In this month’s column, I would like to address an issue that is always lurking in the shadows, and for some reason has come to the forefront recently as a topic of complaints and discussion. That is the topic of no-shows and cancellations.
This is a particularly touchy subject with which we all struggle at one time or another. You have the entire day booked out for that one customer and they just flat out don’t show up and don’t answer the phone. There’s no single or easy answer for this problem. Instead, let’s talk about some strategies and tactics that have worked for me and others over the years.
STRATEGY: CONFIRM. CONFIRM. CONFIRM
This is the strategy that has worked well for me over the years. I used to do a lot of mobile washing and it was a real nuisance to drive across town just to find that the customer wasn’t there or didn’t want the service for whatever reason. So I learned early on the importance of calling ahead to the next appointment before leaving the current location. The most common cancelation was from medical doctors who were called into surgery — certainly understandable, but I don’t want to find that out by driving to the office, and the office staff doesn’t have time to call the car-washer to cancel.
This early experience led to a philosophy of confirming appointments. The first confirmation comes during the scheduling call. After the customer and I have gone over all of the issues of date, time, service to be provided, and cost, I finish up the phone call with, “do you have any other questions? Okay, great. So, Mrs. Jones, I’ll see you next Wednesday morning at 9:00.”
The second confirmation comes the day before the scheduled appointment. During or at the end of the day, I will sit down and call all of the next day’s appointments to confirm. It’s a very brief call, like, “Hello, Mrs. Jones. This is Prentice with Detail in Progress confirming our appointment to detail your car tomorrow morning at 9:00.”
The third confirmation is especially important if you are about to travel to pick up a vehicle or service it on site. This confirmation comes just before you leave your current location. Again, just a brief call or text saying, “Hello, Mrs. Jones. This is Prentice with Detail in Progress. I’m headed over to you now. See you in XX minutes.”
These multiple confirmations accomplish a couple of things. First, it demonstrates to the customer that you are serious and that this is not a casual appointment. Second, it gives the customer an opportunity to raise any concerns and to re-schedule. Of course, I don’t really like re-scheduling the day before, but I would rather know what’s going to happen than have a mysterious no-show. Plus, I may be able to slip someone into that time slot.
React: Multiple Rescheduling
Should someone reschedule more than once, I then take it to the next level. I let them know that their cancellation/re-schedule means I don’t make any money during that originally scheduled timeslot. So, if it happens twice, I insist on full payment in order to reserve another time slot. If the customer balks at this, then you don’t have a serious customer. Some customers are just not worth chasing.
Tactic: Pre-Establish the Importance
When on the phone with a new customer who has agreed to make an appointment, I take the time to go over the details of the appointment, including the time and date and how long the appointment is expected to take. I also ask this question, “How will you be paying once we’re done?” This question usually elicits the brief conversation of payment options and allows you to suggest your preference.
I believe that discussing payment also has the sub-conscious effect of making the customer realize this is a “serious” transaction that is really going to happen. It just seems to make the appointment more official, don’t ask me why.
React: Consider the Source
Sometimes you can get a feeling about a customer as you are booking the appointment. There are no hard-and-fast rules here, and I don’t want to lead anyone astray by suggesting a cocky attitude toward new customers; I just want to point out examples that have happened to me several times.
It’s typically the new customer who found me on the Internet somehow, and the customer seems to be eager to book an appointment with minimal questions. It just seems too easy. And it’s typically a younger adult who seems in a hurry to finish up the conversation. I believe that some people have a hard time saying “no, thank you” and would rather book an appointment, then call around to find a lower price.
That’s why I’m a big fan of referral-based marketing. People who have been referred by a friend have more at stake. If they end up being a flake, it’s going to reflect badly on them. And, generally, referrals have already been “sold” by the referring party and don’t have a lot of questions or issues about your service or the price.
STRATEGY: PRE-PAYMENT OPTIONS
When push-comes-to-shove, it may be necessary to require a booking fee, deposit, or full payment up front. When explaining this to the reluctant customer, try to frame your explanation in such a way that it deflects away from the concept of “trust.” For example, you can explain that your services are in high demand (even if they aren’t), and that you can’t afford to have any open appointments due to last-minute cancellations or no-shows. This makes your time sound rather valuable.
And, if the customer is still unsure, remind him or her that you are in this business for the long haul, not to rip off a few people and disappear. If he or she is still not sure, remind the customer that a credit card can be used for pre-payment so that there is the insurance of the capability of “challenging the charge.”
Certainly, when dealing with third-party situations, I insist on one-half of the estimated job price up front before I will schedule the appointment. This is the situation in which person A inflicted some kind of damage to person B’s vehicle and person A has agreed to pay for it while person B has agreed to let me do the work. Person A has to give me 50 percent down before I’ll even call person B to schedule. It’s easiest to collect this on a credit card, and then indicate that you will charge the other half upon completion and “sign-off” of the work by person B. I finish up the transaction by having personB sign a statement on the invoice saying, “Work completed to my satisfaction.”
STRATEGY: AVOID THE PROBLEM
One of the best ways to resolve the cancellation or no-show problem is to pre-qualify your incoming potential new customers by being selective about your sources of new customers. As I mentioned earlier, it seems that the highest quality customers who are the least flakey come from referrals or recommendations.
That’s why I’m a big fan of business networking groups such as BNI or LeTip. Local Chambers of Commerce, civic groups (Rotary, Kiwanis, Optimist), and social clubs are also great places to meet movers and shakers that may want your service or know who to send to you.
One of your best sources of referrals by far is your own customer base. Anytime you service a customer who just raves about the results, encourage that person to send friends. Leave two or three (not a handful) of your business cards in the vehicle for your happy customer to pass on.
Get out there and be a part of your community. Street fairs, school fundraisers, local youth sports, are all great places to get your business exposed. This also gives you the chance to be face-to-face with the potential customer and establish a rapport and acquaintanceship before the customer even decides to use your business.
If you are working mobile, make sure your mobile rig is clean and shiny and that your work area is tidy, unassuming, compliant, quiet, and compact. You want the neighbors to be impressed by your work, not annoyed. Be ready to answer questions and hand business cards to anyone who walks up. Give a cheerful “hello” to any other service providers that might be at the house — they may have other customers who need your service. Smile and wave to anyone that you see walking by; that might be just the invitation that person needs to stop and chat with you about your work.
And, of course, no matter how you obtain the customer, always do your best work so that your delighted customers will rave about you to their friends and neighbors.
Every reconditioning professional should come up with a set of strategies and tactics to prevent and combat cancellations. My intention was not so much to tell you how to do things, but more share ideas, experiences, and thoughts that will help you come up with your own battery of solutions. In the end, it’s all about reducing cancellations and no-shows.
Prentice St. Clair is an International Detailing Association Recognized Trainer and Certified Detailer. As the president of Detail in Progress Inc., he has been providing training and consulting to car washes and detail shops since 1999.
He is available at (619) 701-1100 or email@example.com.