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Guaranteed Complaints

Great carwash operators are always raising the bar on themselves.



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Great carwash operators are always raising the bar on themselves. Not content with the status quo, these operators are constantly seeking to improve their operations, add new services, improve their equipment and detergents, and generally improve the overall ‘customer experience’.

It really does take an amazing, sustained focus and commitment to keep a carwash running at the ‘top of its game’, let alone continue to improve it. This challenge is compounded if you are operating several carwash locations. In the quest for day-in and day-out excellence, one very important tool is customer feedback. To get better, you need to know what’s not working for your customers. To get better, you actually need… customer complaints!

The problem with complaints is that they are hard to make, and hard to take. Many customers will avoid making a complaint for fear that the complaint may be misunderstood or reacted to in a defensive manner. It is no real surprise then that many legitimate complaints go unvoiced — to the detriment of your business. You really need to know that the spray gun in Bay 4 is leaking tire cleaner onto your customers’ clothing, or that the credit card acceptor isn’t in an accepting mood today. But your customers may just drive off your lot feeling less than satisfied by their experience.

(An interesting wrinkle in the carwash business is that every operator gets some complaints that are completely unfounded — the scratch that your wash equipment couldn’t have made, the broken side view mirror that already had some tape applied to it as a temporary fix… But that is a topic for another day!)

A daily equipment check list and a good preventive maintenance program will address most of the mechanical issues involved in delivering a good wash experience, but you still need direct customer feedback. You need complaints, and you need to make sure complaints are being heard. You need them as a tool to get better.

Why not take a page out of the Starbucks play book? Starbucks is focused on delivering great coffee and a pleasant customer experience, and their challenge is to do this literally millions of times a day at more than 15,000 stores worldwide. This is no small task.

One of Starbucks’ tools is something called a Customer Snapshot. It is basically just the use of a Secret Shopper, but Starbucks has taken pains to keep the system very simple. A secret customer (and in Starbucks parlance, a customer is always a “Guest”) visits a given Starbucks store every few weeks to judge the store’s performance, using the following 5 criteria for the person serving them:

  1. Did you make eye contact?
  2. Did you greet the guest?
  3. Did you thank the guest?
  4. Did you initiate conversation?
  5. Did you recognize the guest by drink or name?

Notice that the quality of the coffee isn’t even mentioned — and Starbucks is no doubt doing many things to make sure that the coffee is outstanding. Instead, they emphasize providing the guest with a positive experience. By design, the Customer Snapshot is simple and it is focused on creating a personal, social interaction for their guests. The Snapshot results are posted at the store for the employees to see, and whenever all 5 criteria are met, the store is recognized for giving “Legendary Service”.

Think about this system in the context of your wash. Using a tunnel wash as an example, your secret customer snapshot might emphasize the overall wash experience — were they greeted, were they thanked for their business or asked to ‘come back soon!’, was care taken to show concern and respect for their vehicle. Counter to the Starbucks example, you’ll probably also want to include a rating on how clean and spot-free their car was when it dried.

Your secret customer can be a trusted friend, a business advisor, your accountant, or your barber, and their pay might simply be the cost of the washes.

The payback to you and your business can be immeasurable. You will see your business through your customers’ eyes, and be able to use their perspective to improve their overall wash experience, day-in and day-out.

Laurie Sherman is Co-owner of Blendco Systems, LLC. Blendco manufactures a full line of detergents and waxes for the professional carwash industry. You can contact Blendco at:

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