Reputation, Part I - A Help or Hindrance to Success
By Prentice St. Clair
Whether you are just starting a detail business or several years into it, there is a concept of which you may or may not be aware. It is a concept that, if treated well, can help your operation thrive with many customers. The concept is “reputation,” and having a good one can reap many benefits.
The textbook definition of reputation is: “the opinion or judgment in which a person is generally held.” So it very much has to do with the opinions that people have about you as a business owner and individual. It also has to do with the judgments people make about the quality of your work.
So how does this “reputation” thing work? Here are a couple of recent personal experiences that exemplify the power of a good reputation.
The first anecdote is this: I got a call on my business line from someone I had never met. She said I came highly recommended by several people on a neighborhood informational website called Nextdoor.com. The total bill for reconditioning of her vehicle came to $800, and the only “selling” that I had to do on the phone was to find an open appointment in my schedule. Later, she posted a glowing review on the website.
Later I joined the website and checked who had recommended me and what they said. Two of the referrals came from long-time customers. The third was from a customer who, although I see him around town occasionally, I have not provided service to for a number of years. This is where the “reputation” thing comes in. I have been a part of the same community for 25 years, and even those who do not patronize my business on a regular basis know that I am a solid community member and a trustworthy person to whom referrals can be made.
The second anecdote is this: Got a call from another person whom I’d never met, who said he got my name from his neighbor, a newer customer and friend. The inquiring customer wanted “the works” and was not concerned at all about price. He was thrilled with the result and wants to start a regular detailing program. All this because his neighbor told him about me.
Granted, it takes a special kind of customer to become a “booster,” which is a word that I use for someone who talks up your business with great passion. I learned the concept of the booster customer in my first job as a swimming instructor. The boss, who is still a friend after 33 years, by the way, would point out certain customers as boosters and talk about how they brought other customers in and were very supportive of our method of teaching swimming.
After 25 years in business, I am fortunate to have numerous boosters. But that good fortune did not come free. I have worked diligently during my time here in San Diego to provide great service, provide great results, be friendly with everyone I come into contact with, and contribute to my community.
CREATING A GOOD REPUTATION
I believe that there are four components to establishing a good reputation. These are:
1. Provide great customer service
2. Provide superior results
3. Treat your customers like friends
4. Be a good citizen and contributor to the community
Let’s talk about each of these in depth.
Provide Great Customer Service
I believe that the customer service experience is far more encompassing than most of us initially think. It begins with the first time a potential customer hears about your business and continues all the way through your follow-up contact well after the service is performed.
I think we all know what great customer service feels like when we receive it. It’s a bit more difficult to describe how we as professional detailers are supposed to provide it. So I put together a list of prompting questions, the answers to which will determine how good the customer service actually is.
• What happens when the customer first finds out about you? Is your marketing simple and easy to understand? Have you developed a face-to-face initial contact style that is warm and inviting? If mobile, are you approachable?
• What’s it like during the customer’s initial contact with you? How easy is it to get in touch with you? Do you answer the phone? Do they know that they’ve reached the right place upon calling? Do they feel as if they are the first priority while talking on the phone? Do you respond quickly to e-mails, voicemails, and texts? Is your business easy to find if driving there? Is it easy to access? Does the customer feel welcome upon walking into your business? Is that walk-up customer comfortable approaching your under-way mobile operation?
• What is the customer’s experience of your sales presentation? Is your detailing menu simple for the customer to understand and easy to explain? Do you adequately assess the vehicle’s needs and the customer’s wants? Does the customer fully understand the services to be performed and their cost? Does the customer feel comfortable about the proposed service? Is it convenient for the customer to leave the vehicle with you?
• What is your service provision capability? Can you perform the service in a timely fashion? Can you perform the service thoroughly? Do your technical capabilities match your customer’s expectations? Is the vehicle safe while in your possession? Is the vehicle delivered to the customer when promised? Is the customer delighted with the vehicle upon presentation? Is the vehicle delivery convenient for the customer? Is it simple and easy for the customer to pay for the service?
• What happens to your customer after they pay and leave? What warrantees or guarantees are provided? How long after they leave will the customer be happy with the service performed? What contact does your customer have with you after they leave your premises?
The answers to these questions determine what level of customer service you are providing. In future months, I will be addressing these questions. For now, your assignment is to think about how you and your customers would answer these questions.
Provide Superior Results
In college, I was fortunate to work as a driver for a retired and aging gentleman named Spiros Ponty. He had retired as one of the largest and most successful home and commercial real estate developers in post-war Los Angeles. Several hundred of his custom homes are still on the national registry of historic homes. One of his admonitions to me in 1987 has stayed with me and served me well over the years. In his deep, gravelly, Greek-accented voice he said, “Whatever you do, do the best job you can.”
Providing superior results starts with doing the best job you can. Add to that something that results in the customer getting more than was paid for. The old sales adage applies here: “under-promise and over-deliver.” Completeness is also important — make sure that the primary service order is complete and that all special customer requests are accomplished.
But there’s something more to superior results than the admonitions above, because I remember the great feedback I got when I was providing detailing as an avocation to friends and neighbors to make some extra cash on the weekends. This was well before I had any fancy professional detailing equipment. (For example, my interior detailing kit consisted of a Hoover PortaPower vacuum and attachments, a used toothbrush, Simple Green, and my mom’s cast-off dish towels.)
Instead, I substituted thoroughness. It would take eight hours to detail a car inside and out. Even though there were things that I couldn’t do (like high-speed polishing or hot-water extraction), the car looked spectacular when I was done, yielding comments like, “man, you do good work.”
As I moved into detailing as a profession and began to educate myself through supplier seminars and trade magazines, I added equipment and chemicals that greatly sped up my process. But I never eliminated the thoroughness. With professional equipment, chemicals, and knowledge, I am able to provide better results in less time, but the thoroughness is still there. (I still use toothbrush-style detail brushes for cracks and seams.)
And there’s one more concept that should be an undercurrent of all of these activities — consistency. The importance of consistency is that your return customers know what to expect when they come into contact with you. The warm, smiling face; the way you can always accommodate their schedule; the way the car always looks spectacular when you’re done with it.
Your reputation as a business owner and as a person can help or hinder the success of your business. Many of us can share anecdotal data that demonstrates the benefits of having a good reputation. Creating a good reputation starts with treating customers well and continues with consistently doing so. Once again, I have bitten off more than I can chew, so look for Part II of this discussion in a future column.
Prentice St. Clair is president of Detail in Progress, a San Diego-based automotive reconditioning consulting firm. To contact him, e-mail Prentice@DetailinProgress.com or call (619) 701-1100.