Staff Management

May 1, 2012

Customer Service Demonstrates Your Car Wash’s Personality

More articles by »
Written by:

When pay stations first started to become prevalent, I have to admit I didn’t like it. I thought transaction times would be too long, older customers would find the ordering process intimidating and that the cost of the technology wasn’t worth it (more on pay stations in a moment). However, my biggest concern was that this automation would remove the human touch from the transaction process, and I’m a big fan of humans.

When properly trained, humans can do an excellent job of selling, communicating and providing service to customers. The bottom line is that without humans, you can provide only a good experience, never a great one. Great experiences come from well-trained and eager-to-please employees.

Think of any “great” experience you have had with a business and it likely involved one or more staff members who made it clear your business was important to them through great service. Whether it’s a world-class hotel or the local butcher, great experiences come from great interactions with people. This is not to say all experiences are required to be great, but if you want to attract more customers who visit more often and spend more per visit, then an investment in customer service is a requirement.

First, we need to define “customer service.” The term has a vagueness about it that makes you think of giant call centers and overzealous retail clerks who are required to wear large buttons that say, “I’m here to help. Ask me about our specials.”

Customer service is basically the manner and style of your customer interactions. It is critical because the best way to lose customers is when they perceive you don’t care about their business. Even when problems arise, good customer service makes it clear that you care about that customer’s business. Customer service also is perhaps the loudest declaration about the personality of your company. In a carwash that has very few assets, great customer service can be a saving grace. In a carwash that has invested millions on every detail of its business, poor customer service can render everything ineffective.

Therefore, teaching your employees the importance of great customer service is critical. To take a closer look, let’s break down customer service into three essential areas: appearance, attitude and empowerment.


In a big picture sense, the cleanliness and appearance of your site has a lot to do with customer service. Broken Windows Theory is a concept from crime fighting that says a neighborhood with unfixed, broken windows will have more crime because criminals reason that if the windows have been broken for this long, no one is going to notice their crime. Similarly, it’s hard to convince an employee that every facet of the way they treat customers is important when paint is peeling from walls, landscaping is overgrown, or garbage and debris are visible on-site.

Besides the look of your facility, employee appearance also is important. Uniforms are essential if you want to present a polished and professional image. A uniform can be as simple as a T-shirt, as long as it is kept clean and the look is consistent.

Next, it is important to watch your employees’ body language. Good posture and a warm smile tell customers that an employee is there to help. Employees who are busy text messaging friends or being aloof tells customers they are too busy or disinterested to help.


Appearance helps lay the ground work for good service, but once customer interaction occurs, employee attitude can reinforce the idea that your carwash genuinely cares about the customer’s business. Some employees are just naturally good natured and want to help. However, the majority of employees need to be trained to “want” to help the customer.

Impactful customer service usually requires employees to do something out of the ordinary. For example, at a full-service carwash one employee’s main function might be to vacuum vehicles. However, that doesn’t mean a customer will refrain from asking the employee if the carwash offers detailing services. Since that employee’s main function is to vacuum, answering the question may be a bit of a bother. If he tells the customer to ask inside, his attitude conveys the message that he is too busy to be bothered and that detailing is not part of his job description. However, an employee with a good attitude would at least hand the customer a menu sheet or even introduce the customer to the person best able to answer the customer’s questions.

If you want to teach your employees that customer service is important, you have to eliminate the idea that there are rigid job descriptions. If employees all understand that their primary job is to do a particular function but their secondary job is to provide great service, then you will have fewer employees with bad attitudes when circumstances call for them to go “above and beyond” typical expectations.


Power is essentially the ability to do work. So this is where your employees actually provide “service.” If you are going to provide great customer service, you must empower your employees to make decisions. This might take more training and might be a little scary initially, but it is absolutely critical for good service.

If only managers or the owner can make decisions, it sends a message to employees that they are too dumb to help customers. This is a great way to get employees to not care. When employees are empowered to make 
decisions, however, it gives them a sense of pride and makes them want to help customers. It also makes for quicker resolutions to problems which will make customers happy.

Empowering employees also says that you trust your staff and hire good people. Empowerment will help make employees part of the solution, not the problem.

This philosophy also will make it clear to employees that you expect them to help make the customer experience better. Many times this will lead to employees taking initiative. This, in turn, often creates better service in ways the owner or manager hasn’t even anticipated.

Giving your employees the power to provide excellent customer service also means you have to have good systems and processes in place. If things are handled differently each time, employees are like to be confused and unwilling to interject. However, if everyone is on the same page and there is a clear set of procedures on which front-line staff has been trained, then employees will know exactly what to do when circumstances arise. This includes handling customer requests, complaints and observations. It also includes your policies on things like rewashing vehicles, pricing and service structure.

How to Teach

Philosophizing about excellent customer service is one thing; implementing it is can be another story.

To start, it is important that management sets the example. I hate those posters some companies post that say, “The 10 Commandments of Customer Service” or something similarly theatrical. To think these will have an impact is naive. If you want employees to know how important customer service is, then owners and managers should pick up every piece of trash that crosses their path. They should smile and say hello to customers. They should notice when a car doesn’t get washed properly and volunteer to rewash it. They also should speak to complaining customers with respect and genuine concern.

Another way to help create a culture of great customer service is to celebrate stories of great service. One of my clients has more than 10 carwashes and holds a weekly telephone meeting with managers. Each week they tell at least one story of great customer service. These managers are always on the lookout for positive stories, and employees who go “above and beyond” are celebrated. This helps make customer service an inseparable part of the company culture and integrates it with the expectations of every employee.

Basically, implementing this type of culture comes down to rewarding the behavior you want and discouraging the behavior you don’t.

It also is essential that you understand how your customers feel about the quality of your service. Believe it or not, the vast majority of customers don’t like to complain. Most will remain silently disappointed until they start going to another carwash or visit less frequently.

One of the best questions you can ask your customers is, “Can we do anything better?” You will be amazed how much you can learn. Even listening intently to minor complaints or observations tells customers you care and reinforces with your employees that the goal of the carwash is constant improvement.

Effective customer service is absolutely essential for full-service carwash operations, but that doesn’t mean express exterior carwashes are off the hook.

Returning to my opening point about pay stations, let me say that I am now a fan, as long as the few employees you do have on-site are trained to provide great service. I believe every express exterior carwash should have a person serving as a “Thanker.” This is a position in which the employee simply smiles, thanks customers for visiting and hands out a treat. This could be a lollipop, dashboard wipe, trash bag, dog biscuit or something similar. This employee could be located at the entrance or exit and could possibly be the same person who guides cars onto the conveyor, although I think a dedicated person makes it more effective.


Kyle Doyle is president of Blue Sky Image Group, a full-service marketing firm dedicated to the carwash industry. Kyle has been in the carwash industry for 16 years. Prior to starting Blue Sky, he was CEO of Compuwash and also managed a carwash in Long Island, N.Y. He can be reached at 631.431.2600

Customer Service Checklist


  • Is the site as clean as it can be?
  • How do your employees look? Are their uniforms clean and consistent?
  • How is their body language? Do they smile when speaking with customers?


  • How do your employees react when they are asked to do something out of the ordinary?
  • How do they respond to a complaining customer?


  • Do employees have the power to make decisions? Which ones?
  • Are they relatively knowledgeable about services, pricing and policies?
  • Are they taking initiative?


  • Are your expectations clear in regard to appearance, attitude and decision making?
  • Do you reward examples of great service?
  • Are policies clearly documented?
  • Do you regularly ask customers about what you can do better?



Be the first to comment!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>