Saturday, August 20, 2011

Case Study – Auto Detailing Company, Los Angeles, CA

*The names in this case study have been changed to protect the anonymity of the customer.  With permission, the details of this case study are reproduced below.

A "Better" Mobile Detailing Company
Better Mobile Auto Detailing, located in Los Angeles, CA had been in business for just over 4 years.  The owner, Bob Thorton, had bootstrapped the company starting right after college.  For the first 2 years, he worked 50-60 hour weeks building a reputation and client base.  At first he hired helpers so he could complete more jobs in a day.  When the time was right, he hired full-time lead detailers to handle his growing customer demand.  Due to the fact that he was able to promote lead detailers from his base of helpers, Bob had very reliable help and didn’t have to deal with the normal problems and growing pains associated with a small company hiring for the first time.  That is until one of his best detailers, David, went through a personal rough patch that spilled over into his performance as a professional detailer.

David the Detailer
From the beginning, David had been a reliable helper.  Originally from Southern Sudan, David had been one of the “lost boys of Sudan” during the unrest in the last 1980’s; trekking in groups across Sudan to the Nile River and then up to Egypt.  He saw many of his comrades perish from lions, militia, and disease during the journey.  Once he made it into Egypt, David was able to secure a scholarship to the University of Egypt and four years later graduated with a degree in the arts.  For almost a decade, David made his living in Egypt before finally securing a work visa to the United States that would lead to full citizenship. 

Once in the US, David worked a few odd jobs until starting out as a helper working with Bob at Better Mobile Auto Detailing.  David was en excellent employee.  David always showed up on time, was polite to customers, and meticulous in his work.  Bob also respected and enjoyed David’s company.  Friendly and thoughtful, Bob enjoyed his conversations with David on the job, especially his educated and first-hand view of Africa’s politics.

Once David was ready, Bob promoted him to a lead detailing position and David was responsible for driving out to jobs and completing customer vehicles entirely on his own.  For almost a year, David did an exemplary job.  However there was a dark side to David’s story.  The hardship that David had been through throughout his life combined with the stress of moving to another country and learning yet another new language and culture had started to grate on David.  He slowly turned to alcohol to ease his discomfort.  Gradually, David started calling in sick more and Bob would periodically hear small complaints such as his late arrival to other jobs.  Then David received news of his mother passing away.  He requested a week off to take care of family business which Bob readily approved. 

David seemed eager to come back to work and Bob was happy to have his best detailer once again available to handle customer demand.  However, the frequency of small complaints escalated and unfortunately Bob was slow to respond due to his confusion.  David had always been such an excellent detailer and it was hard to believe that his work could suddenly be so sub-standard.  By the time Bob was ready to face reality, 3 customers had left a succession of nasty complaints on and several more on google and

Bob contacted all of the customers who had left negative comments online and over half were willing to remove their comments after Bob explained the situation and offered complementary service and an apology.  Others were either unreachable or unwilling to recant their comments.

The drop in customer demand was noticeable and the thought that the reputation of the company that he had put years of work into had been permanently and irreversibly tarnished made him nauseous.  Now and then customers had left a few positive reviews over the years, but the succession of negative ones was immediate displayed prominently above his older, shining good reviews on most sites.

At first Bob writing and posting his own positive reviews.  This worked great on some sites, and after posting every so often, the negative ones were driven down and his average “star” rating was back up.  However, after a few weeks the reviews he had posted on google disappeared and the reviews he had posted on never even showed up.  The positive reviews that did stayed up were great, but google and Yelp are the sites that his customers used most so this was problem.

The Solution
Eventually Bob found  Skeptical, Bob ordered one review on Yelp to start off with.  But when it stuck, Bob signed up for continuous placement indefinitely. 

After a month or two, the negative reviews got less exposure and his average “star” ranking on Yelp and google increased to a respectable level.  At the same time, Bob noticed that his call volume and scheduling seemed to be recovering.  Bob decided to continue to have reviews posted to see what the result would be.  After a few more months, the campaign was an obvious success.  Bob’s call volume had increased another 30% above the level that it was before the problems with David first arose and when Bob checked his status on the major reviews sites, had not only had solid 4.5-5 star averages, but his volume of reviews was twice the amount of his closest competition making his company look bigger, more established and more legitimate.  No wonder new customers were choosing his company over his competitors.

Currently, Bob has new reviews placed twice per month on each of 3 different review sites.  Bob submitted the graph below demonstrating his call volume before the problem with David, after the problem with David, and after he signed up with the