How To Say “No” and Still Grow


I borrowed a car last week. It was beautifully black, nice alloys and specced to high heaven. There was so much technology that in addition to the usual tyre pressure, variable cruise control and collision warning I was half expecting a that my blood pressure would be displayed alongside trip information or that, next to the digital speedo I would receive notification that I was overweight via a flashing bouncing belly symbol and told that a diet could improve the cars mpg. Then the satnav would automatically highlight the nearest 5 Weight Watchers venues. I wonder when biometrics will make it into cars. I can imagine the strap line; “To optimise the car, we optimise you” with in-car warnings like “Put the donut down! Donuts are for losers”. Who will be first. Anyway, the amazing high tech car was dirty and was not fitted with, what would be, a useful self cleaning function (well they do it for ovens). It wasn’t filthy dirty but the summer dusty pollen all over dirty that shows giant circles when summer raindrops explode on the roof and bonnet. That kind of dirty.

With visitors arriving at home from the US in a couple of days I thought how a dirty car might project the wrong image. After all everything else in the house was prepared to immaculate level so the borrowed car must also fit into this immaculacy. Time was tight so a trip to the local IMO ARC car wash was my first thought and I would squeeze it into my fortnightly trip to the cheapest and most entertaining barber shop in the world. Really, these ladies are hilarious and I go for the banter more than the coiffure. Those of you that know me will know this to be true as my hair left for the exit door quite a few years ago now.

During the 5 mile trip from my home to have my head fussed over and the car made respectable, a momentary glance of blinding sunlight on my balding head in the mirror made me think that the funniest people in hairdressing may wonder how to hold in their laughter at the pitiful growth achieved in the last 14-days. A sudden realisation that I could save my £3 (yes really, welcome to Scotland) and just do the car wash overwhelmed me and the funny cut was passed up as I sped the further 500 yards to the soapy sudfest of the IMO ARC carwash. This is where I learnt that “No Service” can stimulate greater loyalty and even increase sales, but alas it doesn’t do anything for baldness. Here’s what happened.

I pulled in to the carwash and everything seemed quiet and normal. I scanned the pricing board and selected the cheapest one right at the bottom, the £1.30 Fast Wash. Informed by my past experience I steeled myself against the mandatory upsell to the one that included the wheels for a further £1.20. I would have to be strong. I reached for the window button on the armrest, applied light pressure and the glass slowly slid from view as I readied to place my order with the young blonde man:

“Hello sir” he said with a smile, “I’m sorry but I don’t want to put your lovely car through the wash today as it is a 14 plate” he added “…the paint is water based and still soft for about 6-months so its probably best to clean it by hand & at this stage though”, “Oh!”. he continued “ it would really benefit from a good wax to and if you must go to a car wash, make sure they don’t use sponges”. “No sponges?” I repeated, “No, not good for the paint” he said. The words seemed heavy with truth. The blonde sage of the carwash had spoken.

I was stunned. No upsell, no gruffness, no hint of of “desperation” to sell. “Thank you” I said, and I must have looked slightly stunned as he waved the way people do in cheesy adverts and I drove away. He was confident, polite and knowledgeable, but the real surprise was how I felt. There was not an ounce of disappointment in me, just a feeling of trust. My mind was not on the cost of my time but on how I would bring my cars to this carwash more often (all older than 6- months). But here’s the real surprise; I want to spend more with them. I drove away thinking how their Express Valet at £15 looked like good value and how my dad would appreciate that as a little surprise and how my wife’s car would look sparkling inside and out in the Scottish sunshine. More surprising still is that I imagined they would be good at what they do despite no evidence of that sort.

So being turned dow by the sage of the IMO ARC carwash has made me want to increase my spend there by 10 fold and my frequency of use by 3. Potentially a 30 times increase in spend from this single episode of customer centred care and “No Service”.

How many businesses have the confidence to turn business down when it is in the real interest of the client? How many go for the irrelevant upsell where none would have delivered more value in the long term? Some of you will be saying “He should of this” or “Should of that”. Well he didn’t and as the customer, I feel good. So good in fact that I have even written about it.

Their were 3 keys to this experience:

He was polite (be nice)
He focused on my needs not his (be customer focused)
He demonstrated knowledge & care (be well trained)

I’ll be back to the barber next week to have the sticky out bits trimmed (number 1 usually does it) and to enjoy the banter of the ladies that cut hair and laugh a lot. And I’ll be back to my local IMO ARC car wash, maybe every fortnight because I know I can trust them, because they turned me down for good reason, and that is worth a lot. Have to go. Got to wash the car, by hand with a soft cloth and give it a good wax before the guests arrive.

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