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Paint Correction: Customer vs. Detailer Expectations – Maximize Your Profits and Keep Customers Happy


This blog tends to cater to both detailing enthusiasts as well as professional detailers.  Professionals range from seasoned veterans booming with success to brand new part timers who are still learning the ins and outs of transforming a hobby into a profitable business.  The topic of this article is something that will likely be most relevant to newer or aspiring professionals, but it is still certainly something even a seasoned veteran needs to be reminded of from time to time.

Say you get a call or an email from a potential customer hoping to schedule their vehicle for a detailing service with you.  You invite them in for a quick consultation to go over the vehicle with them to determine what exactly they are bothered by, and then explain how you can help them.  Let’s go over two specific scenarios from my personal experience and discuss what I did, and in some cases perhaps what I should have done differently.

Working for “Free”

This is perhaps the most relatable situation for many of us, and it was certainly something I got myself caught up in time and time again.

Say a customer comes in and wants his or her car polished to enhance the shine.  Upon inspection, it is determined that the car is completely hammered with deep swirl marks that has left the finish looking dull and muted.  The customer explains they frequently take it through the free car wash that their dealership offers, and they plan to do this in the future as their busy schedule does not allow for any more meticulous maintenance process despite your best efforts to explain to them what harm the automatic washes are doing.  Their budget allows for a one-step paint correction which will surely amp up the gloss, and they are excited even though you’ve explained there will still be a considerable amount of superficial defects remaining afterwards.  They don’t seem bothered by this, especially since they are aware that the automatic car washes will require them to have the car polished several more times throughout their ownership anyway.  An appointment date is set, and the car is dropped off on time.

You begin going through the motions with the washing and decontamination process, and finally get to the part you have been waiting for – the test spot.  You try several different combinations of polishing compounds and pads, but just simply aren’t pleased with the results of one step because, in your opinion, there are just too many defects remaining.  You decide that you can make time to do a two-step correction to really make a huge transformation… so you go for it.  You spend an extra 6 hours compounding the car, and after the polishing process it looks outstanding!  You’re extremely pleased, and you know the customer will be as well.  Sure enough, upon delivery of the vehicle the customer is ecstatic.  Did you make the right choice by spending an extra 6 hours on this job?  (I discuss a similar scenario I had to go through in an older article here)

Let’s say you’re services are priced such that you should average around $40/hour for each job.  By choosing to satisfy your personal expectations, and spend 6 extra hours on a job, you took up time that could have been spent on another job and lost out on $240 of potential income!  Chances are the customer would have been thrilled with the one-step option they had paid for because you had helped them to select a service that would meet their needs, you set realistic expectations to begin with, and they were on board with it.  If you make these kinds of “freebie” decisions once a week for a year, that is a loss of nearly $12,500 annually!

Listen to your customer’s specific needs, offer a reasonable solution to address their concerns, set reasonable expectations upfront, and you will have a very happy customer.  There is no need to offer free services if the customer sees no added value in them.

Selling Paint Correction When it isn’t Needed

Let’s have a look at an actual example for this scenario.  A gorgeous 2014 Brabus B63 Widestar on custom HRE wheels was brought to us with the owner’s main goal of longer term protection.

Once it was dropped off with us, we set out to work on the vehicle, going through the motions on the exterior cleaning and decontamination, already making major improvements on the appearance of the vehicle relative to how it looked when it arrived.

ZRM | Expectations

When the paint was properly cleaned, this is what was staring me in the face.  There was plenty of evidence that the car does in fact see routine automatic washes.  The paint was absolutely destroyed.

ZRM | Expectations

Now, keep in mind we do in-person consultations before we book any client, so the condition of the paint was known prior to us beginning our work.  Upon seeing paint this beat up, many of us would automatically start a sales pitch for a multiple step paint correction process.  Don’t get me wrong, I am always tempted, but over the years I have found that it is best to first ask questions, and then offer answers.  I like to know how the vehicle is used, how it will be maintained, what the customer’s specific concerns are (why did they come to see me in the first place), and things of that nature.

Through the course of my short interview I learned that the vehicle is used as a family hauler, and the owner was upfront and honest with me that it would be maintained mostly by automatic washes for pure convenience, and the occasional hand wash when possible.  This is enough reason for me to steer away from a full paint correction service because as much as I would love to make this car look 99% perfect, the reality is that it would return to this same state in a very short amount of time.  If I were to push a full correction on a customer that would be taking the car through automatic washes days later, it is ultimately a waste of my customer’s money and of my time.

With that in mind, we agreed on a light correction process to amp up gloss, restore some color and clarity, and prep the surface for a nano coating.  We discussed the likely need to perform this type of service every 1-2 years given the state of the paint at just 2 years old when this service was completed.  The end result was a dramatically different looking vehicle.  Was it flawless?  Not even close.  Does that matter?  Not one bit, because we listened to our customer’s needs and satisfied all of his concerns.

ZRM | Expectations

Don’t just take my word for it… he left us a very nice testimonial.

ZRM | Expectations

With the time that was saved by not attempting to sell and complete a full correction job on this Mercedes we were able to book and complete another big job in the same weekend. This other job has previously been featured on the blog:  2014 BMW 750 LI: Removing Dealership Holograms.  We made the most efficient use of the time we had to work, maximized our profits, and had 2 very happy customers.

