Facing their fears
She’s a young college co-ed who decides to pull into the carwash because her parents are visiting for the weekend. She’s in a rush; never been to a tunnel, her father always sent her to the self-serve near their house. She nervously lines her tire up to the conveyor, the employee waves her ahead, pointing vigorously to the sign. She panics for a moment as she realizes she needs to put her car in neutral. Finally, she breathes.
It’s easy as an operator to forget how terrifying a carwash experience can be for a first-time or less-than-regular customer. The dark tunnel, the imposing mitters and brushes, the narrow conveyor that seems more complicated than it is in reality. Carwash operators — especially exterior-only and express exterior operators — need to be aware of these fears so that they can create a comfortable, relaxing experience for their customer and encourage repeat visits.
Identifying the fear
Michael Jacques, eastern regional sales manager for MacNeil Wash Systems, understands customer fears because he’s seen them first hand. “I was in line at a gas station carwash the other day, and a woman ahead of me didn’t know to put her car in park,” Jacques recalled.
“I’m rolling down the window, hollering out to her. Next thing I know, I’ve jumped out of the car and I’m standing at the kiosk guiding traffic. My wife’s jumping seats so she can drive our car through, and the customers are looking at me for cues as they drive up to the tunnel.”
Although Jacques’ story is humorous, there’s nothing funny about the public’s lack of understanding about the carwash. “People just don’t understand how a conveyorized carwash works,” Jacques said. “We take it for granted because we have no problem rolling up on the conveyor and going through a carwash.”
Jacques said women, especially, can be nervous about driving the vehicle onto a correlator. “There’s a fear: You’re in your car, you want to be careful, you don’t exactly understand what’s happening,” Jacques offered. Operators need to make sure their customers feel confident when pulling onto the correlator and head through the tunnel.
Luckily, making your carwash a secure and safe environment is easy enough. It begins with signage. Make sure your signs are short, to the point and easy to read. If possible, ask someone who is not a regular customer to review your signage before you post. Watch customers on your lot to see if they easily understand and follow the directions.
Next, make sure your carwash is an inviting environment. “Retracted equipment, bright foam colors, glass or mirrored walls; these all do wonders for easing your customers into the tunnel,” Jacques explained. “We need to get away from that clustered, dark, hole in the wall tunnel. Your customer is driving his prized possession through this tunnel, you want them to feel secure.”
Keep your tunnel clean and use as much light as possible.
Jacques also mentioned new technology, such as retracted equipment, that is making it easier for customers to open up their tunnels. Also, closed cell foam has eased customer’s concerns about scratches and damage caused by old washing materials.
“It does not hold any dirt or grit. The whole idea behind the foam is that you’ve got to have the right chemicals and what the chemicals do I emulsify the dirt and you’re cleaning the dirt gently,” Jacques said. “It’s very soft and very quiet.”
One area where carwash operators can improve the customer’s comfort level is actually outside of the tunnel — and on the computer. The internet allows the operator an excellent opportunity to educate customers and teach them about the wash process and equipment.
For a conveyor operator, it’s as simple as offering a section on your website titled, “Why a conveyor carwash?” Be precise and to the point, Jacques suggested, and hit your mark upfront. Basically, highlight the benefits of professional carwashing and explain the conveyor carwash process.
A general understanding of how a conveyor moves the car through the tunnel and how water, chemicals and washing materials will work together to clean the vehicle can allay most customer concerns.
“If you present it in a simple, direct way, and highlight the interesting parts, your customers will want to continue the education,” Jacques said. “Explain the service you’re selling and the benefits. Make them feel good about their purchase.”