Lessons From The Car Wash: Long ago, when I was in college, I worked Saturdays at a local car wash. To give you an idea of how long ago it was, the price of a full-service, exterior and interior cleaning was only two dollars.
I worked with the exterior finish-up crew, doing the final touch-up cleaning and drying by hand. As a grand finale, we would open the driver's side door for the customer to get in and cruise off. Most did with a smile on their face - happy to leave with a shiny car (and, hopefully, a tip for us workers). Some paused to check our work before getting in. Most of these inspectors were very satisfied since we had a good finish-up crew. A few would complain loudly that the car wasn't really clean. Most of these people were driving beat-up cars which hadn't seen soap and water in months. Or years. They were expecting and demanding a miracle.
One of the benefits of my minimum-wage job was that I didn't have to explain or argue. I simply called the line boss whose job it was to deal with complaints. Usually, he would patiently explain that a simple car wash could remove dirt but couldn't restore the shine on a dull, weathered surface. Only a compounding and waxing could do that. If the customer didn't accept this, the line boss would call for the owner.
Our car wash owner was a short man in his 50s with thick glasses and a dour disposition. Invariably, he would walk up to the complaining customer, look him up and down as the owner's face turned an apoplectic, beet-red. Then the owner would scream at the top of his lungs, "Waddya want - a $25 Simoniz job for two bucks?! Now get outta here and don't come back!" If the customer threatened to tell his friends of such mistreatment, the owner would yell, "Go ahead and tell them. They're probably jerks just like you!"
You won't find this kind of dialog in any customer service manual, and I certainly don't recommend that you utilize this technique for handling customer complaints. But there is a lesson here.
Some of your customers may have unreasonable or unrealistic expectations. As a business owner, you need to determine what the cause is. Is it because they're just plain unreasonable people? Or is it that you've indicated (perhaps inadvertently) that you can deliver the impossible.
In your business, you should spend some time with new customers outlining the terms of the sales transaction. Tell them what you plan to do. Discuss the scope of the project. Outline what is included in the deal. And what is not included. What is the expected completion date or delivery date? What factors may change this?
Too many businesses take on a project with a defined scope-of-work and then, halfway through the job, the customer changes the work order. If this happens, you must provide feedback to the customer immediately - how this will affect the price, the delivery date and anything else.
Before accepting a new order, you should always probe to find out what the customer's expectations really are. If they're unrealistic, you can tell them so before you start working on their order. Setting the rules of engagement at the start will prevent misunderstandings and problems later on.
Be sure to do a competent, capable job for all your customers. That's how to build your business. But don't give them a wax job at car wash prices. If you do, you won't stay in business long. (posted 10/6/10)
Damp Remarks: James Lileks recently wrote about using a car wash, paying "a small monthly fee for unlimited washes." And then revealed why he's taking his business elsewhere.
This elicited a stinging rebuke from a blog commenter, "You pedantic lazy sod. Why don't you just get a bucket, sponge, and hose and wash the thing yourself? Then you'll have no reason to complain."
James fired back the next day: "Anonymous and rude: persuasions winning combo! Well, my friend, our civic leaders discourage us from washing cars in our driveway, because the runoff goes right into the lake. The car wash recycles the water. Why do you hate the planet? Also we have something here called 'winter', which makes driveway washes somewhat untenable, because the water freezes a few inches from the hose and punches holes in the side of the car, and locks the doors shut with a carapace of ice. But thanks for stopping by."
Here are a few thoughts from me:
1. This is another reason I do not have a comments section on my blog. Such things seem to provide a platform for rude cretins who have nothing better to do than put down other people. These are the same losers who used to go to school dances, hang in the dark corner by the folded-up bleachers and make fun of those who were actually doing something - like dancing.
Of course, these boneheads never went home with a member of the opposite sex and are now single, lonely and trolling the internet.
