18 Nov

I think it’s fair to say that the majority of people don’t want to spend hours cleaning their cars, there are plenty more attractive things to do and ways to spend their days on, so over time without attention, the condition of their vehicles, inside or out, often degenerates. Because they see and live with their vehicles on a daily basis they don’t notice, but eventually there comes a stage when the realisation hits that actually something needs to be done. Maybe a friend is coming and will be unimpressed by the condition of the interior when you collect them from the airport, or maybe a new car beckons, and all of a sudden you realise that yours isn’t going to attract top dollar if you try to sell in its current condition? It’s at this stage that thoughts turn to getting someone in to do the hard work for them, enter the detailer.

Telling a customer that it will take 3 hours to clean an interior or 4 to wash, polish and protect their paintwork, probably sounds a lot, and many is the time a customer tells me, it’s not that bad!, but the reality is often very different. Trying to return a vehicle to its best possible condition takes a lot of work. It’s physically demanding, often challenging, and always rewarding but often frustrating at the same time. Let me explain.

It doesn’t matter how many hours I strive to create the best possible outcome and finish on a customers vehicle, the truth is, that if I were to walk round a vehicle I’d worked on all day and considered finished, I’d still find something if I went back to it afterwards. The things I see the customer probably won’t, and the reality is that if I can complete a vehicle with the realisation that spending any more time on it won’t create any noticeable improvements, then the job for me is done, but, if you’re a perfectionist you’ll always see something else, the trick is to know when to stop.

I raise this point, as making huge improvements, and believe me, some have been massive improvements, highlights anything that isn’t 100%. The customer now sees a  clean and shiny vehicle, and if there is tiny spot of dirt, a slight smear, or anything else, their eyes are drawn to it. Never mind that in its initial condition they’d never have spotted it in a million years, now they’re looking at it in a different light, and in very rare cases, choose to complain. In the three years I’ve been detailing, I’ve had only 5 call backs, and whilst zero would have been better, each had a story and a lesson was learnt.

The first was for a Citroen Berlingo. A week or so after I’d worked on it, the customer called me and complained the coating I’d put on the plastic trim had faded and wanted it looked at. I duly went and looked, and indeed the coating had faded. It was the same treatment I’d put on dozens of other cars previously, but in this case something had gone wrong. I did some online research, went and bought an alternative product, applied it, and he was happy, although when I went to work on a third car for him he brought up previous “problem(s)” and wondered why I hadn’t put a better coating on in the first place?! If something works you don’t change it, if it doesn’t you do. I made a change based solely on his complaint and to ensure the issue did not repeat with any future customers vehicles. The issue was sorted in a timely fashion, was it really fair to state I did problem work? 

Case 2 was an Octavia which was cleaned on a damp day. Rain arrived and the vehicle had to be put inside a barn to complete. Whilst the bodywork was fine, trying to get the windows clean was a nightmare as they kept steaming up. Needless to say I had a call saying the windows weren’t very good, and could I come back and do them again, which I did without hesitation. Lesson leant, never work on a car on a rainy day.

Case 3 was a BMW where I spent 7 hours working on it, actually did a clay barring of the bonnet as an FOC extra, and had not charged the customer the increased price I’d implemented a week earlier as he was a returning customer. I ran out of interior trim treatment, so I told him that as I was coming back the next day to work on his other vehicle, I would complete the work the next day. I had a call that night complaining that I’d not cleaned behind the petrol cap, literally a 30 second job, and don’t bother coming back the next day!!! I never consider a car to be complete until I’m happy it is. I had stated it wasn’t finished, but the customer chose to nit pick and cancel a job. Justified?, I don’t think so, but I chalked it down to experience and moved on.

Case 4 was a black Hyundai Coupe. The car looked immaculate when finished, but had taken me at least 2 hours more than it ought to have done, due to having to remove a multitude of scratches. The next day the owner contacted me complaining that the rear of the car looked terrible. I went and looked, and found that the coating I’d applied in 30C heat the previous day, had reacted badly with the rain which had fallen later that evening. I redid the coating which took several more hours, which satisfied the customer, and was invited back to work on another of their cars at a later date.

Case 5, another BMW. I spent 6 hours working on an interior and exterior detail. A few days later I had an extremely irate email detailing a list of faults in my work. I was quite shocked both by the tone of the mail and the list of issues, so decided rather than exchange several emails, the best option was to call and discuss them. The customer was somewhat rude and aggressive, but I said I’d go and look and correct his issues. I did exactly that a couple of days later, but it was clear he had an agenda. It didn’t matter I had come back quickly, he wanted me to “admit I’d done a crap job”, (his words), stated he’d had better results at a car wash, and stormed off when I declined to rise to his baiting, and just got on with the work, which BTW, he had in my view massively overstated. 

One complaint was that the seats were still dirty, but having declined my recommendation that they be water extracted due to their condition (€20 supplement due to time required) I didn’t feel that point to be fair, however, as a gesture of goodwill I did water extract the seats FOC. I worked on the points he made, but decided that due to his combative attitude, telling him I’d not charged him the increased prices I’d implemented a couple of weeks previously but not posted on the website, as he was a returning customer, wasn’t going to help at all.

This case was different from all the others which were either product or weather related. In this instance clearly some of the work I'd done hadn't been up to standard, and as such, some of the points he made were valid, but some were definitely overstated. Claims I'd missed significant parts of the bodywork, when they related to a 4 x2 inch piece of the bodywork immediately behind the front wheel, was an example. The "real" issue for me was the way in which the points had been raised, which quite frankly shocked me. No-one sets out to do a bad job, certainly not me, but at the end of the day we’re all human, and no-one is perfect. Telling someone they’re not good at their job, when you’re back working on their vehicles for a third time, and they’ve told you the first vehicle you did looked so good afterwards they’d wanted to keep it, seems a bit churlish. Using an iron fist and getting overly upset and aggressive, when a velvet glove and calm discussion would have achieved the same results, is disappointing. I’m not sure what else I could have done in this situation. He had the work done at €20 below the price it should have been, had €20 of extra work done FOC, and everything was sorted within a few days. 

Being honest, it was disheartening to have gone through this particular episode, and I questioned myself on a number of points, but when I look at the 3 figure number of customers who have been delighted with my work, the huge number of 5 star reviews, and the fact that this was a complete one off, I quickly decided to put it behind me and chalk it up as, what it was, a one off bad experience. 

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