A company’s brand is developed every day. A brand isn’t simply a name, logo or phrase. The brand is what customers think of when they hear or see a business’ name. In this sense, the “customer experience” is how a carwash’s brand is developed.

Given the increased competition many carwashes are facing, it is essential to think about location, customer service, wash quality and everything a customer experiences as your brand.

Clearly, positive customer experiences improve a business’ chance of success, and research demonstrates that they also have direct financial impacts. To quantify the power of customer experience, a study by Bain & Company noted that increasing customer retention rates by just five percent can boost profits by 25 to 95 percent.

In addition to increasing profits, providing a positive customer experience is essential as markets continue to become more competitive. Because more carwash options are available, success is less about simply satisfying a demand.

Saturation mandates a continued transition toward providing the most satisfying customer experience. What will help make consumers continue to choose your services?

The strategy is clear: Focus on building your brand in order to increase profits. Given the dramatic upside of concentrating on customer perception, placing more value on areas like wash quality and team member training become easier. With so many ways to influence the customer experience, for the purpose of this article we will break the strategy down into five action-oriented tactics.

Create customer experience through effective team training

Customer service isn’t just in the hands of the salesperson or cashier. For example, at many express carwashes the loader is the last person a customer sees; and if you utilize automated attendants, this employee might be the only person a customer “interacts” with. Make sure if you have a loader, he or she is always friendly and smiling.

Training and operational processes should be in place to help all team members create the brand customers want. Everyone working at the carwash should be doing something to help improve customer experience.

Moreover, a customer-focused culture needs to be created and nurtured. The care put into cutting the grass, sweeping the lot or cleaning the vacuums is just as important as a friendly greeting from an employee. Additionally, ensuring that the wash equipment is maintained and delivering high-quality services are just as important as a cashier’s “thank you.”

Rely on checklists to deliver a consistent experience

As many may already know, repeat business is essential. Create tasks such as opening and closing checklists as well as maintenance and employee training schedules. Think of these functions as the key to driving repeat business. Research shows that a repeat customer spends 67 percent more than a new customer.

People may think that they are too busy to create a bunch of checklists, the managers know what to do or checklists don’t get used; however, these basic processes are the easiest ways to reshape the daily actions of a team.

If profits can be increased by 25 percent, or even higher, the time it takes to make sure expectations are clearly outlined in checklist form and team members are held accountable for meeting these expectations may be worth it. Think of it this way: Are you really too busy to boost profits?

Establish an environment where everyone reports issues

Experienced carwash owners tend to have an “eagle eye” for spotting problems. Over time, troubleshooting issues as they arise becomes like a sixth sense.

However, potential issues may become harder to address as owners expand their current location or add more sites. For instance, necessary repairs or replacements for wash equipment may take longer to complete; and site updates, such as replacing a tattered banner, might be overlooked.

Everyone working at a carwash location should look for items that need attention. Once a team member spots an issue, make sure he or she has a quick and easy way to report it. All team members should be on the look out for and report anything that might negatively impact customer perception.

Take care of any low-hanging fruit

When you feel confident that tactics one through three are working to enhance customer experience, it is time to review the two core ways a wash directly interacts with customers: sales and services.

Review the sales process and consider the following:

  • Research indicates a first-time customer only has a 27 percent chance of returning to a location. However, if the business can get that customer to come back and make a second and third purchase, it has a 54 percent chance of making another sale.
  • A customer’s first four visits are critical. Consider engineering the sales process to boost chances for second, third and fourth visits. Here is the kicker: Encourage the second through fourth visits without offering discounts.
  • Offering enrollment for a club plan (with a sticker or RFID for the customers’ vehicles or providing club members with a pass or card) can help increase chances of repeat visits. Better yet, carwashes can reward club plan members by giving them the fifth wash free.
  • This example mentioned in the last point maintains the integrity of a carwash’s prices (it doesn’t directly discount the wash price) while encouraging repeat business. As a bonus, the club membership plan makes it difficult for customers to choose a competitor for their next purchase.
  • If not a loyalty program, consider some form of sales adjustment that will help more initial customers get to their fourth visits and beyond.

Review the wash process/service. Address what the customer sees, hears and smells in order to better manage how he or she feels about the wash experience. Keep in mind these factors:

  • If a wash smells bad, work to fix it (e.g., the reclaim system could cause unpleasant odors if not maintained).
  • Consider the “show” that the customer will experience.
    • Minimize loud sounds that might frighten customers.
    • Are you projecting “clean,” such as with soapy, visible bubbles?
    • If triple foam is offered, is it carried out effectively, or is it simply a mess of colors?
    • Does the tunnel or wash area look clean?
    • Also, consider adding a nice, refreshing fragrance to wash packages.
  • And, of course, make sure the cars are clean (dry, no dirt, no spots, etc.).

Overall, challenge yourself to drive up on the lot with the mindset of a customer, and then try to appreciate the entire experience as a patron would.

Adjust any ineffective actions

After successfully getting into the mindset of the customer and going through the wash process, you will most likely uncover areas that should be adjusted.

Instead of informing managers of a specific action that needs to take place, consider what part of the process failed, and then focus on fixing it. Maybe a loader made a few errors on your trip through the wash, for example. If this occurs, promptly consider which part(s) of the process permitted this gap to exist. Instead of simply retraining the loader, perhaps the actual process should be adjusted so the managers/supervisors are periodically reviewing and coaching all loaders.

If something isn’t being completed or carried out as effectively as it should be, keep in mind that it might not be an isolated experience. As mentioned, focus on the process. The rewards for this effort can be great, and modern technology can provide the additional visibility and accountability that will help take existing processes to the next level.

Remember, your brand is customer experience. Equip team members with the right tools and processes so they can deliver outstanding customer service.


John Booth is co-founder of Wash Systems LLC. Wash Systems is focused on providing flexible solutions to issues unique to the carwash industry. Everyone at Wash Systems has direct carwash industry and information technology experience. Wash Systems recently released its Operations Process Engine (OPEn), which empowers organizations to operate more consistently.