Customer service is the direct one-on-one interaction between a consumer making a purchase and a representative of the company that is selling it.

Most retailers see this interaction as a critical factor in ensuring buyer satisfaction and encouraging repeat business.

Historically, customer service in the car wash industry was the domain of full-service conveyor facilities and detail shops both of which offer assisted-services.

The customer service function encompassed meet and greet, take order and up-sell, pay host, make car ready, and kiss off.

Here, “make car ready” meant preparing each vehicle before the wash (quality assurance) and quality control where “kiss off” meant ensuring that each and every customer got what they paid for, that the quality was to their liking, and thanking each customer with an invitation to return again.

In the past, some folks would refer to this as the red-carpet treatment.

However, this was back when customer service excellence meant serving with the heart of a servant.

Today it’s a different story.

For the last 10 years, the industry has been converging on exterior-only car washing including the express exterior business model and, to a lesser degree, in-bay automatics. As a result, this convergence has transformed the customer service function.

Today, meet and greet, take order, up-sell, and payment have been automated through the use of self-pay stations with pre-recorded audio and video prompts.

Quality assurance has been reduced to smiling attendants manning the tunnel entrance and surveillance cameras as substitute for observing each vehicle. Instead of the kiss off, quality control includes a tunnel exit sign while customers must inspect the wash quality of their own vehicle.

In fact, one of the questions we most often receive from express and self-service operators is what can they do to add a little more of a personal touch to the business. This is problematic because these types of washes are designed for few employees.

An alternative to adding staff would be to focus on a customer self-service model. Customer self-service is support that allows customers to use technology to access information and perform routine tasks without requiring service representatives.

Most common types of customer self-service include frequently asked questions (FAQ), knowledge base, and online discussion forums. Reportedly, 70 percent of customers now expect a company’s website to include a self-service application. Seventy three percent of customers prefer to use a company’s website instead of using social media, text, and live chat for support.

The first step in adopting a customer self-service model is to create a self-service portal — a collection of self-help functions that are open to customers and accessible through a company’s website. The portal serves as the first line of support and empowers customers to find information, request services, and resolve their issues.

Pundits opine that customers actually prefer customer self-service to other forms of support. However, a self-service portal must be easy to use. For example, knowledge base and FAQ need to be easily accessible, kept up to date, and made available through the use of images and videos. The portal needs to be well organized by tagging pages so that search engine results return the most accurate answers.

And finally, all content within the portal must be optimized for desktop, tablet, and mobile users.

When self-service support is done right, it allows the customer to find information quickly, can reduce the number of calls or e-mails received, and leads to a better customer experience.

Bob Roman is president of RJR Enterprises — Consulting Services ( You can reach Bob via e-mail at