Auto Laundry News - January 2013

An Attitude of Gratitude — A Little Thing that Makes a Big Difference

By Anthony Analetto

Writing this article on the eve of 2013, while at a holiday dinner, I think I may have stumbled upon an observation that is nothing less than a groundbreaking opportunity to separate your business from the pack. After slaving for six hours preparing a holiday feast, I am old enough, and wise enough, to not expect gratitude. I couldn’t resist, however, asking one of the younger children if they liked the meal. The response, “I didn’t eat anything I didn’t like,” got me thinking. Relaxing after dinner, another of my cooking partners dared to question some of the teenagers at the meal if they liked the pecan pie. When they answered, “It was better than Costco’s,” I looked at them and realized that they thought they’d given a sincere compliment.

This isn’t an article about the ingratitude of youth. Face it, most of us seem to understate our appreciation of people or events at least some of the time. It’s just easier to say, “It wasn’t that bad,” or “It was OK,” rather than commit ourselves to “It was fantastic” or “I loved it.” Being a car washer, not a philosopher, I’ll leave the unraveling of why we hesitate to give honest enthusiastic compliments to one another to more scholarly people. My eureka moment at that dinner party, however, was a simple observation that people seem to be becoming less forthcoming with compliments these days. I may be wrong. But if I’m right, that means that our ability to project an attitude of gratitude to our customers will increasingly stand out from what they expect. It will have an increasingly dramatic impact on the success of our businesses. Winston Churchill once said, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Projecting the right attitude and delivering exceptional customer service may make a bigger difference than ever as we enter this New Year.

WHERE TO START

When thinking of extending an attitude of gratitude to your customers, I recommend first looking at the property itself. What about your car wash screams out to customers that you value their patronage? Look at other industries for inspiration. Think about your favorite restaurant, for example. What is it about the property, including the staff, that makes you feel like they care about you? Pay attention to how the lighting, the furnishings, and the music affect you. Notice how staff is dressed. Are the bathrooms clean? Do they offer towels, or dryers? All of these factors combine with the quality of the food and service to determine if you become a one-time, or repeat customer. The same is true for your car wash.

Next, visit your favorite retail store. Again, look at the signage, the checkout process, the organization
of products. These factors also combine with the price and availability to determine if you’ll buy one item
because it’s on sale, or become a lifelong repeat customer. It’s no different at your business.

Your ability to create a unique environment that screams out gratitude for your customers’ business is part of your competitive advantage in your market. Everything matters, but here are some places to start. If you’re running an express exterior, look at what you’re doing to provide vacuum stations that make it easy for customers and protect them from either sun or icy cold wind. If you run a full or flex serve, explore ways to deliver an engaging and memorable experience in your lobby. Leave no stone unturned. Graphics matter. Colors matter. Landscaping matters. Uniforms matter. Whether it’s a dirty bathroom at a restaurant, or a driveway in disrepair at a car wash, these things communicate whether you have, or don’t have, gratitude for your customer’s business.

LOOK AT YOUR POLICIES

The next area of your business filled with opportunity to demonstrate gratitude is your policies and procedures. We’re all familiar with brands such as Nordstrom, famous for taking nearly any return, and many washes offer 24- or 48-hour wash guarantees in that same spirit. Some washes are taking this a step further with positive results. I’ve seen locations that provide amenities at their free vacuum stations including air fresheners, towels, and mat cleaners, with a level of care that rivals a fine hotel. One of my favorites is a wash that gives each customer a towel when they leave to keep their dash dusted, with a simple request to return it for a new one on their next visit.

Once you’re confident that you have the right policies in place, don’t forget to make sure customers know about them. Writing out your policies in a pamphlet isn’t enough. Publish what makes your wash special on signs, receipts, or anywhere a customer will see them. This will elevate the attention your staff gives to customer service and soften the impact of a negative encounter with an improperly trained employee.

EXAMINE YOUR PRODUCT

Nothing expresses gratitude for your customers’ business like a fanatical effort to deliver a superior product. Examine regular maintenance items. Whether it’s a light that doesn’t blink on a sign in the tunnel, an applicator nozzle that is clogged, or a retracted brush, customers will notice. Worse, they’ll leave feeling short changed, even if their car comes out clean. This isn’t an article about the nuts and bolts of washing a car, but never forget, if a customer does not feel that you passionately care about the quality of your service, they will quickly forget about you.

EVALUATE YOUR TRAINING

Every effort to create a facility, policies, and product that make customers feel your gratitude for their business lessens your reliance on staff to project the right attitude.

That said, at the end of the day, a simple smile from your staff can go a very long way in communicating gratitude.
The other day, waiting in line to checkout at a store, I heard a customer say thank you to the cashier. Hearing the cashier reply, “You’re welcome, have a nice day,” I started to laugh. In a perfectly run business, the cashier would have replied, “No, thank you, we appreciate your business and hope you have a nice day.” Cultivating that level of customer oriented behavior from your staff demands training combined with constant coaching and reinforcement, an endeavor worth pursuing as we enter this New Year.

Washing cars for over 30 years, Anthony Analetto serves as a president of SONNY’S The CarWash Factory, creator of the Original Xtreme-Xpress Mini-Tunnel, and the largest manufacturer of conveyorized car wash equipment, parts, and supplies in the world. He can be reached at Aanaletto@SonnysDirect.com or at (800) 327-8723 ext 104.

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