Business 101: customer service

Business 101: customer service

Back to the basics of taking care of your company’s most important assets.

What do most successful businesses have in common? They take care of the customer and know the customer is the lifeline. Without question, this attitude of working tirelessly to gain and retain each and every customer is what divides the good entrepreneurs from the very best entrepreneurs. 

Back in 2003, which was my first year at Sonny’s, I distinctly remember a customer asking for warranty consideration on an item. The item had obviously been abused and, therefore, was not eligible for warranty. I was on the phone with the customer asking what had happened, how old the item was, etc., when Sonny (one of the best entrepreneurs of all time) walked past my desk. 

He stopped and listened for a few moments. Then, he leaned into my cubicle, put his finger to his lips in a shushing motion and told me, “Shhh, just give it to him.” I told the customer we would take care of the issue and ended our conversation. When I turned around, I saw that Sonny was still behind me. He sat down on the end of my desk, looked at me and said, “Don’t worry about the money — it will come back tenfold.” 

During the heat of a moment, what often gets overlooked is what wise leaders understand: a customer’s lifetime value. Customers don’t always remember the issue; they remember how the business made them feel about the issue. As customers, we don’t buy solely based on price, quality and warranty. More often than not, we buy and revisit based on pleasant experiences. Similarly, we don’t buy and revisit based on unpleasant experiences. 

The secret isn’t a secret

Customer service seems to be a dying art, but it shouldn’t be. Let’s jump right into it and start here. Walk around your wash and observe what your employees are doing: 

  • Are employees making eye contact? 
  • Are they smiling? 
  • Do staff members engage with customers if the opportunity presents itself? 
  • Are your employees making customers feel good about visiting your business?

If nothing else, have a sign in your backroom or where your employees will look every time they start their workday that highlights these four actions: 

  • Eye contact
  • Smile
  • Engage
  • Make people feel appreciated.

Pass the baton

There’s a great saying that a relay race isn’t won by the four fastest runners — it’s won by the team that gets the baton around the track and across the finish line first. It’s a sequence of actions and teamwork. Customer service is just that: a relay race. It begins long before the customer ever starts actually doing business with your wash, and it ends when you decide to close your doors or sell your wash. 

Related: 2021 key marketing trends

Customer service is a top-down, bottom-up and all-around approach that must be ingrained in your culture. It’s the welcome sign at your entrance, the pay station screen communication, the attendant’s smile as he or she is loading a car onto the conveyor, the thank you/come again sign at the exit of your wash and the customer appreciation text message that customers receive five minutes after they leave your wash. It’s all of these things and more.

Human interaction combined with marketing automation can help you achieve a pass-the-baton approach and a high level of customer service that will be noticed and appreciated.

My pleasure

Does Chick-fil-A ring a bell when you hear someone say “my pleasure” in response to your “thank you”? Rather than “you’re welcome,” this Chick-fil-A customer service quirk makes people feel appreciated.

Chick-fil-A isn’t shy about saying customer satisfaction translates to fast-food dominance. They not only say it — they’ve proven it. I read this in “Business Insider”: “We have this really … generous approach to our guests, and we want them to feel restored and cared for — not necessarily that it’s like home for them, but it feels warm and inviting and that they want to come back, and they want to spend time there,” said Khalilah Cooper, Chick-fil-A’s director of service and hospitality.

Warm and inviting equals appreciated. Never make your customers feel like they are a burden or a bother. Rather, make them feel welcomed. And, make your location feel inviting. Update your driveway signage, slap on some new paint around your building, or freshen up the landscaping. 


Often overlooked is customer service training. In addition to maintenance, repair and management, you want to have a thorough training program on the aspects that matter to customers. Take time to create top-notch materials, resources and methods, or hire a company that can help you. 

You may also want to have your best customer service employee train other employees. I have seen some washes have employees grade other employees. My favorite is hearing owners say they have secret shoppers visit the wash to create customer scenarios and challenges that team members must solve. 

All of these training techniques encourage collaboration over competition. You want to have your team trained and ready for anything and everything. You also want to take time to onboard new employees. A good orientation leads to longer retention. 

The bottom line

I read a recent statistic that the average American tells 15 people when he or she has experienced poor customer service, and there’s no way of knowing how many people those 15 tell. None of us can afford this. 

I also read a statistic that customers are willing to spend 17% more to do business with companies that deliver excellent customer service. How about that easy nugget for winning your unfair share? 

The better we treat our customers, the better off our businesses … and bottom lines. 

Beyond the script

Back to the story I shared at the start of this article about Sonny. Thank goodness I didn’t follow the script and Sonny took the time to teach me a lesson and a skill. 

Over the next 10 years, this customer went on to build several more tunnels and purchased all of his equipment, parts and supplies from our company before selling his washes to one of the bigger chains. Did he continue to purchase from Sonny’s because we warrantied an item that I didn’t necessarily think we should have? I’m not sure that was his only reason, but I am sure that might have played a part in his decision. 

Teach your team the fundamentals of customer service, develop their skills, and give your staff the ability to go the extra mile to make a customer feel appreciated. We may be in the business of washing cars, but the financial payoff comes from the customer.  

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