Auto Detailing - October 2002

Leave 'em Smiling! Resolving
Disappointment Will Bring 'em Back
By John Lamade

Each month as I write this column, I am always puzzled about the month's topic. Looking at the editorial calendar and Stefan's suggestions usually help, but it is a challenge to try to imagine what you would like to read. Many of you do communicate, and I appreciate your comments.

This month's feature is on cleaning. Well, I guess that I will have something to say about cleaning, but
this month's piece will be about handling disappointment. You know, clean up a frown and leave a sparkling smile.


As you all know, disappointment happens. No matter how hard you try, you are going to have some customers who cannot be satisfied. There are many causes, but I suspect that the primary source of unmet expectations is unrealistic expectations. We have discussed this before. The cure, of course, is to educate the customer, before work starts, about what you can - and cannot - do to restore the vehicle's appearance.

Another cause of unrealistic expectations is promising more than you can deliver. You thought you could but could not. Good intentions can get you into more trouble than just about anything else I can imagine. Yet, we seem to be willing to jump in despite frightful past experiences. Now, I will not regale you with a paragraph on fools rushing in where angels fear to tread, because I do not believe that many of you are foolish. Nope, the problem is simpler. You truly want to help your customer, and you love your work and its challenges.

There are ways to help stay out of trouble. The easiest way to avoid difficulty is to recognize the vehicle's trouble areas before you start and then to inform the customer that you will try to remove them on a best-effort basis. Of course, when you tackle a really difficult challenge, you must also be aware that you cannot damage the vehicle. In short, do your best and then evaluate. Here is where you talk with the customer and explain the options. Can they live with things as they are? Or are they willing to assume the risk of possible damage? You need to explain the options and consequences. In this way, you stay out of trouble.

There is no substitute for honesty.


Customer service is probably one of the most difficult business tasks. You know the scenario. An irritated customer has a complaint or a problem, and you are the one responsible. You are tempted to respond in kind, but you know better.

Rule One: Listen
Sometimes this is the most difficult part of the problem-resolution process. You know that the customer has a problem, but you know you are not at fault. Your immediate thought is to deny responsibility. The outcome is usually an argument and ill feelings for both parties. As you have your say, the customer seems to become angrier at each comment. What to do? Close your mouth and listen to what the customer has to say. Do not listen only to the content of the message; try to understand the customer's emotions as well. After you hear and understand the customer's problem, sympathize and agree that it is indeed a problem. This leads us to the next rule.

Rule Two: Identify the Problem and the Customer's Solution
Because you listened and sympathized, you can identify the problem, look at the vehicle, and determine what can be done next. This is where having a copy of the pre-detailing checklist can come in handy. The pre-detailing checklist is a record made of all potential problems before work actually starts. Better yet, if you had the customer initial/sign the checklist you will have a means of helping the customer to a solution that will not cost you money - but more about this later. If your records are good, you can now relax and be a true professional as you follow Rule Three.

Rule Three: Calm the Customer
The customer has vented his emotional response to the problem. You listened and sympathized. Many people will feel somewhat embarrassed by their outburst or display of emotion. From the initial part of the conversation/complaint, you know the kind of solution the customer wants. You want to convince the customer that you want to help resolve the problem. This is a good time to inspect the problem with the customer. Do not be confrontational. Talk about the problem and try to identify the source or cause of the problem.

I remember a story about a woman who complained that her leather seats were damaged with many small scratches and holes. She believed that the detailer was responsible and wanted the seat repaired. The damage was hard to see and the detailer had missed the damage during the pre-inspection because of the dirt and debris on the back seat. The owner was convinced that the damage happened in the shop because nobody every sat in the back seat. Well, the detailer did have his wits working when he talked to the woman. He asked two questions after he looked at the damage: "Madam, do you own a dog?" The lady's response was yes and in fact, she had two. The second question was, "Do the dogs ever ride on the back seat?" The lady answered that she took the dogs with her frequently. Then he asked the lady to look at the pattern of the damage and suggested that the dogs had caused the damage. The lady realized that the problem was indeed the dogs' claws. Now that the lady was calmer, the detailer was able to use Rule Four to help solve the problem.

