Detail Management - September 2010

Service — The “But” Stops Here
By Sharie Sipowicz

Retailers speak of providing the best customer service, “but” — the famous word that separates the really outstanding businesses from the rest.


A customer called to see if he could get his car washed and waxed that day. The detail business owner said, “Yes, we can do that for you, but we’re pretty backed up right now so, can we get you later this week?”

A customer called for an appointment on Saturday when she was not working, and the owner said, “Sorry, we are not open on Saturdays, five days a week is enough for me”.

These examples point out something is missing when it comes to customer service.


The problem is most detail business owners rate their performance on how well they detail a car, not on how they make the customer feel. Customers do not buy just based on the quality of service; they buy based on who makes them feel good.

How do you judge doctors? You don’t know if they are good or not. How they make you feel informs your evaluation. Service alone might drive a customer to return to a detail shop because the end result was a good detail. But the fact is, humans don’t care just about facts. Humans make a great many decisions based on emotion. That is why they pay such close attention to how they feel when doing business with someone. One wrong word and, as in the examples, the customer can feel rejected.

That word is “but.” The word carries a strong psychological trigger. Whenever you hear the word “but,” you don’t remember anything that was said before it, and don’t trust anything that is said afterwards.

The detailer probably thought he was being respectful of the customer’s time by giving him a fair warning —“but we’re pretty backed up right now.” Instead, he just caused him to be stressed, worried that the job might not be finish in time. The detailer covered his backside, and created a pain in the customer’s.

The second example showed that the owner was thinking only of himself. Working on a Saturday was inconvenient for him.

This may seem trivial, but emotions are tricky and must be managed delicately. Don’t begin any conversation with the equivalent of a warning that does not create positive emotions for the customer.


What we are talking about is called “negations.” That is any “yeah, but” statement; a statement that seems positive, but is followed by a negative. These statements negate the direction you are trying to take with the customer. Negative words include “but,” “however,” “although,” and so forth.

The thing about negations is that, if used to reverse a bad situation, they can actually have a positive effect. “I’m sorry, we are busy, but if you can come in late this afternoon I’ll get you in.”

Does this sound nit-picky? It is. Take careful note the next time you hear “yes, but.” I bet you will not be happy. It will be due to that word “but” that the person uttering it didn’t even notice.

When you eat at a restaurant and the server makes you feel rushed and annoyed, or like your business is not important to them, try to determine what they did to make you feel that way. Whatever the person did to negate your emotions, make sure you don’t do it to your customers.


It doesn’t take much to shift someone away from being happy. Removing the word “but” from conversations is one of the most challenging tasks for anyone. Replace “but” with words like “so,” which force you to follow up with a solution: “We can’t get you in today, so is there another day that will work for you?” Or, “...I’ll take your name and number and I will call if I can change the schedule around.”

If you can’t remove “but,” at least shift it to where it will do some good. Look at the face of the customer you’re talking to. Their expression will tell you if you put it in the right spot.

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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