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Business Operations

Earning your stars & stripes

October 11, 2010
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Customers; they can make you or they can break you. In today’s industry of fierce competition, simply satisfying your customers is no longer enough — not if you want to maximize your long-term profit potential.

With the costs that are incurred trying to reign in new customers, you need to stop overlooking a valuable profit center by focusing on customer advocacy and loyalty through your current customer base. You must create advocates for your carwash site to cost-effectively increase your profits.

Advocates, apathetics and assassins
Your customer base consists of three customer groups: advocates, apathetics and assasins. Understanding each of these groups and how you can convert a customer into an advocate is a critical component to increasing your customer satisfaction and your bottom-line.

Advocates are customers whose belief in your company and services has transformed into an almost religious zeal.

Advocates are:
  • Willing to drive past more convenient and less expensive wash sites to use your carwash;
  • Fiercely loyal to your brand; and
  • Created with above-and-beyond service, courteous and personable employees, and pristine wash quality.
Apathetics, customers who are indifferent to your washing services, are most likely the majority of your customer base right now. For them it does not matter where their car gets cleaned, just that it is cleaned to their expectations.

Apathetics will:
  • Use your wash because it meets their basic expectations of cleaning their car and it is within their desired price range; but, your wash does not surpass their expectations in any way;
  • Tend to remain loyal to your carwash as long as it does not become an inconvenience and it meets their basic expectations;
  • Switch to your competitors if they are offered a better deal or a perceived better quality of service;
  • Not speak out for you nor against you; and
  • Only do business with you on their terms, not yours.
Assassins, your worst nightmare in the carwash industry, will kill your business without you even being aware of it.

  • Openly and actively speak out against you and your brand thereby poisoning your services and discrediting your reputation to anyone who will listen;
  • Are fifty-percent more likely to speak out than an advocate;
  • Have the capability, with Internet connection and savvy, to ruin your company’s reputation globally by posting unsatisfactory reviews, by creating a website that discredits your company, or by simply utilizing existing social networking sites, like Myspace, to openly criticize your carwash
  • Are typically scorned for life (meaning their long-term effects on your profits could be devastating); and
  • May not even voice their concerns or complaints to an employee or manager but will proceed to publicly soil your reputation.
Building customer advocacy
Building customer advocacy while deterring assassins is critical for the success of your business, but how do you do it? Here are some examples of how you can convert those apathetic customers to advocates while dissuading potential assassins.

  • Build a foundation. Make providing above-and-beyond customer satisfaction the core belief of your company. In order for this to truly be effective, this belief must start and be amply demonstrated by management. Understand how customer satisfaction and loyalty interplay and affect your customers purchasing behavior.
  • Maintain company culture. Implement a company culture, based upon friendliness and quality, by capitalizing on how you can make each customer’s experience memorable.
Get your customers to have an emotional investment in your carwash by taking a line from the hit show “Cheers” — It’s where everybody knows your name. Greet your frequent wash customers by name. Talk to every customer that comes on the site. Instill the importance of personal interaction in your employees by demonstrating it yourself.

If management doesn’t believe in the importance of friendliness and quality, neither will the employees. It flows from top to bottom like a waterfall.
  • Deal with angry customers. Don’t simply try to pacify an angry customer quickly with your goal being to not incur any kind of monetary cost. Remember, creating an assassin could create significant long-term damage so you have to remember the big picture.
Treat angry customers with courtesy and empathy to find out the root of the complaint. Then, figure out what constitutes a ‘win’ on their behalf. It may take a short-term loss but you have to evaluate the long-term potential of this customer.

Once you’ve established how to satisfy the upset customer, take immediate action. If replacing a $50 side view mirror will turn this potential assassin into an advocate then it is worth the short-term cost of replacing the mirror and providing a refund.
  • The root cause of most assassins is in the moment when a company is faced with the decision of incurring a cost (or forgoing a revenue opportunity) or deciding to maximize short-term profit potential at the expense of customer satisfaction. Data shows that customer encounters in which a problem was resolved quickly and efficiently receive higher satisfaction scores than when there is no problem at all.
Use these situations to turn a negative reaction into a positive solution for both parties by keeping the long-term effect
in mind.
  • Resolve complaints immediately. All complaints and issues should be addressed and resolved within 48 hours maximum. Immediately decide whether the short-term cost will outweigh the long-term benefit then resolve the issue efficiently and effectively.
Upset customers are not necessarily looking for monetary compensation; at the heart, most just want to feel as if there is a real person who will champion their cause. They want to know that you appreciate their business and recognize the error of your ways (even if it technically wasn’t your fault). You can do both by empathizing with them and by promptly responding to their complaint.
  • Empower employees. As your direct line of communication between customers, your employees need to have the decision making capabilities to do the right thing when issues arise. Forty-five percent of customers who complain only complain to front line personnel.
Minimize the number of steps your angry customer has to go through by empowering your staff to make key customer service decisions. Empower your employees with a ‘yes, I can attitude’ and give clear guidelines to allow them to make the best decision regarding the customer without managerial assistance.

Empowered employees solve problems quickly, maintain customer loyalty, decrease the chance of creating an assassin, and have increased pride and morale in the company. The right response at the right time will retain or build customer loyalty while the wrong response will create an assassin.
  • Savor complaints. Complaints are a great opportunity to receive free and unfiltered feedback on your services. Capitalize on criticism by using them to implement ongoing improvements to your wash.
  • Know what’s important. Ask customers to offer their opinion on the most important aspect of using your service. Do they simply want a clean car or do they want a clean car accompanied by a personal greeting?
Encourage management and employees to personally ask customers or utilize surveys to gather this valuable information. Offer incentives to customers who complete surveys if customers are not initially responding.

Once you discover what your customers truly want from your carwash, implement it as another integral part of your company’s philosophy.
  • Utilize employees. Don’t let your employees be an untapped resource for improving customer satisfaction. They are your front line of defense against unhappy customers. Discuss with them possible ways to increase both their satisfaction and the customers.
Rockefeller University data indicates that almost 70 percent of customers leave because of a perceived rude or indifferent behavior by an employee as compared to the 20 percent who leave because of combined price and quality. Happy employees equal happy customers.
  • Look at the long-term effects. Base financial and strategic decisions on generating long-term customer satisfaction even if it is at the expense of short-term profits.
Numerous studies by J.D. Powers and Associates have demonstrated the correlation between high satisfaction rates and high profit margins.

Keep your eyes targeted on the big picture, on the long-term. Long-term benefits include decreasing advertising budgets by focusing on retaining existing customers instead of reigning in new ones or using criticism to implement improvements so you are not constantly addressing the same customer problem over and over again.

Tying it all together
Your journey to profitability comes from understanding your company’s unique customer touchpoints. Distinguish yourself from the competition by understanding your customers’ needs and then acting on them.

Think about what you yearn for in your daily encounters and apply those to your carwash. Learn how to convert satisfaction into advocacy and loyalty for it is the key to the profit kingdom.

Loyalty is how you generate profits from customer satisfaction otherwise it is just another buzzword among a laundry list of business theories. While it may be tempting to only consider short-term profits when making quick decisions, your company is in it for the long haul which means the long-term benefit is what really counts. Keep your eyes targeted on the long-term and you’ll see a positive impact on customer loyalty and your bottom-line.

Leslie Whittaker is the marketing director for Car Wash Solutions and Lightning Express Car Wash in Orlando, Florida, and she specializes in market and customer expansion, comprehensive market positioning, cultivating relationships, and building customer advocacy. Whittaker can be reached via email at or by phone at 407.252.8659.

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