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The Problem With The Term Full Detail



Detail? Full Detail? I want a Full Detail!

I would like to share some of the requests I have had when a potential customer asked for a full detail:

  1. “I am looking for a full detail?  You use a clay bar right?”
  2. “Full detail.  I just want the outside washed?”
  3. “Just a good vacuum of the interior.”
  4. “The last detailer didn’t do the cupboard and crevices.”
  5. “Polish and maybe a sealant.”
  6. “Just the carpet and seats shampooed.”
  7. “The seats will need to be taken out.”

All of these requests started with a phone inquiry asking for a price for a Full Detail (terms I do not use).  I have had a full detail inquiry turn into a multiple polishing step paint correction, headlight restoration, interior clean, and 1-year ceramic coating application.  Although I hope you see the issue here, many of these potential customers are genuine and can only describe what a detail is by their own experience.

You are not alone customers!  When professional detailers ask each other how long it takes to perform a Full Detail, answers range from 1 hour to multiple days.  These answers often spark a furious debate amongst professionals as to what a Full Detail really is.

Customers are looking for a service in an industry with very little regulation or standardization on service offerings (including quality expectations), safe product use (for the car long-term), and pricing.  If the word detail can be the cause of misunderstanding and confusion, imagine the disappointment the use of a generic term like Full Detail has.

Communication is king!  I said it before and I will say it again.  Not all detailing is the same, and that is okay!   I have never begrudged anyone for not being interested in my services.  Oftentimes mutual frustration can easily be prevented with better overall communication from all parties, and more thoughtful advertisement of services.  I do believe the still widely accepted terms ‘full’ and ‘complete’ are a major source of the problem with customer disappointment and business owner frustration.

Professionals reading this article with exuberance, I have a message for you as well.  It is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to COMMUNICATE what kind of business offering you have.  If you are not in an ideal situation to discuss options with every potential client what your service offering includes, or excludes, I highly suggest reevaluating your language use.  Words like PERFECT and FULL can create future unsatisfying experiences for you and the customer because they are the subject of misinterpretation.  As detailers (myself included) we have to remind ourselves that prospective customers do not know the process or terminology of what is happening to their car when it is in our possession.

Good communication includes asking questions about problem areas of their car and what they did not like about previous detailing services.  Communication also means saying you may not be the right fit for someone, instead of setting you and the customer up for disappointment.

Many people ask why I require in-person consultations.  From my perspective, it is to protect myself and also to set good mutually agreed-upon expectations.  Also, it is meant to protect the consumer from his or herself.  I often talk people down from services that they initially want but realize later they do not need.  I find potential solutions to problem areas they may not realize existed or could be fixed.  There is nothing better for both sides,  shaking someone’s hand and looking over a car together.

Although it may be unrealistic to have 30 minute, in-person consultations with your customers, there are additional ways to be on the same page with customers.  Do your best to limit or refrain from using generic terms.  If a potential customer asks for a full detail repeatedly, ask them what they think a full detail is.  If you are someone looking for a detail, treat being asked exploratory questions as a positive sign a business owner cares and is not just trying to take your money.

Jonathan Michael Monson, (owner of Dirty 2 Dreamy Detail) stated, “I teach every detailer I ever train with or hang out with to throw the terms ‘full’ and ‘complete’ right in the garbage can and never use them again.  Those terms are subject to interpretation and will lead to complaints and miscommunication.”

Rodney Tatum
Mirror Reflections Auto Spa
Gainesville, Florida
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12 comments on The Problem With The Term Full Detail

  1. Great read! I’ve learned from the start to never use the words “Full Detail”. When someone requests one, I quote them the highest tier package I have then we start breaking down what they’re really wanting.

  2. His Stigness says:

    There is even an issue with detailers (or even novice DIYers) using the term “detailed.” What does it mean to detail your car? Many professionals and novices alike refer to a simple maintenance wash as a “detail,” using phrases like, “I detailed my car this weekend.” While the general public may see our maintenance wash as this incredibly pristine, labor-intensive job, in reality, it only takes us a few minutes using a few products. It’s the underlying work, the “detail,” that got us to a point where we don’t need to do a bunch of work to keep the car looking fantastic. But I’m not trying to diminish that, in fact, we should be advertising it to friends, family, and potential customers that the great “detail” they see on our cars actually was the result of constant use of proper technique and the right products.

  3. Ron says:

    First thank you for taking the time and effort to write so many helpful articles….you are a credit to the profession.

    Second, this article is spot on. We must be extremely careful in the terminology we use. We live in the “Information Age” never before in history has it been simpler to find information on a topic. However, that also brings the down side of confusion too. One of the most important things we do as detailers is to train our customer base. Never ever say full or complete detail because disappointments will follow…. guaranteed is sound advice. Good job

  4. Matt Carter says:

    Nailed it Rodney, this was a much needed article!

  5. Doug Hughes says:

    Lack of knowledge by customer lack of communication by Detailer. Takes a lot if time and reading/viewing by customer to know what the process is to temper expectations versus cost most do not care about spending the time to learn then the communication part comes in basically giving overview of what it takes and process Not easy simple process since no consistent level 1 etc

    • Rodney Tatum says:

      Definitely not always easy. But with so much mutual frustration between business owners and customers and growing misinformation, I find the effort more important now than ever. I rather have to deal with a very annoyed potential customer over the phone (definitely happens), than a bitter one after ones. I realized sometimes someone being belligerent over my questions or processes of scheduling an appointment telling me they will take their money elsewhere over, can be a very good thing.

  6. Dave says:

    Can I ask a question, what would you recommend for pads and cleaning and polishing for a 3016 Lincoln MKX paint code G1 Black? Just a note I’m in a wheelchair and a I still want to do some of my own work, I have a griots 6 inch and 3 inch machine’s. Thank you for all your blogs they are very informative and I enjoy reading them as I do all of the blogs.

    • Rodney Tatum says:

      Thank you Dave! The Lake Country SDO pads. The 3.5 and 6.5 inch Black pads (for maintenance) 2 of each size. The Orange (light polishing) 3 of each size. Blackfire One Step polish makes for a easier and forgiving process.

      Wash maintenance if you are interested in rinseless washes, Wolfgang Uber. Mix a little over an ounce in a gallon for spray bottle use, then you have a pre treat spray. Another oz and half in a bucket with plenty of Microfiber you have a good wash regiment. 10 Rag Company Eagle Edgeless in orange or light grey (so you can see the dirt)

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