Think of them as The Simpson's Comic Book Guy come to life. Or as Julian Assange, Bill Maher, Janeane Garofalo or Joy Behar.
2. I used to do all of my own car washing. I've always felt that you cannot know a car until you've gotten up-close-and-personal and washed it. But, after 52 years, I'm throwing in the towel (no pun intended). Good car wash operations do a very fine job and today's cars are so well made that I no longer need to check for rust, loose trim pieces or leaking fluids. My daily drivers seem to hold up just as well whether I wash them myself or have it done by others.
I'll probably continue to personally clean the Plymouth though.
3. What we really need is a car that washes itself.
You just know that car companies have the technology to do this. But the Motor Overlords been paid off by the insidious Car Wash Trust.
The plans are locked in a large vault in Detroit, along with the gas-from-water formula, the rubber recipe to produce 100,000-mile tire tread and the blueprints for the 600-horsepower, 100 mpg engine.
And Harley Earl's cryogenically frozen head. (posted 12/8/10, permalink)
Car Washerobics: I am happy to report that a new drug treatment seems to be curing much of what has ailed me recently. I am feeling much better and have more energy. I'm getting back to being my old self. I hope it lasts after the treatments end next month.
How well am I doing? Well ... last Saturday morning, it was sunny and 50 degrees at 10:30 am, so I backed my Lexus out of the garage and gave it a very thorough washing. I had not personally washed this car since sometime in 2010; I've been using automatic car washes but they just don't do as good a job getting all the dirt out as a good hand washing. I also vacuumed the inside and trunk as well as cleaned under the hood. The shiny car looked very soigné in the soft afternoon sun.
The last time I actually washed a car - my wife's Toyota's Avalon - was last April. I had been feeling sooooo poorly over the last year that I just couldn't handle the chore. On Sunday morning, I gave it a thorough wash and a bit of spot-waxing here and there. I also vacuumed the Toyota's carpets inside as well as the trunk. I also cleaned the driver's seat as it was quite dirty. And rubbed in some Lexol leather conditioner. The engine compartment cleaning was more involved because I found corrosion on the Avalon's battery hold-down clamps. I disassembled and cleaned it then I repainted the bad areas using some 17+ year old VW Beetle black touch up paint.
I must say that, at seven years-old and 45,000 miles, the Toyota Avalon still looks like new. And it now sparkles.
For Sunday dinner, I cooked filets mignon on our cheap-n-cheerful Char-Broil grill, something I hadn't done in a while. I had received some really nice wines as Christmas gifts and decided to pull one from our pretty-full wine cellar. (I have discovered that the inventory doesn't go down when you can't drink.)
My wife and I shared most of a bottle of 2006 Waterbrook Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Verdict: It was, as my friend Ray sometimes says: "Ne Plus Ultra." This particular wine is #74 on Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2009 and was described as having "rich aromas of dried plums and candied violets are interlaced with oak notes. Intense fruit wraps around oak and toasted vanilla and lingering spice. A smooth finish presents cedar and structured tannins."
One wine critic wrote, "Round and appealing for its ripe cherry and currant flavors and medium-weight frame, which lets this become expressive as the finish lingers. Drink now through 2016."
Does this mean that I have to drink continuously for the next four years? Hmmmm. Sounds like a dare. (posted 3/28/12, permalink)
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copyright 2010-13 - Joseph M. Sherlock - All applicable rights reserved
The facts presented in this blog are based on my best guesses and my substantially faulty geezer memory. The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Probably.
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If I have slandered any brands of automobiles, either expressly or inadvertently, they're most likely crap cars and deserve it. Automobile manufacturers should be aware that they always have the option of trying to change my mind by providing me with vehicles to test drive.
If I have slandered any people or corporations in this blog, either expressly or inadvertently, they should buy me strong drinks (and an expensive meal) and try to prove to me that they're not the jerks I've portrayed them to be. If you're buying, I'm willing to listen.
Don't be shy - try a bribe. It might help.