Prudently plan to prevent strange, possibly offensive odors inside customers' vehicles or chance their wrath.
Returning a smelly vehicle to a motorist is no way to meet — let alone exceed — customer expectations of your business.
When it comes to protecting customers' vehicles, an ounce of prevention is always worth pounds of cure. Namely, it's considerably cheaper to prevent odors than it may be to remove them. Experience shows that some smells may be more enduring and stubborn than anyone anticipated. Consequently, watch out for these potential issues.
First, the vast majority of people purchasing automotive maintenance and repairs are women, and they seem to notice strange new smells more readily than men do. This tendency alone is reason enough to be cautious with customers' vehicles.
I've worked in and around automotive service facilities since I was a teenager. That experience spawned two indelible impressions. Typically, a vehicle's interior should smell no worse when the car leaves the shop than it did when it arrived there. If the car owner doesn't smell something different and offensive, then there's no foul.
Rather, headaches begin when the driver notices something new and noxious. Sometimes, service personnel disagree with the complaint. The challenge here may be that shop workers became so accustomed to these offensive odors that they don't necessarily notice them. We're all creatures of habit — including the habit of adjusting to the conditions of our workplace.
Never underestimate a customer's ability to notice odors. I have seen some car interiors that most readers would call disgusting. Despite an existing stench, a car owner may whine about some new, noxious odor when he or she retrieves the vehicle. I've seen shops take a big hit for professional cleaning just to quell that customer's anger.
Invest in extra sets of shop uniforms for all technicians. Hold a team meeting and explain your expectations. Any time someone spills or splashes a smelly substance onto a uniform, that tech's supposed to change uniforms right away.
That way, the soiled uniform can't stain or stink up the vehicle's interior. Realize that, long term, extra uniforms save the cost of cleaning car interiors.
Also invest in recyclable seat covers. Make it shop policy to cover the driver's seat of every vehicle before a technician sits in it.
For example, check out Petoskey Plastics' Slip-n-Grip seat covers at www.slipngrip.com. To the best of my knowledge, Petoskey has been one of the leading names in protection products.
Forbid all service personnel from eating or drinking anything inside customers' vehicles. You'd be surprised how little spillage it takes to create an objectionable odor, especially if the vehicle's been sitting in the summer sun. Spilled liquids also may cause electrical havoc when they seep into the wrong component.
Likewise, discarded debris such as old fast-food wrappers, take-out tote bags, plastic take-out food containers, etc., may cause more of a stink that any of your techs bargained for. I've seen car owners complain about these food-related odors even though the tech actually left the debris in the car's trunk.
Next, be “wiper-wise.” Some techs are none too careful about where they drop shop rags, towels and wipers — especially inside a customer's vehicle. Lay down the law about retrieving all wipes from vehicles. What's more, watch for the tech who tends to have a wiping rag dangling from a pants pocket.
Finally, be careful about the pervasive odor of cigars, cigarettes and pipe tobacco on technicians' uniforms. To non-smokers, some of these workers simply reek of smoke when they're outside the vehicle — let alone working inside it for some time. Many times I have moved or delivered vehicles after heavy smokers have worked inside them. Plain and simple, the car's interior smelled like smoke.
If you have a “stinker” example, send it to me along with your solution to the problem.