Professional Carwashing & Detailing

What customers really think about carwashes … and what you can do about it.

April 21, 2014

As a business owner, do you ever wonder why it is people aren’t visiting your carwash or detail center? Or, do you wonder what it is people like, or don’t like about your services? Any kind of feedback, whether it’s constructive criticism, straight-up praise or heated ire can make your business better. Yelp.com, which can often be your greatest friend, or worst enemy, can be helpful, but can also be interfused with false reviews, or one-time customers who were maybe just having a bad day.

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In an effort to give you some helpful, albeit generalized feedback, we here at Professional Carwashing & Detailing spent months, asking for honest feedback from customers and also from those who refuse to visit a professional car care business. Some of the feedback, although tough to hear, can help you in that you can alter your marketing message, rethink your approach to new customers, or continue pursuing the efforts that are working. We turned to three industry experts to find out what to do with the feedback we received. Our three experts include: Chris McKenna, a professional carwash consultant out of California, who also writes for Professional Carwashing & Detailing; Chuck Howard, president and CEO of Autobell, one of the largest chains in the United States; and Ryan Essenburg, president of Tommy Car Wash Systems, a manufacturer of carwash equipment and supplies. Below is the feedback we received from customers, and advice from the three experts on what you can do with each opinion, compliment or criticism, to try and better your business.

 

Customer #1: I am bothered by the high prices and the quality. Why when I leave some washes and pay $15 for an automatic wash, it is still is dirty?

Here’s what you can do: Let customers know that you are more than happy to do more cleaning, and all they have to do is ask, according to Chuck Howard, who advises you to tell customers that you would rather see them leave satisfied with your service than have you get home and feel you didn't get your money's worth.

Ryan Essenburg said to make sure you’re offering a wide variety of pricing packages. “Today we’re pushing a larger spread and see this as a trend. [Offer lower] lows and higher highs to have variety for every customer,” he says.

Customer #2: I honestly don't expect perfection and will rarely, if ever hand wash my car (the outside). I am always disappointed when I go to __________and they slack on the drying. I honestly don't notice a difference with the touchless except the lower price. And when I get the inside cleaned/vacuumed I am never happy so that I do myself.

Here’s what you can do: Cleanliness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and everyone has an eye on a certain area of his or her car that needs attention at any given time, said Howard. “If that area is missed, the whole wash is wrong.” He said to let the customer know they should tell the attendant exactly what they want, just as you would tell a restaurant how they want their meal.

You can do this by explaining on signage that your wash wants customers to let the employees know what you want, and having an attendant ask them if there’s a certain area that needs more attention, etc.

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Customer #3: I get anxious about whether I'll get on the tracks correctly and shift into neutral at the right time. I don't want to get yelled at. I also worry about having cash in the correct denomination to tip the person who hand dries my car at the end. That alone is often a deterrent because I rarely carry cash.

Here’s what you can do: Ease a customer’s anxiousness, by letting him or her know that the attendant can put the car on the conveyor for them, says Howard.

Essenburg says he often sees this unacceptable scenario play out at various washes. “I see this way too often where the employees yell at a customer who is not doing it right, rather than encouraging them, and assisting with a smile.”

Make sure you keep a close eye and ear on your employees. Watch what they’re doing when they don’t know you’re around. Are they being friendly? If not, do something about it. If they are being courteous, compliment them so that it will be continued.

As for the tipping issue, “unlike restaurant wait staff, carwashers are paid minimum wage or more. Tips should only be considered when something above the standard service is requested,” so put up signage saying tips are not necessary. Also, put a message on Facebook or your Twitter that says customers should only tip for above-average services, etc.

 

Customer #4: There is too much confusion with the deals offered. And they are always changing their promotional offers often and not communicating with their customers about them.....

Here’s what you can do: Keep all of your deals, from Groupon specials to early bird specials, exceptionally organized, says McKenna. Keep a cheat sheet listing every single special being offered and outline the expiration dates, and the details. If a customer comes in with an expired coupon, it’s a good idea to still honor it, McKenna says. They will appreciate the offer and will hopefully become a repeat customer because of it.

 

Customer #5: I want to know ahead of time whether I have to get out of my car or not to use the automatic wash. I don't like other people getting in there.

Here’s what you can do: Most operations today allow you to stay in your car. Let customers know they can stay seated even if you are full service model, says Howard. Remember, he adds, “Accommodating customers is what good service is about.”

 

Customer #6: I prefer to do it on my own. It's cheaper and I feel like I can do a better job myself!

Here’s what you can do: Targeting at-home carwashers is important to your business image. Let these people know that “when you consider the value of your time and that carwashing is a maintenance task that must be repeated often and correctly to keep the car looking new, it might be better to let professionals do it for you,” says Howard. Put this in your signage, your social media platforms and in any ads.

 

Customer #7: I am always disappointed when I go to _______ in ________ and they slack on the drying. I honestly don't notice a difference with the touchless except the lower price. And when I get the inside cleaned/vacuumed I am never happy so that I do myself.

