First, I’d like to disclose that I’m no digital marketing expert. I’m just a car wash guy who realized years ago that I need to know just enough about this stuff to keep it from tanking my business. It’s no secret that a single negative online review can be a nasty deterrent that keeps potential customers from even visiting you — possibly countering the hundreds (or thousands) of hard-earned dollars that you’ve invested towards marketing your car wash business.

What’s alarming is how many car wash business operators seem to think that simply delivering a quality wash with friendly service is enough to satisfy rogue customers. Unfortunately, lukewarm or even negative online reviews can happen even when you’ve done nothing wrong. From time to time, some customers — for reasons unknown — will attempt to inflict unnecessary damage upon your business out of spite. One of my colleagues refers to these rogue customers as “keyboard cowboys,” and, when left to their own devices, they can certainly wreak havoc.

Unfortunately, most car wash businesses have at least a few poor reviews regardless of their level of service. In this article, we’ll discuss a few ways to deal with existing reviews. However, it’s important to understand that prevention is the best medicine when dealing with these notorious keyboard cowboys.

Here are four tips for keeping your car wash’s online reputation clean and shiny:

Tip #1: Make it Easier to Complain… but in the Right Places

Years ago, a car wash might have posted a sign stating: “If you’re unhappy, tell us; if you’re happy, tell others!” This concept isn’t dead, it just needs to evolve in order to meet the way people share information today. Ignoring online reviews can spell disaster for your business because a rogue customer’s voice goes well beyond their family and friends today: their opinion is visible to just about anybody online.

If you’re thinking, “I’ve put a survey on my website, so I’m all set,” think again. Placing a survey on your website in the hopes that a disgruntled customer will stop there won’t cut it. Social media and directory companies are hungry for content and, unless you’ve sorted out how to turn these features off, will continuously request feedback.

As a business owner, your job is to make it easier for angry customers to voice their opinions directly to you, allowing you to rectify or resolve their complaints before they post elsewhere. With any luck, you might even turn these customers into promoters rather than detractors. This is an increasingly difficult task — but it’s not impossible.

But how do you capture these detractors? First, let’s try a practical exercise. Take out your wallet, purse, or wherever you like to place your receipts. Examine a few of them. Do you notice a trend? Many places you’ve visited have already solicited your feedback. Some even offer a reward in the form of a contest entry. This is a smart move for two reasons: First, an angry customer may decide to leave feedback with you, cool off, and move on. Secondly, it alerts you to customer feedback and allows you to address the problem(s) before they recur.

There are many vendors that offer pooled survey contests for small local businesses. Just search “survey local customers online” and you’ll find numerous services available. Some even provide the promotional signage, online forms, and manage prize fulfillment for a reasonable monthly fee.

Tip #2: Drown out the Bad Eggs with Good Reviews

Think about your customer’s thought process: how much weight will they give to one poor review that’s written hastily in all caps if there are 10 good ones, each outlining their positive experience at your wash?

First, make sure that you’ve claimed business ownership through services such as Google MyBusiness, Yelp for Business, Angie’s List Businesses, and Facebook. This will ensure that your business listing doesn’t get automatically generated after a customer leaves a single review, and allows you to connect with customers by posting owner responses, up-to-date information (preventing the “their hours were wrong/they weren’t open” reviews), and more. Once you’re set up, don’t be afraid to solicit reviews — just remember not to make any offers in return. A simple sign on your free vacuum post or at a tip box stating, “We hope we earned a good review” followed by icons of the networks/sites you’re on can go a long way towards encouraging more positive reviews.

Tip #3: Respond to (Almost) Every Review

Now that you’ve claimed your business properties online and you’re actively monitoring reviews, it’s time to respond to customers and show everyone that you care about earning their business.

Responding to positive reviews allows you to understand what motivates your customers to continue washing with you, and demonstrates that you’re willing to take the time to acknowledge your customers. It helps build a sense of community between you and your customers. I’m no marketing expert, so I won’t attempt to tell you what to say — just be brief and let them know how much you appreciate their feedback.

Now for the hard part: how to manage bad reviews. If, for example, the customer is a monthly wash member, you might have their contact information handy. Reach out to the customer offline and attempt to resolve the issue. Let them know that you saw the review, but don’t attempt to get them to remove or change it. You never know — if you resolve their problem, they might update it on their own.

If you’re dealing with an anonymous or unknown customer, respond in a caring and professional manner. Offer your contact information and either a way to resolve the problem or, if no problem exists, explain any source of confusion. If you believe that the review is fake or illegitimate, don’t be afraid to flag it.

An important caveat: If a review cites any legal issues (e.g., theft, damage reports, etc.), it’s best to consult an attorney before responding or attempting to remove the review. Seek professional legal advice before dealing with these customers in a public forum.

Tip #4: What Happens at the Wash Stays at the Wash

Oddly enough, what prompted this article was not a negative online review. A car wash owner recently brought me a newsletter from a month-to-month legal defense service that he subscribes to. Ironically, the company sent him an e-mail with the subject line, “Victim at Car Wash Gets $780.” It wasn’t his wash: some other car wash denied a customer claim saying the damage was pre-existing, but one call from the service’s lawyer got it paid on the spot. This terrifying story highlights the fact that the tools available for a keyboard cowboy to lash out at your business are evolving at an alarming rate.

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 or at (800) 327-8723 ext. 104.