Guarantees with a Meaning: Boldly Go Where Few Have Gone Before

Someone said, “Science offers no guarantees because it’s the exploration of the unknown.” The “unknown” may, indeed, be a part of scientific research and exploration, but it is not a welcome factor in the world of automotive service guarantees. Unlike Captain Kirk and the crew of the starship Enterprise, when it comes to automotive service, customers do not want to experience, “A mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new adventures or to boldly go where no man has gone before.” In this column, we’ll discuss the reasons why having guarantees, which actually mean what they say, will set your fast lube operation apart.

Marketing and Guarantees

If there were just two fast lube service providers to choose from and one offers a “100-percent service satisfaction or your money back guarantee,” and the other offers a wordy statement in legalese, which says something like, “We guarantee our service but are not responsible for, and expressly disclaim all liability for, damages for or arising out of use, reference to or reliance on any information contained in products manufactured by a third party…”, which of the two service providers would you choose?

Chances are you are no different than any other person who has the capability of reason. You would choose the “100 percent no questions asked satisfaction” guarantee. From a marketing perspective, that guarantee performs two important functions; it gets the customer’s attention and provides them with peace of mind.

Consider the guarantee offered by LL Bean: “Our guarantee is a handshake — a promise that we’ll be fair to each other. So if something’s not working or fitting or standing up to its task or lasting as long as you think it should, we’ll take it back. We want to make sure we keep our guarantee the way it’s always been for over a century.” Now, more importantly, consider the fact that LL Bean actually lives up to every word of that guarantee.

That guarantee, and the fact they live by it, has provided a lot of positive attention for LL Bean’s products, and it’s obviously inspired a lot of confidence, which is borne out by the simple fact that they’ve been around for “over a century.”

The entire fast lube industry has only been in existence for approximately 42 years. Of the thousands of fast lube businesses across the industry, if there are any who offer a “100-percent service guarantee…” and then actually stand by that promise in the same way LL Bean does, they will be the ones left standing at the century mark, regardless of what evolutions the industry may experience over the next 50-some years.

What Does Your Guarantee Actually Mean?

To offer a “100-percent service satisfaction” guarantee is pretty simple, and that’s why a lot of companies do it. But what does the guarantee actually mean? To examine the meaning of your fast lube’s guarantee, I suggest you try a little test. Simply ask any of your service staff to explain to you what your “100-percent service satisfaction” guarantee actually means.

They may offer something like; “We’ll give the customer a discount,” or “We’ll refund the cost of their service,” or “We’ll give them a coupon for a future service.”

But I’m betting in many cases fast lube employees have no idea what the “satisfaction guaranteed” offer actually means if something goes wrong. Even more to the point, do you as the owner/operator actually know what your guarantee means and what the customer is entitled to receive? If you and your employees can’t easily answer that question, do you think your customers can?

So what happens if something does go wrong? For example, does the customer get reimbursed for the inconvenience and cost to them for having to come in to have a problem resolved? Even a 100-percent money back guarantee usually doesn’t reimburse customers anything for their inconvenience. The more you are prepared to offer your customer in response to a service failure, the more meaningful and impactful it becomes when customers are deciding who should service their vehicles.

Whatever the offer is, it should be spelled out and mean what it says so the owner, the service staff and the customer know what to expect.

What Do Weak Guarantees Communicate?

When a customer is deciding who will service their second most costly investment, usually their vehicle, what message is communicated by a weak guarantee? To answer that question, consider the recent reports of airline staff versus customer encounters. How would you feel about a service guarantee which states, “We’ll guarantee the reserved seat that you paid a premium for unless of course we happen to overbook the flight and need to remove you from the aircraft.” In much less direct language, that is actually what’s written in the small print of most airlines’ ticket purchase agreements.

So what does such a guarantee communicate? Obviously, it communicates a number of messages, all of which are negative. It communicates a lack of confidence in the airline’s own system of reserving seats. It sends the message to customers that they have no real guarantee of any kind, and booking a seat on the airline is pretty much a gamble. It tells the employees of the airline that the needs of the airline come first and that paying customers may be dealt with as necessary to meet those needs.

Make no mistake; weak service guarantees communicate the same messages about fast lube service providers. If you offer guarantees that are ambiguous and don’t clearly spell out meaningful remedies in the event that something goes wrong, why should your customers think any differently about your business? If your service invoice contains small print with wordy, noncommittal “airline” language, you’re pretty much stating, “We don’t have a lot of confidence in our system or in the staff who will be servicing your car.” That’s an awful message to your customers and to your employees!

Boldly Go Where Few Have Gone Before

It’s pretty simple for most customers; they just want you to say what you mean and mean what you say. If you listen carefully, maybe you can hear the opening strains of the Star Trek theme music. As you listen, take out a pad and pen, write down what you expect as a customer and then ask yourself, “Should my customers feel any differently than I do?” When you’ve answered that question, be bold enough to write out a service guarantee that has real meaning. A guarantee that says, “We trust our employees because they’re well trained and will perform their job with precision.” A guarantee that says, “Sometimes the unforeseen happens. If it happens as a result of our service, we’ll make it right at our expense. In addition, we’ll work with you to arrive at fair compensation for your inconvenience because of our mistake.”

Maybe it’s just me, but that’s a guarantee with meaning. It’s a guarantee that would get my attention, determine my choice of service providers, increase my confidence and loyalty and is, without question, boldly going where few businesses have ever gone before!

I’d like to hear your thoughts on service guarantees.