Here’s what you can do: Drying issues seems to be a regular complaint from carwash customers, says McKenna. Make sure your employees are properly trained on how to dry and that you have high-quality towels, too. Also, says McKenna, if you use machine dryers, make sure they’re working efficiently.  “Also, encourage customer to let you know if you’re not satisfied, and you’ll do whatever [they need to] make sure they get a top-quality washing and drying.”

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Customer #8: I don't like to wash my own car, but I was at a well-known carwash in the area the other day and moaned at the long line.

Here’s what you can do: Check the weather and calendar and prepare your wash for days when it will get busy. If you offered a special deal, or something like a Groupon special, be fully staffed and have your equipment ready for heavy usage, says McKenna. Check all of the equipment that morning to make sure it’s all running smoothly.

 

Customer #9: I use an automated touch less. Only complaint is one minute drying time past blowers is too short

Here’s what you can do: Consider offering an option to pay extra for longer drying time, just like other extra services, says Howard. If the complaint is frequent, your wash may want to increase the free blower time for each vehicle.

 

Customer #10: I visit a touchless car wash once a week in the winter, detailing in spring.

Here’s what you can do: Use a system to track your regular customers. Either RFID technology or a membership program so that you can keep an eye on when certain customers are visiting. If a customer is only visiting in the wintertime, offer them a special deal in the warmer months, for example. Also, if a customer gets a detailing only once a year, train your employees to let them know a car interior will get very unpleased, says Howard. Suggest to them regular full-serve washes more frequently at a less-expensive price point.

 

Customer #11: I have anxiety about getting on the track!

Here’s what you can do: This is much bigger problem than we ever realized, says Essenburg, and the main reason driving it is anxiety of scratching wheels, lining up, jerking and jumping…

As mentioned above, let customers know an attendee can put the vehicle on the track for them. And, as mentioned in the Customer #3 response, make sure your employees are polite to all customers and no yelling is involved ever.

 

Customer #12: It's quick and easy. The only downside is the automatic dryers do not do a great job.

Here’s what you can do: Check to make sure your dryers are working properly as technology is improving all the time.  If a customer complains, the experts said to let them know you’re investigating the matter. If they complain about it to you at the carwash, offer them a free wash. Also, if you get new and improved dryers, put it on your signage, in your ads, and in your social media messages.

 

Customer #13: Quality of the workers they hire are poor most of the time. They don't care about your car (scratching it etc.)...

Here’s what you can do: Start by making sure your employees are properly trained. Re-train them also, and watch your employees as they work. Put your own car through the wash to see how it does. Put on your signage, and in all of your marketing efforts, that you hire the best in trained employees. You can offer a no-scratches guarantee. But, says McKenna, sometimes, you simply cannot change a highly-opinionated customer’s viewpoint, no matter how hard you try.

 

Customer #14: I’m confused as to what’s offered in terms of the pricing and services. One wash is $8 and another is $15…

Here’s what you can do: From a self-serve wash to a conveyor, your menu has to be clear and concise, says McKenna. Don’t just list a “Superior wash package” and instead, put in that it includes bug removal, tire shiner, etc., explains McKenna. Your customers are not readers of this magazine, they aren’t familiar with the lexicon, etc.

 

Customer #15: I don’t like visiting the carwash in my area at night, which is the only time I am free. It seems a bit dark to me.

Here’s what you can do: I can’t tell what type of carwash this customer is referring too, says McKenna, but even if it is a fully-manned carwash, it has to be well-lit and maintained so that a customer feels secure.  Check the lighting on the premises. Check for loiterers and any kind of shady activity. If any kind of crime happens at your wash, work to clean up your image. Close your property down at night if you have to. Do whatever it takes, says McKenna.



Positive feedback

Here are some comments from real customers about what you’re doing right at your carwash or detail center.

  • I like the automatic ones... the one I go to is $8 and has touchless and soft wash options.
  • I prefer the convenience, cleanliness, and hand drying offered at my wash.
  • I like carwashes that recycle water and offer competitive pricing.
  • I go to a self-serve. You can swipe your debit card and then wash your car yourself and it only charges for the time used, which in my case costs me about $5.50 usually and my car looks showroom ready when done.
  • This one carwash I know is well organized and managed very efficiently so the line moves much faster … my car was washed and dried quickly and I was on my way with a sparkling, clean car!
  • I actually prefer the auto ones that don't have anyone manning them. Drive up, put in credit card, drive in, get washed, and drive away.
  • I like driving through the full service carwash and especially getting an undercarriage wash in the winter.
  • I am 5'2" and drive an SUV — there is no way I am getting that thing cleaned! I take it to the quick drive-through place to get the salt off and for a 'rinse', but am all about the detail shop about every three months — inside and out get nice and shiny!
  • This year, the only thing I requested from Santa was a gift certificate for detailing. I spend SO much time in the car - and it is very, very dusty and dirty...
  • Personally I like to go all out at _______ Carwash. Let them do the inside and out while I read in the waiting room. If I don't have that much time I take my dog through the automatic one —his facial expressions are epic as he has no idea what is going on.