Put the Brakes on Carwash Damage Claims

No carwash is totally immune to customer damage claims, but with proper planning and a program in place, those claims can be kept to a minimum. Brad Hooper, a California tunnel operator and owner of Rossmoor Car Wash and Detail Center, says there are several ways to stop damage claims in their tracks.

1. The Theory

When a customer says his vehicle was damaged by your carwash, take him into the tunnel and ask him to come up with a theory as to how it happened. Show him how the equipment works. Hooper says most of the damage claims stop at this point, once the customer realizes the equipment could not have done the damage.

2. Cameras

Every carwash should have a digital camera system in place. If a customer claims your carwash damaged his car, a camera can show that the damage was there before the carwash. Cameras won’t show everything, but they can stop some ridiculous damage claims in their tracks. Hooper also suggests that operators come up with a form of “sign language” so employees who see scratches or small dents when a car arrives can point to the damage in full view of the cameras — indicating there is some type of damage on a particular part of the car. If an issue comes up later, that might help the carwash prevent a phony damage claim.

Operators should also decide if the cameras will be focused to show detail or to show the big picture. Hooper suggests focusing on the big picture, since a lot can be missed if the camera is focused too tightly. Hooper adds that just the existence of cameras can stop people from making damage claims in the first place.

3. Signage/Disclaimer

In addition to carwash signage, make sure there are disclaimers regarding vehicle damage on your customer receipts. Let them know that automatic antennas can break in the wash, etc. This can’t shield you from all claims, but it can offer some protection.

4. People

Operators need to have the right people in place to handle damage claims when they do occur. While this person may be your general manager, it doesn’t have to be. Whoever handles customers in this situation must be good in dealing with people.

“I had a general manager who was great at everything except talking with customers about damage claims,” says Hooper. “It turned out my assistant manager was great with people, so I made him the point man on damage claims.”

5. Role Playing

Hooper suggests that operators use rainy days to have role-playing sessions with employees. Have one employee pretend to be an irate customer, and have someone else handle that customer. Make sure they know what to say and what not to say.

6. Listen to the Customer

It sounds simple, but this is crucial to keeping the customer calm. Watch your nonverbal signals, too. One word of advice: Never tell a customer to “calm down.” This phrase will only anger him more, Hooper says. Instead, say something like, “I understand you are angry, Mr. Kelly.” That way the customer knows you are listening to him.

The customer also needs to be treated with respect. While some people are “out to get” a carwash, the majority of customers who make damage claims honestly believe their cars were damaged at your wash. After all, many of them have probably not looked closely at their vehicles in months. Other cars arrive at the carwash so dirty that any scratches or dents that were already there don’t become visible until after it’s clean.

7. Move the Angry Customer

Some customers will begin yelling and discrediting the carwash after finding damage. Remove that customer from the area immediately so other customers don’t hear what he’s saying. Removing him will not only calm him