To get into the car wash business, we had to assume that we would make the right decisions on equipment and chemistry to deliver a shiny, clean car. We had to assume that we would find the employees and the customers. We had to assume we would be good in this business!

I have read that the human brain has evolved to make assumptions.

It is, supposedly, an important part of our biology that helps us survive. If we didn’t make assumptions, we’d live paranoid or insane.

Assumptions, however, can be dangerous or pose a strain. It is all too easy to hear a single negative comment, assume there is a bigger issue, and waste valuable resources fixing a problem that does not exist. Alternatively, it is just as easy to justify against complaints we hear, mistakenly assuming it is not as big of a problem as the customer is making it out to be.

I am human and admit guilt to all. I’ve also discovered it’s more productive to develop habits and processes that help me make business decisions based on fact and actionable feedback.


To elicit actionable feedback, survey your customers with these two questions: (1) How likely are you to recommend our car wash to your friends? (2) What did we do that caused you to answer the way you did in question one?

To help keep things organized, question one is a 1-10 scale that organically and honestly delivers actionable data. Compared to a binary yes/no question, graduated choices let you see deeper into the customer’s mindset. You can safely assume that scores of 9-10 are promoting your business. Scores of 0-8 are customers detracting from your business. If there are more detractors than promoters, you have a problem.

Question two is an open-ended, long-form answer for customers to answer with more detail. With more specific feedback, you can adjust your offering or service based on their perspective.

Do not get stuck on what you think works. Customers must love the service they’re getting. If your wash service is pleasing to the customer, they will come back and they will recommend your business to others. If it’s not, they’ll tell you. Trends in feedback will occur and those are the changes you should consider making.


Social media to the rescue! Invite customers to provide feedback on a public post. This gives the customer the feeling that you are listening, you are reading, and they are far more likely to participate.

As a business owner, I believe that one of the biggest benefits of social media is the personal, direct, and candid customer interaction. For gathering feedback, this is a blessing — or a curse, depending on how conscientious you are with monitoring and responding.


According to an annual survey by software firm Salesforce, more than 80 percent of customers say the experience a business provides is as important as the products or services it sells.

Elevate the customer’s experience by treating the customer like an individual, not a commodity. In doing so, you will build a more personal relationship and receive actionable, focused feedback when needed.

The ultimate experience is a customer driving up and the on-screen prompt reading, ”Hi Anthony, thank you for your loyalty. I see you had this wash last time; would you like to upgrade to the hot wax this wash?” And after their visit, sending a text message, thanking the customer for their business and prompting them for feedback.

The entire experience a customer has with your wash affects future sales and directly impacts customer lifetime value. The initial customer acquisition is only one part of the equation.


If a customer has a bad experience and posts about it, resist the urge to vigorously defend yourself. In the beginning, I had to train myself to do this. These days, my blood pressure remains constant regardless of what I read.

If you respond to a post in a defensive manner, people will most likely make a negative assumption about your business. Nothing spells PR disaster quite like dismissive or accusatory responses to customers in a public, online forum.

Instead, empathize with their experience. Thank them for visiting your wash and ask for more details. The simple act of acknowledgement and listening goes a long way in earning repeat business.

When you receive a complaint, a good rule of thumb is to assume that there are 100 other customers with the same issue who didn’t say anything. The next step is to determine whether the problem was an isolated incident or a pervasive pattern. There is a natural desire to treat all customer complaints as random occurrences.

Once I determine the magnitude of the problem, I begin the resolution process and focus on the underlying issue. This solves the problem for all customers, not just for one individual.


Many years ago, I designed a set of package and pricing combinations that made perfect sense … to me. I thought the more variety, the happier the customer and the higher the average ticket.

Instead, my customers found it confusing and opted for the basic wash. After taking a step back, I was mistaking assumption for fact. Most of us live a time-constraint lifestyle.

Too many options and a complicated offering take far too much time to make a decision.

I conducted customer surveys, both in person at the pay station, and via e-mail. If I had ignored the feedback or refused to ask for their point of view, I’d still be struggling with my “great idea.”


Even with all the data and analytics at hand, if your offering and the wash experience are not meeting the customer’s needs, it will not matter. Define personalization down to a segment of one. Make it easy for your customers to tell the truth. Continually monitor customer expectations and ensure that their feedback is always present and shaping how your business defines your service and offering. Customer satisfaction is no longer the goal; it is the expectation.

Anthony Analetto has over 35 years’ experience in the car wash business and is a partner at SONNY’S The Car Wash Factory. Before coming to SONNY’S, Anthony was the director of operations for a 74-location national car wash chain. Anthony can be reached at (800) 327-8723 x 104 or at