Professional Carwashing & Detailing

What to do with a customer complaint

May 6, 2011

Human nature is funny. Put a person in a room with a “specialist” and they tend to want a little bit of free advice. My friend Robin, a lawyer, says whenever she goes to a party someone usually asks for a little legal advice. My friend Steven, a doctor, says it’s always “By the way Doc, I’ve got this pain…” And me, the Customer Care Coach, I get the customer abuse stories. It’s hard for people to resist telling me the last time they got left by the airline, or the last time a bank teller ignored them… carwash and detailing customers are no different. They’re paying you for services when money is tight and time is money. Each dollar and minute is valuable to them.

And while I’m sure that you personally are treating your customers, as well as their comments, with the utmost respect, it’s important to make sure your employees are as well. It is also important to know that a customer, though presented with a perfectly pristine vehicle, may still complain, and there are right ways to deal with such circumstances.

Be the judge and the jury

Although we are constantly being reminded in the business press and by our consultants about the importance of treating our customers well and adding value to their experience — use your own experience as a guide — what’s the state of service today? Judging by my informal polls, not so good. The American Customer Satisfaction Index hovers around the 74 percentage point (give or take a point or two) and hasn’t shown real gains in years. In general, most people I talk to think there is plenty of room for improvement. While customers believe that in many cases they pay enough to get the highest level of service, the majority believes that the employees they deal with don’t care about their needs.

The “customer service” (and as we call it “customer care”) function is an important enhancer to every other part of your car care business. If service is good, sales are easier. If service is good, marketing is easier in that you’re building on a strong reputation and the experiences of happy customers. But it seems we are lacking the consciousness, and the skills, which help create a positive experience for the customer — every time.

Be appreciative of any kind of feedback

As a customer, I long for more positive experiences and occasionally do complain when I am not satisfied. And I’m usually bewildered by the less then appreciative stance companies take when I go out of my way to comment on their service. Shouldn’t we be grateful for complaints? A complaining customer is doing what many companies hire consultants and mystery shoppers to do — critique the service. When running a carwash or detail shop, there are many facets that go into making a car clean, and if you’re missing a step or leaving the customer unsatisfied, that reputation will spread like wildfire.

Just recently, after I took my time to compose a letter of complaint to the president of a large office supply dealer, I received a response — initially apologetic — that took a turn for the worse when he chose to get defensive and used my own words out of context against me. He turned an angry customer into an enraged customer. Uh, not a smart strategy. Perhaps he went home that night with his ego intact, thinking he had “won” the argument. What he did do was cause me to lose the respect I had for him as a leader, and broke any bond of loyalty I may have had with his company.

It’s also important to respond to positive feedback you receive. Write back to a customer and thank them for taking the time to write. They will appreciate your time and effort, and a relationship of good communication will be formed.

Be receptive, not defensive

Does your car care business embrace and encourage your customers to complain? Do you know how to handle feedback in a non-defensive fashion? Have you made the process of getting feedback from the customer easy (and maybe even delightful)? Do you listen intently to what they have to say, correct the problem and then follow up with your appreciation? Do you have comment cards? Do you have a way they can contact you, perhaps through your website?

Keep in mind that it’s the customers who don’t complain that you really have to worry about. Customers who don’t feel like expending the energy to confront you, or write a letter, or be bold enough to say to a sassy employee, “There’s no reason for you to treat me so rudely,” just slip quietly away — and with them they take their future business.

Customers may be too weary to put in yet another complaint that doesn’t get addressed, and they are the ones that might just be bad-mouthing you to their business buddies at the next networking luncheon. One of the reasons customers don’t complain is because they have tried in the past and haven’t gotten much satisfaction from the experience. What is your expectation when you complain? That someone will listen patiently, not be defensive, apologize, solve your problem and take the time to say “thank you.” That’s what mine is. Was that your experience that last time you complained to one of your suppliers? Even more importantly, was that your customers’ experience the last time they complained to you?

I urge you to take this opportunity to look at the process you have designed to deal with your customers’ feedback and see if it reflects the level of customer caring and appreciation that you would most like to portray. From my experience as a consultant, researcher and writer on the subject of Customer Care — my guess is your process might benefit from a little improvement. Remember to “Dare to Caresm” about those customers!


JoAnna Brandi consults and facilitates workshops on Positive Leadership and Creating Positive Customer Experiences. She is Publisher of the Customer Care Coach, a leadership training program on mastering “The Art and Science of Exquisite Customer Care.” She is author of two books on customer loyalty, and one on positive thinking. She is an Authentic Happiness Coach and has written hundreds of tips and articles since starting her business in 1990. She shares her insights in her twice monthly Customer Care TIP. Find that here: www.ReturnOnHappiness.com.