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Business Operations

Easy customer service

October 11, 2010
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At Wash Wizard Car Wash in Charleston, SC, we utilize a very simple system to collect, track and analyze customer complaints and issues. My background in customer service (I worked in the inbound customer-to-business caller center software industry for five years before diving into the carwash business in 2005) convinced me that this type of software is necessary to operating a first-class business. This system allows us to manage customer issues on a 24/7 basis at an unattended carwash facility.

The importance of customer service
I have noticed that many self-service carwash operators do not post any contact information at their carwash facilities. This seems counterintuitive to me because the operators are missing out on an opportunity to learn about a potential equipment issue that could be resulting in lost revenue. More importantly they are missing an opportunity to save a customer from moving to a competitor’s wash.

Telephone technology has advanced considerably in the last 10 years and has been combined with Internet and computer platforms to offer a vast array of enhanced features. Some of the advances make it very easy to manage customer issues remotely from the carwash site.

Wash Wizard uses a Virtual Attendant from Ring Central to manage all incoming customer calls. Plans start at $20 a month and include a 1-800 number so the investment is minimal to offer a customer hotline.

The virtual attendant greets each customer and then (according to call rules that are set up by the administrator) routes the call appropriately. For example, during weekday hours incoming calls go through a progression by first dialing the manager and after five rings, the system routes the customer’s call directly to the owner (me).

If no one is available to take the call then the caller is prompted to leave a voicemail message which is then instantly e-mailed out to a distribution list as a Waveform audio format (or .wav file). During the weekends, the phone calls are routed to all employee phone numbers simultaneously until the call is accepted. When a call is awaiting answer, computers with the Ring Central software on your computer show the inbound call and, if you desire, it can be routed appropriately to your current location.

At Wash Wizard both owners carry Blackberry smart phones and can instantly playback any voicemail messages on a computer or smart phone for a quick response time.

How to handle a call
When returning a customer call that wasn’t accepted “live” we have found that it is very helpful to immediately take the customer off the defensive with the following introduction:

“Hello, this is Brian calling from Wash Wizard. I understand you had an issue at one of our facilities and I am calling back to handle the situation.”

We are able to set a calm, comfortable tone for the conversation by stating that we are going to handle the situation during our introduction. I find the customer is usually quite surprised that their call was returned and that we are going to handle it. I can honestly say that 99 percent of the time the result of a customer issue handled actually results in a stronger customer relationship. At the end of many calls I like to ask the customer what they enjoy about our facility and what they would suggest we do differently.

Tracking the calls
Since our operations team is on the road frequently traveling between sites, each owner and the manager keeps a hard copy list of free wash codes in their wallet to remedy customer issues immediately from the road. Along with the codes we have sections that are used to:

  • Track the date;
  • Describe the issue; and
  • Record customer information that is entered into our tracking system at a later date.

Given that our call volume is relatively low with just a few hundred calls each year we use a very low tech issue tracking system. We have set up an Excel spreadsheet that is used to collect and categorize the customer reported information and the outcome. In our spreadsheet we collect the following data:

  • Issue number (a running tally of how many calls we’ve handled);
  • Employee collecting the report;
  • Service technician assigned to the issue;
  • ID of the site (we have three locations);
  • Type of call (complaint, suggestion, praise, inquiry);
  • Date of call;
  • Status (open or closed);
  • Customer name;
  • Vehicle description;
  • Phone number/e-mail address;
  • Issue code;
  • Equipment code;
  • Bay number;
  • Compensation offered;
  • Solution/code; and
  • A narrative of the call.

Our issue codes are relatively simple, but by coding the type of each issue we can then aggregate and analyze the data so that corrective or preventative action can be made. For example, we categories each issue as follows:

  • Bill jam;
  • Coin jam;
  • Dirty facility;
  • Treadle problem;
  • Malfunction of equipment;
  • Damaged vehicle
  • Auto rails;
  • Employee praise;
  • Customer education;
  • Equipment performance;
  • Vending product jam; and
  • Time out.

Surprises from the system
Perhaps the biggest surprise in incorporating this system was that my perception of what the major issues are at our facilities is quite different from reality. Basically, the data tells a different story than my memory. Frequently the irate calls or the hard-to-fix problems skew your perception of the most frequently reports issues. When you analyze the data you discover what the true issues are at your facilities.

We actually use the customer data to report back equipment issues to the manufacturer. Soon after we opened we noticed that we were getting a lot of customer calls that ultimately led us to complain to the manufacturer about the sensitivity of the treadle. As part of their diagnostics, the manufacturer asked us about the volume of the horn that sounds in the bay to alert the customer of the stop position. Our response was “What horn?” We quickly remedied the situation with the installation of the provided horns and the treadle calls practically disappeared from our reports after the date of the horn installation.

For operators with multiple sites, it is also a good idea to analyze the number for customer issues per 1,000 vehicles washed or by self-serve minutes or revenue. By doing this you effectively normalize tracking across multiple sites if possible. By dividing the issues per customers served you treat your locations equally and can more easily ascertain if you have a systematic problem at a particular site.

Brian Cook is owner/operator of three Wash Wizard Car Wash locations in the Charleston, SC, area.