Are You Strong Enough To Be A Car Wash Business Owner?

One of the biggest internal struggles I have as a car wash owner is the quality that my car wash turns out. When I get a customer complaint it gives me a knot in my stomach and is very emotionally disheartening. Over the past eight years since opening my first wash, I have become better with dealing with customer complaints. If you are a lousy car wash owner, customer complaints will not bother you and you’ll probably get a lot of them. If you are are a good car wash owner, complaint will make you crazy and you will only get a few each year.

Now, with that said, I feel confident that I am putting out a good product 98% of the time but touchless car washing creates additional challenges for a car wash owner. There is a trade-off for car wash owners that have branded themselves as “touchless” or “touchfree”. Most of my quality complaints come from customers who rarely wash their cars… anywhere! Even if a customer washes their car 4 times a year, there is 90 days worth of dirt and baked on road film that needs to be removed for the car to come out with an acceptable result. Much of this oil and dirt probably would not be removed with a good hand wash or a full service friction wash. If this customer has high expectations for the quality of his or her car wash, they will be disappointed, more realistic customers realize that the limitations of touchless car washing and will be happy to get the car back to a more acceptable appearance and not expect it to look like it just rolled out of the local detail shop.

So, after 8 years, how do I deal with a customer complaint about quality? (keep in mind that I own an unattended car wash with 2 in-bay automatic bays, with many of these complaints being handled via a cell phone conversations)

  1. I empathize with them completely! “Mr Jones, I completely understand, if I just spent $10 on a wash and it didn’t look good I would be upset too!”
  2. Ask for some additional information so you know what your dealing with. “Mr. Jones can I ask you a few questions to help me improve the quality of my wash?”
  3. Get the following information:
  • What year is the vehicle?
  • What color is it?
  • How often do you wash the vehicle?

My experience has been that most of my complaints come from older vehicles (5+ years old) that have dark blue or black paint and usually from customers who do not wash their vehicles very often. That does not mean that you do not have to deal with the complaints. More recently, I have been running up to my wash to see the vehicle if the customer is willing to wait a few minutes for me to get there. Seeing it first hand can give you a better idea of the original condition of the vehicle right away. Older cars start using their clear coats and darker cars show every imperfection. If the customer describes that he has a late model vehicle and that he washes it all the time I will begin investigating if there is chemical problem or possibly something else that could be causing me to have cleaning problems. I typically only get between 10-15 cleaning complaints a year and many of these complaints come from when I test new pre-soaks.

One of the funniest quotes I can remember is from my ex-partner who had one of his friends use our brand new million dollar wash and complain that it did not do a good job on his wife’s ten year old Suburu. He told his friend, “You can’t polish a turd”. When I heard this I almost fell off my chair laughing but also knew that this was not the greatest business practice. Now when I get a complaint, I typically explain to my customer’s that touchless car washing has some limitations and that it cannot always take the road film and other grime that a good hand washing or a full detail will provide. I also offer them a code for another wash for that day or a future date. In most cases these customer’s are satisfied that their complaint was handled quickly (I answer the complaint immediately) and professionally. I also reinforce the advantages of touchless car washing, mainly no brushes creating micro scratches and the 8 year’s that my car wash has had free from damage claims that friction washes cause.



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