I believe the problem starts for most of us in kindergarten. First we’re taught the story of the tortoise and the hare — learning that thoughtful actions and persistence will win the day, and slow and steady wins the race. As our schooling progresses, we’re taught that the early bird catches the worm, success comes from doing things in leaps and bounds, and somewhere along the line, we learn to trust our gut instinct.
Decades later we, as owners and managers, try to create and execute conscientious plans under time pressure, making rapid-fire decisions in order to get things done more quickly. The truth is, making gut decisions and looking a person in the eye to judge their character are great time savers, and often produce good results, except when they don’t. For everyone reading this, myself included, brave enough to admit to at least one time that a rapid-fire, gut decision came back to bite them, I’d like to propose an alternative: slowing down to move fast. Also known as “actively noticing things,” it’s a sound practice in many areas of your business, but none as profound as in the hiring and training of staff. Let’s take a look.
Whether you’re a full-serve or an express-exterior wash, building and maintaining a competent and motivated crew is the cornerstone of wash consistency, facility appearance, and customer experience. When your staff gets it right, you increase customer satisfaction and retention. When your staff gets it wrong, even with a single customer, it spreads like a cancer that can destroy your business. A guide-on attendant that scowls, or litter in the parking lot when you’re not on-site at your express exterior is as detrimental as rude staff at your full serve. Unfortunately, training alone isn’t the great cure-all. Developing a loyal team to grow your business starts with hiring staff that are honest and trainable. Whether you’re looking to develop a regional brand, or run a single store, you need to create a process to attract, screen, select, and train qualified people for each position at your wash. Relying on gut decisions to hire whoever happens to walk in when you need extra help will wreak havoc on your success. Actively noticing how you hire staff requires stepping back. It requires a written process and a set of procedures that are put in place. Your finished recruitment process may look different than mine, but it should address each of the following areas.
Define What Qualified Means for Each Position
I know some express operators who basically find a manager who has car wash experience, who then hires a combination of full-, part-time, and temporary staff to help them. I know others who have slowed down, created an organization chart and job description for each position, and hired to fill each opening. They may both end up with a team of six to eight people, but that’s where the similarities end. The first operator’s business is run by personalities with operational consistency changing with each turnover. The second is run by process, delivering a consistent wash quality and customer experience.
You can’t hire a qualified candidate if you haven’t stepped back and defined what that means in terms of the work-related aspects of each position. Managers must have a different written job description than a customer service attendant (CSA). Part-time CSAs must have a different job description than a full-time CSA. Your organization chart determines how many of each position you need to deliver the customer satisfaction standard you’ve defined. I’ve mentioned customer service and satisfaction repeatedly because references to those skills should appear in every job description, which should be signed by each new hire before starting. Feel free to customize the wording, but a phrase like “Must have an outgoing personality and interact positively with customers to ensure an enjoyable experience,” can go a long way in hiring qualified staff. If you can’t pull out a file containing a signed job description for every employee on your site with a phrase along those lines, then I’d suggest slowing down to move faster.
Create a Recruitment Process
Now that you’ve defined what a qualified candidate looks like on your property, it’s time to develop a process to attract, screen, and select them. Actively noticing your site and adjusting your organization chart to accommodate changes means you should never be scrambling to find a warm body just to keep the tunnel open. Start internally. When a position opens, post the job description and actively ask your staff for referrals. For external applicants, start with the database you’ve built of walk-in and online applications. When I say database, I don’t mean a pile of printed applications you keep in your drawer. I mean that whenever someone stops in asking for a job, you give them an application and ask that they fill it out and e-mail it back to you. They may not have a scanner, so let them know that a picture from their cell-phone (which nearly every applicant has) of the completed application is sufficient. Keep all those e-mails that meet your requirements in a separate folder and forward job openings when available to those e-mail addresses. I know some operators that do this through an online form on their website which organizes job seekers in a separate list. When they have a job opening, they send one e-mail to the list, which has a big button telling recipients to forward to a friend and promote openings on social media. If you don’t have an ongoing process to actively recruit potential employees, I’d recommend stepping back and developing a process for this part of your business.
Create a Selection and On-Boarding Process
This is by far the hardest process to stick with. Once you identify the best candidate, it’s only natural that you want to train them on the tasks they need to do and get them to work immediately. When you hear the term on-boarding — which relates to teaching newly hired employees the values and behavioral expectations of an organization, before technical training — images of some Silicon Valley startup may pop in your mind. If you’re surprised to learn that several car wash chains have formal on-boarding processes including training sessions, videos, and testing related solely to understanding the customer service culture or expectations or their operation, don’t be; it’s becoming common. If you’re not training new staff that they work for your customers, and define how they must dress, smile, and communicate with them, take my advice, take a step back, and make this a priority of your business.
STEP FURTHER BACK
I’m out of space, but the list of things to actively notice at your car wash continues beyond staffing. What if you stepped back and took some time to see your wash from your customers’ perspective — would you be a raving fan? What if you slowed down and monitored all the preventive maintenance procedures and policies you had in place — could you eliminate any unscheduled repairs? What if you carefully planned the grand opening of your next wash to coincide with the busy season in your market — would the carrying costs on the loan be less than the labor costs while you waited for the volume? What if you stopped what you were doing for an entire day and contemplated your marketing, your competition, or something as simple as your conveyor speed? While everyone prizes rushing in our world, sometimes it really pays off to slow down and assess situations first.
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 Aanaletto@SonnysDirect.com or at (800) 327-8723 ext. 104.