happy. Although this is a routine experience for you, it isn’t necessarily so for the customer.
Unsuccessful business owners fail to understand the difference between the two experiences. They often build their systems around the routine nature of their own experience and consequently fail to appreciate what the customer is experiencing.
Customers care that their prized possession is in need of some serious TLC. They want to see their detailer feel the same way about their car as they do.
Building a Better Customer Experience
Consider eye appeal. What does your shop or mobile rig look like? Business 101 calls for a clean, neat and attractive appearance for your business. Many detail business owners apparently have not taken the course. In fact, I know many detailers who are proud that they learned “on their own.” But experience tells us most detail shops are unattractive to say the least. They often are “out back” in some other building or the mobile rig is dirty. In a fixed location, when customers walk or drive up, they often see dirt, disorganization and mess.
Common issues discovered in detail shops include offices that are unclean and chaotic; unkempt, unprofessional staff; and no receptionist present, or the receptionist doubles as a detailer. Greeting techniques often are not professional and any systems in place are for the convenience of the owner or employees, not the customers.
Coupled with the lack of eye appeal, this type of detailing business paints a less than flattering image before any services can be rendered. Why not add some professional signage clearly directing customers to a welcoming waiting area? Buy some nice furniture and lighting to present your business in the best possible light. Clean the place up and develop a dress code.
Another aspect of the detail experience is communication. Since vehicles may be under your care for several hours, set up a proactive program for communicating times and expectations with customers. If your phone rings constantly with customers inquiring about the status of their vehicles, you have a communication problem. Call customers to update them on the status of their vehicles so they know you have not forgotten about them. Remember, customers may use detail services only once or twice a year. It’s likely not a routine experience for them.
Surveys conducted within the automotive industry show that 65 percent of new car owners want their dealer to detail their car, yet dealers fulfill less than half this amount of business. There is plenty of work to be had for independent detail businesses on top of their game.
Dealers can be formidable competition to small detail businesses if detailers don’t take care of their customers. In the past, dealers have viewed detailing as a necessary evil, but smart dealerships are now professionalizing their in-house detail staffs and facilities.
Finally, think about how the customer experience affects pricing. If mediocrity is the primary customer perception of a detail business, then price is the only differentiator. Customers will value your services based solely on the look of your shop and expect the same level of work. If a shop looks second rate, customers will expect second-rate services at second-rate prices.
Do not let this be the reason you are forced to cut prices. Differentiate yourself with respect to quality and customer experience.
I challenge you to look at your shop/rig with a digital camera in hand. Do not tell anybody what you are doing. Snap a picture of what the customer would see from 40 feet. Then step inside and snap a photo of your office. Snap a photo of the staff in charge of greeting. Wander into the shop and take a couple of panoramic shots. Upload the pictures to your computer and review them.
What do you think? Is there room for improvement?
Keith Duplessie is technical services manager for Portland, Ore.-based Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems , in charge of all installations, training and technical services. He also serves on the board of directors for the International Detailing Association . Keith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .