By Bobby Willis
Now is the time to take your customer service to the next level. Many carwash operators have cut back on their marketing budgets due to slow or declining sales, but I have spoken with others who continue to look for smart ways to increase sales. Some operators don’t realize they can increase their sales by giving their existing customers the “Red Carpet” treatment.
There is no better time than the present to evaluate how you treat your customers and find new ways to go above and beyond their expectations. Put on your thinking cap and start thinking outside of the box for new ways to enhance your existing customer service plan.
For starters, put yourself in your customers’ shoes. If you had an issue, how would you want it handled? Assuming you are like most customers, you understand that problems occur but you want the problem resolved as quickly as possible with a fair outcome.
I have attended several customer service seminars and training programs, and the one example that sticks out most in my mind is the customer service strategy used by The Ritz-Carlton. The Ritz is a premium brand, and the company prides itself on customer service. The company recognizes it charges more for services, but it also believes its customers continue to stay at The Ritz hotels because of their high level of customer service that goes above and beyond customer expectations. The Ritz’s attention to detail is second to none.
The Ritz-Carlton chain understands its biggest asset is its employees. It spends a great deal of money training employees how to interact with customers. The company empowers its staff to deal with customer service issues and find the best solution for each situation. There are no predefined “must do’s.”
Here is an example of how a problem was handled at The Ritz-Carlton Chicago:
A guest was swimming in the pool and asked one of the pool attendants if he would bring him a hot sandwich with fries. The pool attendant normally didn’t take orders for food from guests, but he replied, “Yes sir. No problem. I will get that right out to you.”
The pool attendant took a break from his duties and went to the kitchen to place the order for the customer. He waited patiently for the sandwich to be completed and then delivered the order to the customer’s table.
Meanwhile, the customer continued to swim in the pool. After 10 minutes, the customer got out of the pool and went to his table. He flagged down the pool attendant, told him the sandwich and fries were cold, and asked the attendant to take the order back to the kitchen and bring him another.
This is where most employees would have lost it and told the customer what he could do with his sandwich.
Instead, the pool attendant handled it The Ritz-Carlton way. He didn’t get angry. He said simply, “No problem, sir. I will gladly do that for you, and because of your inconvenience, you do not have to pay for your sandwich today. It is on me.”
Wow! That is great customer service! But, it gets better.
The customer enjoyed his sandwich and continued to lounge by the pool. When he returned to his room, he was surprised by what he found. In the entry way was a nice display of cheeses, a bottle of champagne and a note that said, “Sorry for the inconvenience with your lunch at the pool today. Please accept the cheese platter and champagne as a token of appreciation for being such a valued customer.”
Keep in mind, this customer wasn’t a movie or sports star. He was a businessman who was in town for meetings. Do you think The Ritz-Carlton exceeded his expectations for customer service? What type of reputation do you think you would develop if you offered this level of service at your carwash?
Exceeding expectations creates value for your customers. The expectations you exceed today become opportunities for tomorrow.
Why should you care what your customers think and say? It costs six to eight times more to get a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. Did you know that when customers have a bad experience, if the situation isn’t handled to their satisfaction, they typically will tell 10 people about their negative experience?
Keep your customers happy. Following are 12 tips to help boost your customer service plan:
1. First, evaluate how you are treating your employees. Are they satisfied with their jobs? One disgruntled employee can easily run off dozens of customers. Find out if you have an employee problem and fix it.
2. Be reliable. Reliability arises from consistent follow-through and execution. Set a standard for service and product quality.
3. Be credible. Do what you say you are going to do.
4. Be responsive. Share your customer’s pain.
5. Keep your employees in the “company loop.” Let them know what is going on internally. This will make them feel like important, valued insiders. Talk to them often and get their feedback on your customer service plan. Remember that employees are internal customers, and earning their loyalty is important.
6. Empower your employees to make decisions on the spot. Give them the authority to resolve issues without having to call you or a supervisor.
7. Embrace change and reward innovation. Ask and act on advice from your frontline employees; most of the time they are the only interaction your customers have with your carwash.
8. Explain to employees the value of each customer. It seems trivial, but I have seen employees who work on tasks at hand and are completely oblivious to the customers around them.
9. Recognize and reward your employees for delivering outstanding customer service. Encourage employee-to-employee recognition for customer service. This is a great morale builder.
10. Constantly seek innovation. Ask everyone what they would do to make the wash process better. Having several viewpoints will help your offer the best solutions.
11. Seek and act on customer feedback. Rather than have customers fill out a survey, talk with them and let them tell you what they think of your business. Ask them what changes or additional services they would like to see at your location. Empower your customers.
12. Make your customers feel important. Have customer appreciation days, offer goodies and thank them for their business.
There is no better time than now for you to evaluate and revamp your customer service plan. If issues are being overlooked, you are potentially losing valued customers.
Good customer service is essential to the survival of any business. Exceptional customer service will make you standout in the crowd. Start out by treating your internal customers (employees) well, keep them in the “company loop,” and then let them do what it takes to send each customer away happy. Your bottom line will thank you for it. Wash on!
Bobby Willis has been in the carwash industry for 15 years. He currently owns Cool Wave Carwashes in Virginia and Wash Consultants LLC , a carwash consulting firm. He speaks often at regional and national trade shows on carwash marketing and site selection. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .