Keeping a customer's vehicle clean is part of proper service procedure-not an afterthought.
According to one of my sources, consumer surveys confirm the importance of a grease-free service experience.
Regular Tire Business readers know that I've preached cleanliness many times in previous columns. At first glance, keeping a vehicle clean appears to be a mammoth challenge to some service personnel. But it's not nearly as expensive as most people think-and certainly not as expensive as the true cost of an angry customer who won't come back. I'll get back to that point in a moment.
Marketing-wise, cleanliness makes perfectly good sense. You, Mr. Tire Dealer or Service Shop Owner, are a retailer who happens to retail automotive service. Think how much a squeaky-clean retail business impresses you and how much you enjoy patronizing that business.
What's more, 55 to 60 percent of the people purchasing automotive services today are women. As a rule, women are much fussier about cleanliness than men are. Many women customers have told me personally that cleanliness isn't the maximum they expect.
Rather, it's the minimum courtesy they want from a service facility. Experience shows hell hath no fury like a lady with a greasy seat or steering wheel.
Enter Mike Coulter ([email protected] petoskeyplastics.com), sales manager for the Slip N Grip product line of automotive interior protection products made by Petoskey Plastics Inc., Petoskey, Mich. The company is a major supplier of interior protection products for both the auto makers and the aftermarket.
Obviously, Mr. Coulter has a vested interest in vehicle cleanliness. But he's also a regular reader of this column, not to mention an industry veteran with valuable insights into consumer attitudes about auto service. Years ago, he was the new- and used-car manager at a struggling, small-town General Motors Corp. dealership. Among other problems, its service bays were empty more often than not.
Fortunately, savvy new owners turned the business around, in part by emphasizing stellar customer service in all aspects of the dealership. One detail of their plan was requiring all service personnel to always install and then remove disposable plastic seat covers in plain view of waiting customers. ``Within six months, we went from empty stalls to having people waiting in line for service appointments,'' Mr. Coulter said.
Motorists' positive reaction to these ``protective'' procedures impressed Mr. Coulter so much that he pursued the seat cover manufacturer, which happened to be across town in Petoskey. The rest, as they say, is history.
Meanwhile, the results of a General Motors survey will probably catch your attention the way it caught mine. According to Mr. Coulter, the survey showed that overall, the No. 1 cause of service complaints is a dirty interior. The immediate cause of correcting these complaints can range from 70 bucks' worth of labor to clean the interior to $500 to replace a soiled ``wrapped'' steering wheel that couldn't be cleaned. Even on the low end, I believe most tire dealers would agree that a $70 clean-up tab is a major hit to the wallet.
Just as alarming is the survey's finding that only one in 27 motorists will actually complain to the shop about a greasy or dirty car after the service. I've emphasized in previous columns that the unhappy customer influences far more people than a happy one. The actual dollar impact these negative influences have on your dealership is difficult to estimate.
There's an old saying that you only get one chance to make a good first impression. I've also stated in the past that many motorists I meet are too busy to hack around with a service facility that doesn't meet expectations. If you don't measure up, they just take their business elsewhere. These survey results seem to support that argument.
I'm not here to sell interior coverings. But I am trying to sell productive ideas to interested readers.
No matter how you accomplish the task, it's time to make dirty interiors a thing of the past. Professionalism demands it.
Dan Marinucci is a free-lance automotive service writer and former editor of two automotive service magazines.