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Business Operations

Wash. Rinse. Repeat

October 11, 2010
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Lately there’s been a growing emphasis placed on car counts and how to raise them. With the rise of express exterior washing, the mounting fear of big-box and super-pump competition and the growing concern over cut-throat markets, operators are looking for the latest advertising gimmicks and tricks to get customers through the wash doors.

But enticing new customers to the wash with discounts and freebies won’t ensure an increase in your bottom line.

What seems to work best, most experts agree, is to work hard to keep your established customers. Their advice: build a customer base and make them repeat customers to see your bankroll build.

The three C’s
There are three components to making a faithful customer out of a first-time visitor.

  1. Customer service: The customer must be pleased with their first experience;
  2. Constant communication: The wash must maintain a level of recognition with the customer; and
  3. Coupons and promotions: There must be an incentive to make the customer want to return.

Instilling a policy at your carwash that combines all three C’s will help you build a loyal customer base to carry your wash through good times and bad, with no cheesy advertising gimmicks needed.

Customer service
According to John Tschohl, president of Service Quality Institute, a Minneapolis company that designs training programs, exceptional service is the most inexpensive tool business owners have to bring customers back in. It’s also one of the most important tools to retain customers.

“The primary reason for customer dissatisfaction is that the employee doesn’t give a toot,” Tschohl said. “They’re half-dead. They’re negative. Their attitude is poor. Customers can tell in seconds and they won’t come back.”

Although training your employees in the art of customer service is crucial and inexpensive, it’s not easy. Tschohl said the most important aspect is to ensure that every employee you have is giving 100 percent effort, 100 percent of the time.

Tschohl emphasized six fundamental skills or practices.

  1. Build self confidence: In order to give your customers the attention they deserve, employees have to feel good about themselves and what they are doing.

    “Most employees working at a carwash need inspiration, they need somebody to pump them up,” Tschohl stated. “They need to build their self-worth.”

    This can be accomplished through an incentive program or positive reinforcement.

  2. Practice habits of courtesy: According to Tschohl, this is as simple as saying “Please,” and “Thank you,” with a smile.

    Employees should greet every customer with a smile and do their best to make the customer feel important.

    If management practices this same courtesy with staff, the policy will become a natural habit.

  3. Use positive verbal and non-verbal communications: Employees should refer to customers by name and make eye contact.

    “Customers can tell both verbally and non-verbally in about three to five seconds whether they’re getting the shaft or if somebody cares,” Tschohl warned.

    Tschohl trains employees to greet customers with words and body language that create a feeling of familiarity and respect to the customer.

  4. Act on your word: Quite simply, do what you say you are going to do.

    “See, you could be the nicest guy in the world, but if you don’t do what you said you’re going to do, you gave bad customer service,” Tschohl said.

    If you say you’re going to clean the customer’s car, clean the customer’s car — even if it means sending them back through the tunnel a second time. Follow through on every promise you make.

  5. Listen and pay attention: When a customer checks in for a detailing service, don’t just nod as he explains the problem. Listen and pay attention to what the customer wants, then you can deliver what the customer expects.
  6. Learn: Tschohl advised that every employee study your wash’s product and services.

That way, if a customer asks the difference between the basic wash and deluxe wash, your employee can answer something other than, “The price.”

Going the extra mile with every customer will ensure a higher rate of retention, but it won’t keep everyone loyal to your wash.

To draw customers back to your wash, you’ve got to follow the rest of the three C’s.

Constant communication
If you want your customer to put your wash on their weekly “To Do” list, you’ve got to make sure they remember you. Having customers immediately call up the name of your car-care business when they need a service is what Jay Siff, CEO of Moving Targets and Loyal Rewards, calls “top-of-mind awareness.”

Siff used Bob’s Quick Lube store as an example.

“Say a customer is driving down the road and says, ‘Oh, my car is ready for an oil change.’ Who do they think of?”

According to Siff, if the customer’s first thought isn’t Bob’s Quick Lube, then Bob doesn’t have “top-of-mind” awareness.

Siff recommended that businesses send customers some sort of communication, be it a newsletter, an e-mail or a postcard, every few weeks to gain this sort of recognition. The ultimate goal, Siff said, is to have your customer instantly connect the service you offer to your business’s name.

Siff’s company focuses on e-mail campaigns to do this, but any sort of advertising campaign directed at established customers can work.

A successful e-mail or mail campaign depends upon your customer list. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, Siff said. An e-mail address and a first name will suffice, but it does have to include almost every customer that drives through your carwash tunnel.

Carwash owners and operators should ask customers for their contact information during the final transaction, after the service has been completed. Politely ask the customer if they would be interested in receiving a coupon from the wash every once in a while.

Siff advised operators to then hand the customer a pen and the form and ask them to fill it out.

“There’s that nice warm, fuzzy feeling at the time that transaction is taking place. They’re paying you for a service that they needed. They feel good that you just changed their oil. They trust you. They’re in that nice, warm happy moment,” Siff said. “And that’s the time to say, ‘By the way, gimme your e-mail address, I’ll send you something.’ “

Siff’s company also includes an easy-to-understand privacy policy on their form. This helps to put the customer at ease that their contact information won’t be misused or abused for any purpose other than to share savings from the carwash.

Coupons & promotions
Everybody likes a deal and according to the experts, it’s easiest to attract customers that have already visited your wash.

Siff said his experience with direct mail advertising has proved consumer response is broken down into the following brackets:

  • 40 percent respond simply because you sent them something;
  • 40 percent act because of the discount or coupon you sent; and
  • 20 percent come back because they are impressed with the creativity of your mailing.

“The list is sort of a constant,” Siff said. “The creative can change slightly, whether it’s a postcard, a letter or an e-mail. But the more important part is the offer, and if you don’t make them an offer, you lose that forty percent edge.”

You could just lower your prices, Siff added, but the American public loves to see a deal handed to them, and that draws customers back.

Coupons can also fix customer service blunders.

Tschohl said handing a customer a few free washes after a goof will give your wash a second chance to prove its value, and will also leave a lasting impression on the customer.

“Say, ‘Hey, I apologize, it’s totally our fault. Tell you what, I think it’s important for you to come back and I value your business, here are two free carwash coupons.’ That works,” Tschol said.

Siff suggested using your coupons to even out your business flow. Direct customers to your wash on those typically slow weekdays. The transfer of some weekend washers to a Monday or Tuesday gives yourself a break as well as the customer.

By following these guidelines, carwash owners and operators will be able to retain more carwash customers and see bigger profit margins.

You’ll save money by marketing to people who have already tried your wash and are ready to return — and you’ll have a customer service policy of which you can be proud.

As you can “C”, these policies are no-brainers. Start applying them today and “C” for yourself!

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