Working in the retail industry can bring some rough days and tough moments. And when you’re dealing with people’s vehicles and damage claims or accusations the level of pressure and intensity in customer interactions can be just that much higher.

Experienced car wash operators know that even if they take outstanding care of their equipment and evaluate incoming vehicles religiously for potential hazards, situations still eventually crop up.

Such as?

  • Perhaps a vehicle has stubborn stains or is dirty to the point that one wash, or even repeated re-washes, can’t get certain surfaces or zones completely clean.
  • Sometimes a customer spots pre-existing damage on their vehicle that they hadn’t noticed before, damage completely out of line wash’s motion and operation, but they blame the car wash reflexively.
  • Antennas and wiper blades can often be pulled off, especially on certain vehicles, if the customer declines a wiper bag, or if the component is already damaged or fatigued.
  • Perhaps there may be a technical issue with the point of sale or a miscommunication at the cashier window. And reoccurring payments charged as part of a club subscription can be a common friction point if the customer didn’t read or properly understand the terms of the subscription.
  • And, unfortunately, there may be those occasional situations where car wash tunnels experience genuine faults.  

Committing to Excellence

In these moments when customers are angry, frustrated, and venting all those ill-feelings at you or your team, it can be tempting to respond in kind or to simply give in to your own stress, frustration, and
annoyance. But, of course, this is not the answer. Instead, focus on deescalating the confrontation using the following game plan.

1. Stay Calm

Focus on taking strong, deep breaths and not giving in to what could be a very strong fight or flight, adrenaline-fueled response. Escalation will only cause emotions to rise at the expense of rational thought,
damaging your brand and further poison the experience you’re trying to resolve.

2. Listen

Maybe you know exactly what happened. Maybe you have a game plan or procedure in place to deal with the issue. Maybe other customers are waiting for you. But if the customer with the compliant doesn’t feel that they are being heard, none of that will matter. Sometimes venting, talking, and getting it off their chest is all a customer needs to feel validated and reclaim an element of control in a stressful situation.

3. Model Respect and Dignity

Ultimately you have no idea what a customer is going through, or what struggles or stresses might be at play behind the scenes.

Maybe they are overacting to the situation because they have another need or something else weighing on them. Maybe not. Vehicles are major investments that are worth caring for and protecting, and treating all customers who entrust you with those vehicles with respect and care, regardless of their attitude or demeanor, should be a fundamental value at work in your car wash organization.

4. Don’t Make Demands

Car washes are full of heavy machinery and moving vehicles, and if you have to take any action to remove a customer from a potentially dangerous location, do it. The same goes for interactions where employees are being physically or verbally threatened or demeaned. Safety is a priority and overrides all other concerns.

But once a safe environment is established, don’t give orders and stop making demands. Attempting to tell someone who is upset to calm down or be quiet or just listen will only make them feel steamrolled, ignored, and disrespected.

5. Avoid Triggers

Other potentially disrespectful or patronizing actions or attitudes to avoid include smiling, making jokes, saying ‘I understand’, getting defensive, arguing, raising your own voice, speaking too quickly, entering
their personal space, or touching them in any way.

6. Outline the Procedure, Limits, and Boundaries

The customer has said their piece and possibly tired themselves out a bit. They haven’t been patronized, insulted, or demeaned. They finally want to know what you’re going to do for them.

Hopefully your car wash has a very specific procedure for dealing with damage claims. Give the customer this info along with documentation and let them know the timeframe involved. Avoid saying that you
will solve the issue or making any guarantees, and instead give them clear steps, limits, boundaries, and timelines for resolving the situation.

7. Document Everything

As soon as the customer leaves, document the interaction along with times, dates, bullet point summaries, impressions, and a thorough description of the initial situation. Good notes can be critical for providing good follow-up, or even defending yourself or your facility if the customer were to pursue legal action.

8. Debrief

Maybe the customer engaged one of your younger team members first. Maybe the interaction went on for the better part of an hour. Maybe it took a busy day and turned it into a nightmare.

Take time to debrief following difficult interactions and provide the proper care for you and your employees. Burn out is a serious issue in management and retail positions and your own emotional needs and well-being should never be ignored.

9. Handle the Digital Fallout

Given the countless digital spaces that any retail operates in in 2020, a disgruntled customer can rapidly broadcast their perspective (fair or not) to thousands of your biggest fans and future potential customers
in the form of reviews and posts.

Just as with physical interactions it is incredibly important that these complaints be dealt with properly, in a reserved and professional manner. Avoid sharing details or digging in to back and forth arguments as these will generally paint the business owner in a bad light, and instead apologize for the fact that they did not have a good experience, reiterate your commitment to being a reliable and positive service in the community, and invite them to reach out to you directly to discuss the situation.

Even if they never take you up on it, or if they take the opportunity to simply yell some more, the simple act of reaching out with tact and humility can take a negative review and turn it into a powerful demonstration of your organization’s heart.

Tommy’s Express: Bringing It All Together

The Tommy’s Express franchise operates a uniquely modern, performance-focused family of car washes based on the Tommy Car Wash Systems building design and equipment package. All independent Tommy’s Express operators benefit from national brand recognition, hands-on operations training, national marketing campaigns, reputation management services, and proprietary franchise-exclusive technology and services.

For more information please visit the Tommy’s Express franchising page.

Tommy Car Wash Systems