Are your customers smiling?

How to manage the Customer Experience
By Steve Gaudreau

Customer Service. It’s a widely used term, but what does it really mean? One successful car wash client that we have worked with has nailed it with an exit sign that reads: “Your Car is Now Smiling”!

Of course, it’s the car owners who hopefully leave the car wash with giant smiles on their faces. And it’s not just about driving off in a sparkling clean car. The entire experience must be enjoyable for customers.

Basic competency in customer service means ensuring guests leave satisfied. But our client goes beyond expectations to make getting a car wash fun. Customer service attendants are called “guest enjoyment coordinators”. They’ve been known to use hats, costumes, and props to create an enjoyable atmosphere. Most importantly, managers and employees genuinely appear to be having fun themselves.
Customers come back more frequently as a direct result of how they are treated by everyone on the property. Every interaction needs to be positive. A manager’s welcoming smile, thorough quality checks, and a genuine “thank you” go a long way toward relationship-building.

There are at least two ways that successful car wash managers distinguish themselves and earn the loyalty of their customers: developing relationships and turning complaints into opportunities for strengthening those relationships.

Relationship Building

It’s no secret that the most successful car wash managers are extroverts. Managers with high extroversion are typically articulate communicators who genuinely enjoy interacting with people. This is important in building relationships with customers.

One factor that keeps customers returning is the feeling that their business is appreciated and that the people at the car wash know who they are. Good managers are friendly, participative, and responsive to customer issues. They greet their customers by name and with a smile, and they take pride in providing an outstanding customer experience, start to finish.

Another key to relationship-building with the customers is having managers build solid relationships with the employees of the wash. When employees have a positive relationship with their manager, they reflect this positivity to the customers. This is called inside out: the culture inside is reflected to the customers outside.

Turning Lemons into Lemonade

Customer complaints are inevitable. Successful managers see complaints as opportunities. When a customer is disappointed, there is great potential to make a really positive impact and ultimately “wow” the customer.

To do this, the manager first needs to be empowered by ownership to handle customer complaints at the store level. The customer needs to leave satisfied with the manager’s resolution, rather than being handed a phone number to “call corporate” or being told “someone will get back with you”. If it is a damage claim, the customer needs to leave knowing whether the car wash will or will not pay for the alleged damage.

After listening empathically to the complaint of a customer, one exceptional manager we know was able to diffuse the customer’s anger and satisfy the customer, even without paying for damage the car wash could not have caused. This manager empathized by listening before speaking, and then told the customer he understood why the customer would be upset. The manager explained that company policy would not allow him to pay for damage the car wash did not do. However, he quickly moved on, offering the customer two months of their unlimited wash club free. The customer went away feeling the manager was on his side. It was a 180-degree turnaround by a skilled manager empowered to take care of problems.

Getting a car washed is a feel-good experience, that can be created as much by the interaction with the people at the car wash as it is by the quality of the wash. If you hire the right people to manage your car wash, train them well, and equip them with the right tools for success, your customers will drive away smiling.

Steve Gaudreau is President of Brink Results, a training and consulting firm serving the car wash industry, and can be reached at