We know of a busy express exterior wash that isn't satisfied to simply put out clean cars. They're always working to turn their customers into fans. On busy days they have an attendant stationed at the exit of the tunnel — even though they don't towel dry the cars (they use spot-free water and very good power dryers to do this job). So why is the attendant there? He's there to say "Thanks for stopping in!" and to offer them two items: one, a Frequent Washer Card that entitles the customer to a free wash for every 5 washes purchased, and two, a Birthday Club Card that will get them a free wash in the month of their birthday. When the customer fills out the birthday card, by the way, s/he provides an email address that the wash may use to send out promotions and coupons.
There are so many ways to go beyond the expected with your customers, and turn them into fans. With that in mind, here are 5 more ways to build a 'fan base' at your wash.
Deliver the expected. As a carwash operator, your business won't prosper if you're not putting out consistently clean cars. Obvious as it seems, if you can't deliver on the basics, then any other efforts you make will be wasted. For a carwash, basic customer satisfaction means putting out a clean car.
Basic also means some other things, depending on what your wash is all about. A great way to make sure that your service is what it should be is to use a "secret shopper" to experience your wash and provide feedback. You'll be surprised at what you find. Maybe the instructions in your self serve bays are confusing — you can make them more user-friendly. Maybe the turn into your tunnel is a bit tight — putting up some cones might help customers navigate it in the best way possible.
Deliver the unexpected — maybe even the undeserved. People love to get unexpected 'gifts'. Have you ever been unexpectedly upgraded to first class when you had been mentally preparing yourself for the middle seat on an overbooked flight? Nothing better. So take an otherwise boring Tuesday, and make it Red Car Day — red cars wash for free. Or celebrate an offbeat holiday. For instance did you know that this Thursday is National High Five Day? What would happen if you handed out a flyer to your customers on that day, announcing that they are getting a free upgrade in honor of this fun but under-celebrated holiday? Hand out free vacuum tokens to customers who have a question or a comment. You get the idea.
Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative. Take a look around your wash and see what's working well and what's detracting from a positive experience for your customers. Make sure that the physical appearance of the wash is a clear positive — fresh paint, trash picked up, good lighting and paving are all musts. Now take that thought to a review of your employees. Do some of them dress in a way that is less than professional? Maybe you need to consider uniforms or at least shirts and hats to give a better appearance. Think about adopting a no tipping policy — it may seem painful, but what to tip, when to tip, and whom to tip are all elements that may be causing your customers just a little discomfort. You can make that discomfort go away if you choose. And if you have an employee who just naturally goes 'above and beyond', find ways to reward them, again and again.
Welcome Their Complaints. At a diner recently, I was served a Spanish omelette… that wasn't. It was an omelette with what seemed to be mushroom spaghetti sauce poured on top. It actually tasted okay, and I ate it, but when I mentioned to the waitress that she might want to let the kitchen know that they were a little off on the recipe, she bristled and said 'no one else has had a problem with it.' The problem with complaints is that they are hard to make, and hard to take. Many customers will avoid the discomfort of making a complaint altogether. So when you do get one, it probably represents the experience of several customers, and you need to pay attention. You need to take it well — the first words a customer should hear when making a complaint is "Thank you"! Then fix it if you can. A customer whose complaint is responded to in a constructive way will generate 3 times the revenue of someone who has never had a problem.
Create Some Fun. Suppose you use autotellers at your wash and you have two lanes. Cars line up for the teller on the left or (yawn) the teller on the right. Some creative carwash owners have taken something as simple as two stacking lanes as an opportunity for fun. You can use the lanes as 'voting booths' for non-controversial topics like 'Cubs versus White Sox' (okay, maybe that's a bad example). 'Dark chocolate versus Milk chocolate', or 'Whole Cookie versus Inside of the Oreo First'. You get the idea.
Satisfied customers? That's a good goal, but turning customers into fans will really take your business to a new level.
Laurie Sherman is Co-owner of Blendco Systems, LLC. Blendco manufactures a full line of detergents and waxes for the professional carwash industry. You can contact Blendco at: www.blendco.com.