Past Issue

Assume You’re Wrong — Always Seek the Opinion of Others

By Anthony Analetto


The fact that we see our businesses through our own eyes often wreaks havoc on our potential growth. Sometimes we waste valuable resources fixing problems that don’t exist. Other times we are defensive about complaints we hear. Too often, we fail to see issues through the customer’s eyes. I’ll openly admit guilt to all three; I’m human. Instead of pretending immunity to this natural tendency, I’ve discovered it’s more productive to develop habits, and processes, to keep it from harming my business.

The habit to form is simple: always seek the opinion of others before making assumptions. The process is even easier: ask them. Creating a customer survey is the first step and, unfortunately, that is where I’ve seen many operators drop the ball. Don’t complicate it. In reality there are only two questions to ask. First, “how likely are you to recommend our car wash to your friends?” Second, “what did we do that caused you to answer the way you did in question #1?” That’s it. In the past I used to provide a box for yes, no, and maybe but discovered that the 1-10 scale delivers greater insight. You can safely assume that scores of 9 and 10 are promoting your business. Scores of 0 to 8 are detracting from your potential, possibly telling others to stay away from your wash. If you have more detractors than promoters, you have an urgent problem. Assume customers are seeing something you have failed to notice.


Walking up to customers, thanking them for visiting your wash and handing them a survey to complete and drop in a box can work, but results can be misleading. Your personal attention may influence their responses. Unless you plan to greet and thank every customer, this isn’t going to uncover issues seen from a customer perspective that could be harming your business. Online surveys work best in my experience. First and foremost, your website must prominently feature an online survey. Years of experience have shown me that two types of people tend to fill these out: customers with experiences so bad they want to strike out, and those with such a positive experience (usually with a staff member), that they want to offer recognition. That means without an active effort to promote your survey, you end up with a pile of 10s and zeros, but little in between. Uncovering less obvious issues harming your repeat business requires getting a broader section of your market to participate in the survey.

My favorite tool is e-mail. It’s cheap, easy, and — provided you’ve had a subscription box on your website for the last couple of years — the average wash has several thousand coupon subscribers. When sending out an e-mail inviting customers to take a survey on their wash experience there are a couple of basic rules. Make the survey simple; the two questions I mentioned above are all you really need. Personalize the invitation if possible. “Dear Mr. Doe” beats “Dear Customer” hands down. Keep the e-mail short; let them know it’s only two questions that will take a few seconds to answer and help you to serve them better. Be clear about privacy; let them know that the survey is anonymous and confidential. Consider offering an incentive; most survey software can send an automatic response, let them know that if they provide their e-mail, it’s still confidential, but you’ll send them a coupon for a few dollars off their next wash. For those that have more social media followers than e-mail subscribers, that’s an equally strong option, and the same rules apply. Lastly, if you don’t have a strong e-mail or follower base, good old fashioned printing and handing out to customers at the wash works too.


Few of us are going to contract a firm to secretly visit our wash and give us their objective opinion. Does that mean you should skip this section? Absolutely not. Many of us are giving out discounted wash services to friends, local police, or other organizations. Make them earn that concession. Send a survey with their next account statement and ask that them to fill it out. If nothing else, ask your spouse or other family members, if not active employees at the wash, to go through secretly and take your survey — just be prepared for their responses.


Problems uncovered in surveys fall into two categories: isolated and pervasive. Unfortunately, the tendency is to treat customer complaints as isolated occurrences. Meaning, you get a customer complaint from an online survey and immediately try to remedy the problem for that customer. Usually, the person who took the time to complain is already angry. It’s easy to justify the conclusion that the problem lies with that customer. Avoid this pitfall. Whenever you get one complaint, assume that there were 100 other customers with an identical issue that didn’t bother to tell you. Instead, they took their business to a competitor. That said, here are the key areas, when mentioned in a survey, that are likely to be pervasive issues that you must address:

Greeter Complaints
What I’m about to say applies whether you use an automated attendant, or a human greeter. Treat with dire concern any hint you receive in a survey that a customer struggled to select or purchase a wash or believe they didn’t receive the service paid for. Designing wash packages, menus, and purchase confirmation signage is an art form. What you may think is clear and compelling, could be confusing your customers. If you receive a complaint, take a step back. Start by analyzing cues that create trust. If using an automated attendant, is it clean, with nice graphics, and easy to understand prompts? If using a greeter, are they well trained, wearing clean uniforms, and smiling at customers? Fail to address these complaints and you’ll forever struggle.

Free Vacuum Complaints
If it’s no good but it’s free, it’s still no good. Keep on top of maintenance — both vacuum performance, and facility appearance. Don’t wait for hoses and nozzles to completely wear out before replacement. Pressure-clean trash receptacles to ensure there are no noxious odors. No customer will be satisfied picking up a dirty hose, or looking at trash, even if it’s free.

Foam Still on the Car Complaints
There’s no excuse for this with the technology available today. Get with your chemical supplier to test your water and optimize the chemistry for optimal performance. Get with your equipment supplier to add — or more often adjust — the placement and type of your rinse equipment. Selling a foam wax service that you can’t reliably rinse off is like nailing your feet to the ground.

Dirty Wheel Complaints
Equipment and chemistry are readily available to produce a good, clean wheel on a basic wash. Few customers purchasing a car wash consider this an “extra” service relegated to the top package. Fail to deliver, and chances are the customer complaining in your survey isn’t the only one who will switch to a competitor.

Drying Complaints
Getting a dry car demands balancing water quality, chemistry, temperature, and chain speed with the type, placement, and horsepower of your blowers. This is not a “set and forget” part of your wash process. Customer complaints are often a cue that something has changed and must be addressed immediately.

I won’t delve into solutions related to wash quality complaints seeing as they are specific to each location. Getting one from a customer should be enough to inspire any car wash operator to action. In a perfect world, each of us would automatically see and anticipate potential issues that could alienate customers. In the meantime, I’ll put my trust into developing the habits and procedures that make it easier for my customers to tell me how to serve them better.

Good luck, and good washing.

Washing cars for over 30 years, Anthony Analetto serves as 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 or at (800) 327-8723 ext. 104.


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