Calling the Customer to Sell a Better Service

This client came to us from out of town, so an in-person consultation was not possible before the appointment date, however upon interviewing the owner we had settled upon a one-step paint correction process to remove lighter defects and prepare the surface for a nano coating.  The owner planned to drive and enjoy this awesome piece of machinery, and was not initially concerned with a flawless finish although he was going to maintain it to the best of his abilities.

Upon completing a few test spots, I was not personally too thrilled with the results of a one-step correction and I had a feeling the customer may be interested in taking things to the next level.  I decided to take a side-by-side video demonstrating the best results I could achieve with a one-step correction service compared to what I could achieve with a two-step process.  I sent the video off to the owner and awaited a response.  He was blown away at the condition of the paint after the two-step process and opted for the additional cost after seeing the results first hand.

before after

In this case we were able to put in the extra time and effort to making this car look absolutely stunning, and we got paid properly instead of doing it free of charge.  It is not always easy to pick up the phone and see if your customer wants to spend more money, however if you have a feeling that what you are doing may not be satisfactory, it is always worth calling and discussion the options with your client.  Thanks to the outstanding camera capabilities on smart phones, sharing real time results and updates with your customer has never been easier.


Again, the owner was thrilled with the results, and so were we!


These are just a few of the countless scenarios that might exist on any given day for a business owner.  My goal with this type of article is to simply remind everyone that at the end of the day you are running a business.  Every day is a learning experience, and being prepared to have the proper discussions with your clients about the services that are truly the best option for their specific needs will lead you to success.  If you have any examples that are relevant, please share them in the comments below!

Zach McGovern
Attention To Detailing Peoria
Peoria, IL

16 comments on Paint Correction: Customer vs. Detailer Expectations – Maximize Your Profits and Keep Customers Happy

  1. Rodney Tatum says:

    Thank you Zach for this article. I say that not just for myself (though I still remind myself businessman not enthusiast). I a certain a lot of people are tormented by the internal debate of what will satisfy my urges versus what’s really in the best interest of your client and your business.

    • The struggle is real, Rodney! It is hard for someone like us, who’s job it is to identify issues, to let certain issues slide if a customer doesn’t consider them to be a bother.

  2. Tim says:

    Good series Zach. I have to remind myself of these points upon every detail. It’s also especially important to narrow down with the client exactly what they are looking to spend and receive. I pose my correction packages as levels of correction in terms of percentage. Example in my Premium Enhancement Polish whether it’s an AIO or a polish/LSP separartely, that is targeted at reducing the imperfections 50% with upwards of 75% possible. They aren’t chasing perfection with this one and most know what to expect. The next step up is an Elite Enhancement Correction which is a 2-step compound and polish, there too it’s upwards of 90% correction, but still not perfection. Now I very often can obtain perfection but I balance out the effort with the time I’m putting in. If I’m making 3-5 passes and getting 80% correction, then that’s likely going to be the limit to keep me on-point with my hourly earnings. Sure, another 2-3 passes might get me close to perfection if not true full correction, but that’s reserved for my Signature Perfection Package.

  3. Another amazing write up!! I’ve come up with a system that i use everyday in my shop, its called the Zach McGovern method. Never lets me down!!

  4. Ray Scott says:

    As a long time detailer I strive to give my customers the best detail I can give. However, when I look at a car that has not been taken care of I simply tell them that the time involved to bring their vehicle up to my standards is going to cost them more money and explain why, and how much more. If they are satisfied with a level 1 detail, fine. I charge my normal price depending on the kind of vehicle it is. Sedan, SUV, Pick-Up. My standard detail is more than satisfying to most of my customers especially compared to the car wash detailers. My business is steady and I get lots of referrals. Just remember, Time is Money.

  5. Ron Ayotte says:

    Excellent article. I have always had the mantra “underpromise and overdeliver”… I always look at the car before I accept the detail. If I sell a gift certificate for detailing, I place that money into a separate account, If the car is beyond hope (and we, as detailers, do get them from time to time), I refund the value of the gift certificate to the recipient and be honest with them of why I cannot do the job.

    It comes to a point where one has to realize that if you strive to achieve to achieve “perfection”, it will have its costs and cost you out of pocket, whether it be in time or materials, both of which is money.

  6. Mark Stone says:

    This article was well on-point and something we must keep in the forefront of doing business. Thanks for your inspirational and informative articles both past and future.

  7. Rick Archambault says:

    Can you provide some tips and products to detail an 1989 Porsche 944 S2 with single stage paint? I am concerned with cutting into the surface with a buffer and want to do it by hand only.

  8. Tony Pies says:

    One word Cleanerwax

  9. Kern Belfon says:

    Great article Zach I seldom up sell customers because it breaks my heart to charge more after a set price.I know its wrong because its a business I’m running but I only do one vehicle like that for the day and I always get tons of referrals is that wrong?Thanks for helping me understanding about the business side of it.

    • Thanks for reading, Kern! There can certainly be some personal emotion tied into what you charge others, but just remember others are seeking your services because they value them. Do not limit the value of your work with your emotions. That is a very quick way to put yourself out of business. Charge as much as your market can support, keep your customers happy, and enjoy your success 🙂

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