Auto Laundry News - December 2012

Customer Service — A Critical Key To Success, Part I

By Sharie Sipowicz

If you want to be successful in the detail business, it takes more than providing the service. Today, customer service is more important than ever. A detail customer does not really expect more than you being friendly, open, and honest about the detail work that needs to be done and that it is done when you say it will be.


Some detail operators do understand that all their customers want is for them to take care of their vehicle. But, there are other ways you can set yourself apart from the competition by offering superior customer service.

The lack of attention to customer service is one of the main reasons many detailers are struggling with the profitability of their business. Why? Typically, detail businesses and car wash owners hire personnel who have no experience in dealing with a retail customer.

Whether you are an existing car wash or detail operation with little
experience in retailing or a long-time operator, the bottom line is the same: You must provide top-quality customer service. In today’s tough economic times and competitive environment, customers have high expectations. Excellent customer service can mean the difference between keeping a customer and losing one.

Customer service is not a new concept; however, too many car wash/detail operations put customer service on the back burner.


Growth comes from taking care of what you have, not what you hope to have. Do not think that losing a customer is part of the cost of doing business and that you are better off without them — think again. The American Management Association estimates that an average business may lose as many as 35 percent of its customers every year, which in turn adds up to thousands of dollars lost in annual revenues.

So, why does a customer stop coming to a business? Simple: because of bad service. Retail customers perceive poor service in one of two ways: not getting what they want, or getting a sense that the business does not care about them. Remember, to keep customers happy requires that all your employees buy into your customer service philosophy.

A “bad customer” is one who does not complain, and most do not. Studies show that only 20 percent, or one in five customers with a problem, will bring it to your attention. Therefore, you will never know how 80 percent of your customers really feel. This silent majority simply leaves and never returns. In addition, they will spread the bad news about your business to family and friends.


How do you keep your customers? Here are a few steps to consider:

  • Provide personalized follow-up service for all customers.
  • Never oversell or pressure your customers to purchase more than they want. Show them what the vehicle needs and let them decide.
  • Offer incentives such as “preferred accounts.”
  • Offer personal relationships to all your customers. Let them know you care.

While you and all of your employees must buy into your customer service philosophy, you must let your employees know what it is they are expected to provide the customer.

It is important to invest in customer service. The moment of truth is approximately 15 seconds. That is how long you have to establish a rapport with customers before they start to feel you do not care about them. How long does it take to answer the telephone? Do you immediately put them on hold? How long do they wait in the waiting room before someone attends to them or even acknowledges their presence? These are all aspects that need to be considered when developing a customer service program.

In next month’s issue of Auto Laundry News, we’ll take a closer look at what it takes to provide good customer service. We’ll also offer some suggestions on how to deal with unhappy customers.

Sharie Sipowicz is aftermarket sales manager with Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems Inc. She has been involved in the detail industry for over 20 years, both as a vendor of products and equipment and as a hands-on operator in a retail detail environment. You can contact Sharie at

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