It’s alarming how many times a day each of us is bombarded with reviewing some product or service online. It’s equally troubling how we have settled into a common understanding that five stars mean something is good and anything less is bad.

            Most alarming is how many car wash business owner-operators seem to think that delivering a quality wash with friendly service is enough to garner positive online reviews.

            Every review that’s less than five stars is hurting your business. It can happen even when you have done nothing wrong. Maybe the customer missed the memo that a 4-star review means your service sucks to a prospective customer searching for where to get their car washed. Occasionally, some customers — for reasons unknown — will even attempt to inflict unnecessary damage with a one-star review.

            Ignoring online reviews can spell disaster for your business. A single rogue customer’s voice goes well beyond their family and friends. Today, their opinion is actively pushed upon everyone searching for your service.

Build a 5-Star Force Field

            The magic number I’ve found to reach a critical mass of 5-star reviews is 100. Maybe it’s herd mentality, but in my experience, once you have more than 100 5-star reviews and an average of more than 4.5, future reviewers seem more inclined to click that 5th star. And when you get that random 1-star review, it does not pull down your overall rating too far because it’s tugging on the 100-plus 5-star reviews.

            There is no shame in doing everything necessary to pass the critical mass of 100 or more 5-star reviews. Don’t hesitate to give friends and family coupons for a complimentary wash, and of course, let them know how much you’d appreciate their 5-star review.

            Once you clear that hurdle, you can breathe a sigh of relief and relax a bit. Until you do, however, it must be the mission of everyone on your team to get there.

Look Them in the Eye

            In the vacuum area, you and your team must ask customers straight up, “Did you have a 5-star experience today?” If not, find out why, solve the problem, rewash, free wash, and do whatever it takes to make that customer a raving fan.

            If they reply that they had a 5-star experience, practice and train your staff to recite your version of this basic script: “Thank you, our business depends on reviews. Would you mind taking 20 seconds to scan this QR code and tell Google what you think about us?”

            A few customers will whip out their phone, scan that QR code you’re holding, and give you their 5-star review on the spot. Most won’t, so be prepared to make it easy for them to do so. I recommend printing a double-sided business card.

            The front side is bright green, says, “I had a 5-star experience,” and features a QR code that links directly to leave you a public review.

            The back side is red and says I had a 4-star or less experience today, with a QR code that links to e-mail your manager, just in case they weren’t honestly happy.

            It’s essential to do this in person. Put up a sign on a vacuum post with a QR code linking to your public review platform, and you’ll just make it easier for dissatisfied customers to trash your service online.

Measure and Recognize Success

            Put up a scoreboard to track how many reviews you get each day. Track progress and discuss resolutions for any issues a customer may post. Recognize accomplishments. Reward anyone that gets a positive mention from a customer in a review with public praise or some other gesture that recognizes the value they contributed.

Respond to Every Review

            From Google’s viewpoint, businesses that respond to customers quickly are more engaged and deliver a better experience. It’s a component of how Google ranks businesses and can help shuffle your wash to the top of their results. Responding also helps build a sense of community between you and your customers by demonstrating that you value their feedback.

            Signup for a software service to help monitor your business reviews on all platforms in one place — track keywords such as dirty, damage, scratch, vacuums, and trash. Pick a monitoring service that uses AI algorithms to spot and alert you of potential issues so that you can address them before they become bigger problems.

Managing Bad Reviews

            If, for example, the customer is a monthly wash member, you might have their contact information handy. Reach out to them offline whenever possible and attempt to resolve their problem. Let them know you saw the review but don’t try to get them to remove or change it. You never know — if you resolve their issue independently, they might update it themselves.

            Respond caringly and professionally and offer your contact information and a way to resolve the problem. If no problem exists, explain any source of confusion. If you believe the review is fake or illegitimate, don’t be afraid to flag it.

            One very important thing to note, 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.

            The only time a customer with a damage claim should feel compelled to leave an online review about the experience is to praise the professional way their grievance was resolved. Please don’t give them a reason to use a social media platform to fix their problem. Ensure you have implemented and trained a comprehensive damage claim program to diffuse every situation.

Move Beyond Google My Business and Google Maps

            I saw one figure that Google Maps held an estimated 81% share of the navigation market in 2020. Claiming ownership of your wash’s listing on Google My Business and actively managing customer reviews on the platform is obviously vital for every business. But once you’ve mastered that, don’t stop.

            Get in control of your listings on Bing Places for Business, Waze, Yelp, Angi, and Facebook, among others. With technology, never assume that what works best today will be what works best tomorrow. Each day brings another article to my inbox on how AI is about to rewrite the rules of everything. Best to get a head start and ensure your wash is positioned to take the lead on whatever review platform may or may not be most productive next year.

Sometimes a Clean, Dry, Shiny Car Is Not Enough

            Sadly, delivering a quality wash with friendly service isn’t enough to garner positive online reviews. It makes sense — if I were to ask you to review a local restaurant, quality food with friendly service would only account for one part of the experience.

            The get that fifth star, the restaurant will be rated on amenities ranging from tablecloths to the cleanliness of the bathrooms. Ease of payment, menu options, lighting, and speed of service will all impact how many stars are given. Residual lipstick on a glass could be enough to incite a rant from a formerly loyal patron.

            Mastering online reviews begins with delivering a memorable and compelling customer experience and value proposition. Master that, and chances are there will be very few rogue customers looking to ruin your day.

Good luck, and good washing.

Joining the company in 2000, Anthony Analetto serves as the president of Sonny’s CarWash Equipment Division. In this role, Anthony leads the innovation of new products to drive client success and oversees all operations, engineering, and supply chain management. Washing cars for more than 30 years, Anthony was the director of operations for a 74-location national car wash chain prior to joining the company.