Rule Four: After Identifying the Problem, Offer Solutions
You are now in control of the situation. Do not let the customer leave without a solution to the problem. In the example above, there was no quick fix for the damaged leather, but the detailer did suggest that additional damage could be avoided with pet-proof seat covers. He went to his office and retrieved a catalog that showed a solution and offered to write down the company's contact information. The detailer also offered to install the seat protector for the customer and show the lady how to remove the cover for cleaning and to accommodate rear-seat passengers. The lady was delighted with the service and solution.

Rule Five: Make Sure the Customer is Satisfied
This is the most commonly forgotten step, but it can be the most important. Thank the customer and make sure that there are no lingering doubts or reservations. You want the customer to remember you for your service and professionalism. In this way, you will earn more referrals. You have turned a frown into a satisfied smile!


I like stories with happy conclusions like the one above. You, too, can create happy endings by just listening, not arguing, keeping the customer calm, and offering solutions. Sometimes you cannot. Customer service is not limited to you. Think about your customer service experiences. How were your problems solved? Were they solved? Try comparing your customer service to that of companies you admire? Good customer service is no accident - it takes planning and a sincere desire to help your customers. Certainly, you can remember both good and bad experiences. When you have a customer with a complaint, imagine that you are the customer and then ask yourself how you would wish to be treated.


I love new products, and I am always looking for new solutions. Microfiber towels are great and there are many jobs for which I would not use anything else. In past months, I have mentioned several new products. This month, I will talk about Wax and Dries. Perhaps you have seen recent advertisements for this type of product. Yes, it is a DIY product, and it certainly is not the first. Presumably there are others, but many people have not realized that these products can be tremendous time savers, and they can produce fantastic results. Is there a place in your shop for a Wax and Dry?

One of the grizzly truths about waxes is that they are short lived. You apply the wax and within weeks the brilliant shine is only a memory. That does not mean that waxes and sealants are unnecessary. It means that longevity and "protection" are over-hyped. If you want sustained beauty, frequent waxing is needed. If you want protection, regular washing and waxing in addition to avoiding damaging environments are the solution. For some, this might be heresy, but I am skeptical about the long-term (more than six weeks, if that much) beauty and protection provided by waxes. Certainly, I am not swayed by water beading.

Detailers are giving away opportunities for service by touting the long-term benefits of miracle waxes. Sell the shine. Offer to clean and re-wax in six weeks with a special promotion. I think that many detailers and car wash owners forget that they are car care professionals. Car care is a continuous process and not something that occurs once or twice a year like dentist appointments.

If customers really care about their vehicles' appearance, then cleanliness and frequent attention is needed. This represents an opportunity for you.

If you are going to offer appearance maintenance services, then you should select the products that will produce great results efficiently, which brings us back to the Wax and Dries. I believe that using these products can satisfy both you and your customers.

The only drawback that I have observed in Wax and Dries is a tendency toward streakiness if too much is used. There are fast and easy solutions. I like using microfiber towels to dry and wax, but if I notice irregularities in appearance, I have found that a quick application of a spray and shine (instant detailers, etc.) and microfiber wipe ensures an even application.

Really, you should look for new ideas and ways to produce better work. Remember that you are a
professional and you can use any product that gives you the right results. When I mentioned the Wax and Dries product, I thought, "I'll lose some readers here because I mentioned a retail product," but it is the results that count, not the brand. Would you feel better if you bought the same product in a "professional" package for $2 more?

That's it for this month. Next month we start thinking about NACE. If you have any product suggestions, comments, or whatever, please e-mail me. I would like to hear from you.

John Lamade has extensive experience in the marketing of detailing products and is a contributing editor to Auto Laundry News. Contact John via e-mail at

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