What a difference a generation can make. I just got a text from my younger cousin Joe standing next to a 700-pound blue-fin tuna. Somewhere in my computer I have a nearly identical picture of his father, my Uncle Joe, standing next to an even more impressive fish weighing in at a whopping 1,080 pounds. Having been on the same run countless times without so much as getting a bite, let alone a monster blue-fin tuna, the picture made me think about the life skills and habits we pass on to our children. Joe next updated me on the outcome of several improvements that he’d made following a conversation we had a few months ago to improve customers’ experience at the old family wash. Car counts were up, revenue was up, and he was beaming with enthusiasm as he texted what he planned next.
Now some of you may recall an article I wrote in this magazine several years back titled “Uncle Joe Syndrome – Don’t Let it Happen to you.” It documented the negative impact of aggressively chasing customers from your property for using services such as free vacuums without washing or paying. Yes, this is the same Uncle Joe. But, although he passed on a talent for fishing to his son, my cousin has instead inherited the enthusiastic confidence of his generation that business success comes from the ability to deliver an engaging experience to customers. Maybe it’s because many of these “Generation Y” kids, or “millennials,” now filling the ranks at your car wash — and increasingly your management team — have never known a world without computers. Perhaps it’s because they’ve grown up watching companies that didn’t exist 10 years ago skyrocket to dominate our minds and wallets based solely on their ability to entertain us online. I won’t pretend to know why, but what I’ve witnessed is that this new generation of workers understands and believes in
the value of delivering a customer experience in a way that would have been completely alien to my Uncle Joe. Rather than butt heads with this new workforce, I have come up with three tactics to cultivate these qualities — let’s take a look.
TACTIC 1: LET THEM DISCOVER
Most of us have built our businesses from the ground up. We love them and care for them, and it’s very easy to convince ourselves that “if you want something done right you have to do it yourself.” That isn’t always true. Technology is evolving at an accelerated pace. New ways of accomplishing old tasks are popping up faster than anyone can keep track of. I remember writing an article only a few years back that detailed how an operator ran out to buy a mobile hotspot to process credit card transactions when a lightning strike took out his automated pay station. Today your phone can be your hotspot and, if you know what you’re doing, at no additional charge. Even better, you can get a free dongle that plugs into any smartphone from one of several competing services to charge cards directly into your bank account. What’s more, before you’ve finished deciding upon a particular technology to use, several better options will already be available.
Whereas this can be frustrating for someone who still remembers how to use a rotary-dial telephone, for a member of Generation Y it’s status quo. Their entire adult life has been spent searching for, demanding, and adopting new technologies to get better results with less effort. Whether it’s social media, web development, customer management software, sign printing, or nearly anything that involves a computer — telling them to “do it this way because I said so” is missing the opportunity. Leverage your Generation Y staff to help you tap into new ways to make it easier for customers to find your wash, affordable ways to connect with you once on your property, and technology to keep them engaged and coming back.
TACTIC 2:DIRECT, DON’T DICTATE
In its purest form, successful management is about inspiring others to do more, not merely telling them what to do. You’ve likely perfected many processes at your wash. You often just need a physical body to perform those tasks. There’s not always a need to reinvent the wheel. Taking an extra minute to let your Generation Y staff know that you are receptive to their ideas for improvement can go a long way, especially with your management team. Point them in the right direction, clearly define the outcome you expect, outline the solutions you’re aware of, and ask them to research the best method to accomplish what you need done. Also, don’t limit them to online research. Sending the right manager, or up-and-coming star, to a tradeshow or to tour other washes in your region, can pay off equally well. I hope any member of Generation Y reading this will forgive me, but I sometimes think of them lovingly — my own children included — as the “as-seen-on-TV” generation.
Give direction, don’t dictate, and watch as they incorporate what they see into something better. I didn’t tell my cousin Joe what he should do; I told him where to go. I didn’t tell him what to look for; I told him to look for things he thought would work at his wash. It’s a subtle but dramatic difference. Empowering generation Y employees to identify solutions to tackle tasks with the least effort and lowest investment can produce phenomenal results. You may as well, because from what I’ve experienced, trying to force this group to do something, without first giving them the opportunity to find an easier way to do it, ends in resistance from them and frustration for you.
TACTIC 3: FOCUS ON TRAINING
Generation Y may have a unique set of skills and expectations, but goals such as finding a way to earn a living by doing something meaningful and interesting span across every generation. Although formal training is fundamental to cultivating higher quality and faster production from any member of your team, it’s more important than ever to also address soft skills with your younger employees. This doesn’t necessarily demand a tremendous amount of time. With my cousin Joe, I simply recommended he read some of my favorite books such as “The One-Minute Manager” and “Raving Fans.” A few weeks later we chatted about those books and I gave him another set to look at. In no time at all he independently transformed how he interacts with his staff, customers, and even vendors. Simple short conversations can be powerful for making any employee feel valued and strengthen ties with your business, but with this generation, it’s an expectation.
Speaking with colleagues struggling to manage the growing number of Generation Y members of their staff, I’ve heard every complaint imaginable. The stereotype that they’re lazy with an unearned sense of entitlement is just that, a stereotype. For years, my Uncle Joe would only call with complaints. He detailed what was wrong and exactly what must be done by everyone to correct it. Years later, his son calls to discuss what’s going right, and to bounce off ideas to make things even better. Sure, you may have to update your management style to get the most out of this young workforce, but isn’t that what progress is all about?
Good luck and good washing.
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.comor at (800) 327-8723 ext. 104.