The benefits of loyalty programs are well documented in the professional carwashing industry, including in the pages of Professional Carwashing & Detailing. These programs help provide predictable income for the business and assurance in customer purchasing and service. Today’s customers, especially younger generations, prefer paying a monthly rate for a service or product they use frequently, such as carwashing.

However, just as technology can lift a loyalty program up, it can also provide its share of setbacks when not implemented properly. We recently spoke with two experts in the field of creating loyalty programs for new carwashes and seamlessly implementing RFID technology.

RFID explained

RFID stands for radio-frequency identification, and it is used in many industries and throughout society. The use of RFID is in fact growing as mobile pay and express services continue to emerge from consumer demand.

As used in the carwashing industry, RFID chips are usually placed inside a sticker which is displayed on club customers’ windshields in an unobtrusive manner. RFID allows for wireless,  non-contact tracking of information, reducing labor needs and customer inconvenience.

Related: FAQs about RFID

An RFID reader is usually located at the point of payment at a carwash, and it will read the RFID information stored in the chip when the customer visits. Most carwash point-of-sale systems come with RFID technology.

The RFID can read the unique identifier and then check with the point-of-sale to see which program the customer is enrolled in; the system will then notify the controller to perform the appropriate services in the tunnel.

The importance of sound technology

The current spike in popularity and excitement in professional carwashing is undeniable. Around the country, customers are lining up for a convenient, environmentally responsible and professional carwash.

In order to handle and process that traffic and maintain accountability, technologies such as RFID are proving invaluable.

According to Bonnie Kimberlin, vice president of sales and marketing for DRB Systems LLC, the needs of loyalty programs, such as cashless transactions, and surging business have pushed many aspects of the carwash business forward.

“It has forced suppliers to be on our game in terms of development, security, features, etc.,” she says, adding that cyber security measures must not be forgotten when deciding on available RFID, customer loyalty and management systems. “Suppliers and carwash owners must make sure customers’ credit card info is secure.”

While some systems make it easier for you to sell and manage your monthly plans, explains Kimberlin, new investors should do their homework and compare available solutions.

“Ask your vendor about their reliability of recognizing the vehicle using an RFID tag. Also, some systems allow you to seamlessly manage your plans, compared to others that require you to manage multiple systems and companies,” proclaims Kimberlin.

As a newcomer to the industry, you will also want to make sure the supplier support is up to par. Will that supplier be available to help troubleshoot any issues on your busiest days? Also, in terms of system differentiators, there are several factors to consider.

“Make sure you understand the pros and cons of how you are going to track your customer, whether that is by barcoded sticker/card, smartphone reader, license plate, hanging RFID tags, cell phone number, magnetic strip reader, etc.,” says Kimberlin. “You can even use the technology to take pictures of the vehicle and compare vehicles from prior visits. This ensures customers are redeeming their membership for the vehicle they are paying for.”

Ongoing investments and setting up for success

Tim Gustafson, product testing and development for WashCard Systems, notes that there are some ongoing costs for maintaining a loyalty program, including some software updates and purchasing new RFID tags. However, when implemented correctly, these ongoing costs should be minimal compared to the customer’s overall cost savings and the recurring business for new owners.

“You will also want to consider staffing needs for the program,” Gustafson advises. “Who is going to handle customer requests for new tags and complaints, for example? So, when figuring out your rates, among other considerations, you will want to account for labor associated with the RFID and the program in general.”

When implementing a loyalty program, one mistake that Gustafson sees new carwash owners make is not investing in new technology and trying to maintain programs through manual means.

“However, when you don’t use a technology like RFID to help meter and do the ‘heavy lifting’ of the program, you are opening your business up to all kinds of fraud, sharing, improper use and profit losses,” he says.

When assessing a loyalty program’s return on investment, ask: Does it make life easier for you, your employees and, most importantly, the customers? The overall goals of these programs, including unlimited, at your new carwash should be creating customer loyalty, increasing word-of-mouth referrals, increasing/maintaining volume and making money with more predictable profits.