Technology is now interwoven in most people’s daily personal and professional lives. According to surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center from 2000-15, only about 15 percent of U.S. adults do not use the Internet. And, using previous data to forecast future trends, this group will slowly diminish moving forward. In 2000, the organization noted that almost half (48 percent) of U.S. adults did not use the Internet at that time.

In addition to researching local businesses, such as carwashes, and partaking in general Web reading and searches, we are now dependent on technology to stay in touch. In 2015, the Radicati Group estimated that about 2.5 billion email users are sending 205 billion emails per day.

At this point you have either embraced communications and operational technologies for your business, or you are scrambling to catch up. If you are not taking advantage of mobile marketing, carwash specific innovations, such as RFID, and other operational desktop/online programs, you might not be fully unlocking your staff’s and wash’s full potential for delivering results and a high level of customer satisfaction.

We recently reached out to some carwash professionals to discuss today’s technological innovations, customers’ reliance on technology and site optimization.

A digital revolution

Carwash owners and operators embrace the trend toward digital and implement technology into the wash for many reasons.

“Smart operators have taken advantage of digital and mobile technologies,” asserts Walter Sanders, brand manager for Innovative Control Systems (ICS). “Customers use Web-enabled tools to locate carwashes, compare pricing and specials, purchase carwash services at the payment kiosk or online and share their experiences via social media.”

Sanders advises slow-adapting operators to embrace the “digital and mobile revolution” in order to also maximize their customers’ on-site experiences and maintain effective carwash operations.

“For example,” he continues, “Web-based tunnel controllers help deliver an exceptional customer experience. Multisite operators should also consider Web-based management systems that provide full network visibility.”

These systems can help multisite operators in many ways, such as alerting them when equipment issues arise, helping with inventory management, staff allocation and delivering task-centric reporting for controller, human resources, operational and maintenance staff. “Operators can view, monitor and analyze [this] data via Web-enabled devices from anywhere,” adds Sanders.

Staff management tools are also available to carwash owners and operators. One program helps assign projects, create teams, schedule meetings and run reports, as well as offers messaging capabilities.

“It helps promote communication among the team, rather than just emailing all the time. You can push everything out to your team from one platform. It is good for managing projects and for when working in groups in general,” explains Robert Andre, vice president of training and education for SONNY’S The CarWash Factory. “There are so many Web-based technologies available today. If people are willing to investigate and use [technology], it can help make operating their businesses a lot easier and more efficient.”

Get smart with modern hardware

In 2014 an electronics milestone was reached. Today, more mobile devices are on Earth than people. In fact, there were over seven billion gadgets on the planet in 2014, and they were multiplying at a rate that was five times faster than humans. In the carwash market, these devices are being widely integrated.

“With smartphones and tablets, carwash owners are starting to adjust and create maintenance schedules, view chemical reporting and, with some systems, change the settings of the carwash. A lot of organizations are also using smartphones and tablets for troubleshooting, such as accessing FaceTime [for off-site technicians],” says Andre. “Using technology to effectively manage [operations] and take advantage of those types of benefits is being embraced by forward-thinking operators today.”

Even technologies on the market for several decades have been improved and are still widely used today. A few examples are provided by Derek Martin, division manager for Mister Car Wash.

“Walkie-talkies with ear pieces seem to be the most effective and professional tool available [for on-site staff communication],” says Martin. “They allow managers to have a constant, effortless open line of communication with their support team. [Streaming] real-time closed circuit television video remotely is also a huge benefit.”

Keep traffic flowing

As many people might predict, customers who embrace technology and maximize its benefits usually fall into the “on-the-go” grouping as well. Express carwashing is growing in popularity, and its customers are most interested in receiving a quality wash in a timely fashion. Loyalty programs and technologically advanced point-of-sale (POS) and radio frequency identification (RFID) systems are effectively serving this target audience.

“RFID technology can cut transaction times down to just one to two seconds,” notes Jeff Hoppe, division manager for Mister Car Wash. “‘Automated’ lanes provide value to loyalty customers, while allowing operators to spend more time with ‘retail’ customers. It is a win for the loyal customers; it is a win for the new retail customers; and it is a win for the operators.”

Successful carwashes offer numerous packages and services to customers. While this diversification is ultimately good for the business and its loyal customer base, new patrons might be confused when visiting the wash. George Pawlik, national sales for XpresSystems Inc., adds that RFID and loyalty programs support the keep it simple stupid, or KISS, sales approach.

“Most customers are immediately confused when entering a carwash because there are so many options,” says Pawlik. “All they really want is their cars washed. With the RFID tag in the window, people have already made their selection and they don’t have to worry about making another.”

According to Pawlik, RFID systems are available today that can operate through Wi-Fi and also integrate with the wash’s POS system. In terms of the expected return on investment, Pawlik offers the following scenario. “If an operator can sign up 30 people with a $30 package and the initial cost of the RFID system is $10,000, it pays for itself in one year,” he says, adding that staff also saves time having to sell customers on future purchases and can instead focus on other important areas of the carwash.

“RFID also allows for quicker payment processing,” adds Martin. “Additionally it has helped change customer wash frequency habits. Unlike a prepaid card or even a mobile phone NFC system, RFID creates a more manageable way to ensure that each RFID is specific to each customer and vehicle.”

Promoting wash clubs and loyalty programs is an important part of owning a carwash. These programs can help businessess maintain a solid base and also help to weather any rough or slow days.

“Clubs help you offset weather-related downtimes by creating a predictable flow of income with automatic recurring billing. They inspire customer loyalty and awareness of your brand. RFID enables you to pursue and land corporate, municipal and high-volume fleet business. Customers love the ease of use, appreciate the value proposition that clubs deliver and always keep you top of mind when they think about a carwash,” asserts Sanders.

Building around the customer’s needs

Too many innovations have hit the market to mention in this article. In addition to RFID, Andre has noticed another carwash-specific advancement that incorporates sonar technology to provide a customized wash.

“Sonar technologies used in carwashing today can profile an incoming vehicle and pick up such things as a pickup truck bed or a trailer hitch, and then adjust the equipment to avoid damage and increase the wash’s effectiveness. When these profiling technologies sense a pickup truck, for instance, they can also shut off some of your chemicals [and water] so they don’t fill the pickup bed with waste,” notes Andre. “These sonar technologies not only allow you to save costs, but you can also turn out a better quality wash when employing them.”

While technology can help move your business forward in many ways, tried-and-true strategies still prevail in many cases at a carwash. Site design still heavily impacts traffic flow. However, even in these areas, technology is starting to influence productivity.

According to Hoppe, the industry is using technologies to help control queuing at locations interfaced between the POS and tunnel controller. “Automated queuing, dynamic queuing and video queuing can all eliminate the bottleneck often caused by keeping the stack in order,” he adds.

Technology is more reliable today, and more customers are interested in using it in their personal lives. Get to know your customers and their use of technology. Also, analyze your current operations and marketing strategies; and if you haven’t done so already, join the digital revolution today.