Professional Carwashing & Detailing

From complaint to compliment

August 4, 2010

Search any carwash or detail shop-themed bulletin board and you’re bound to notice one of its most common themes: Customer complaints and damage claims. From the comical to the serious, these grievances run the gamut and test not only the operator’s patience, but also his wallet.

One might argue that focusing on your customer service policy is the best offense to these situations, but here at Professional Carwashing & Detailing we know that no offense is complete without a great defense.

That’s why we polled several leading operators to develop this four-step master plan for nipping complaints and damage claims in the bud, before they blossom into lawsuits.

1. Take them aside and listen.
As your significant other has doubtlessly reminded you, there is a difference between ‘hearing’ and ‘listening.’ When you take the customer aside, away from your staff and other customers, make sure you are hearing every word. That’s because in the second step you will need to demonstrate that you have understood the customer’s concerns, and you can’t do this unless you are actively paying attention and processing the customer’s grievances.

Don’t focus on how you can turn their argument against them; instead work on empathizing with their point of view. Imagine yourself as the customer, not as the defensive business owner. Be conscious of your body language, as well. Standing with arms crossed or with too much distance between yourself and the customer will send a signal that you’re not interested in what he has to say.

If there is an employee actively involved in the complaint, carefully consider this person’s temperament before bringing him/her into the conversation. You can always learn their “side” of the story later, but you won’t be able to stop a shouting match that erupts as tempers flare.

2. Show them that you understand.
Before trying to solve the problem, you’ll need to prove to the customer that you understand her point of view and description of the incident. This means that instead of launching directly into your argument, you’ll first need to empathetically and kindly summarize the extent of her complaint.

Do not simply repeat what the customer has said back to you. Instead, indicate that you understand her frustration and apologize for the situation. The operators we talked with stressed that you should not admit fault, but instead express your regret that they are having this issue and your intention for them to leave happy and satisfied.

Just as body language was very important in the first step, now tone is crucial in the second. Don’t raise your voice, even if the customer tries to talk over you, and be very careful to avoid sarcasm. This can be difficult with an outrageous claim or with a repeat offender. Remind yourself that unhappy customers (no matter how much you don’t want them at your wash) will spread their version of the story to customers you just might want to keep.

3. Determine the possible solutions.
Through careful questioning, you should determine how the customer best wants this conflict resolved. He might be satisfied with a free re-wash, or he might want you to replace his windshield. Discover his ideal solution, being careful not to commit to any particular idea or admit fault. Instead, gauge how much he is willing to compromise.

It’s a good idea at this point to have the customer complete a standardized complaint or damage claim form. This can aid you in questioning, and if you happen to be off-site, it will help ensure your employees follow the same steps you would go through.

Some important items to note on the form:
  • Date of the incident;
  • Make, model and year of the vehicle;
  • Length of customer’s ownership of vehicle;
  • Type of wash purchased;
  • If any other cars were noted damaged that day;
  • A complete description of the complaint/damage, as well as any applicable pictures (before or after) and surveillance footage; and
  • Person completing the form, as well as the customer’s name and contact information.

4. Take action.
This final step doesn’t mean you have to react right away, but instead you need to show the customer that you will take action in the very near future. This might mean that you promise to take 24 hours to review surveillance footage, question your employees and then call the customer. Don’t take any longer than 24 hours, and always follow through with what you promise.

If you don’t feel that you’ve caused the damage or that the complaint is warranted, offer some free services or upgrades. Show the customer that you’re committed to keeping them as a customer, but be careful not to oversell your innocence. Instead, focus on the loyalty they have given you by being a customer in the past, and you’re hope that they will continue to be a client. Apologize for the unfortunate circumstances, and move on.