So you think you’re doing a good job keeping up with the Joneses: You’ve added sheets of foamed detergents, protectants, and waxes. You’re hitting customers with a sizzling LED light show. You think you’re doing it all right with a consistent wash, consistent service times, and a dazzling experience — but are you really delivering a top-notch visit? If not, is the competition doing something to sway your loyal customers? If you don’t know the answer to these questions, don’t panic: the good news is that there’s a reliable and consistent way to measure whether your customers are truly loyal — and you’ll be surprised by just how important it can be.

CALCULATE YOUR NPS SCORE

Many of our readers might recall my prior recommendation to serve up a single-question customer survey on your website, and to ask your on-site customers the same thing:

On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to recommend us to your friends?

I’ll admit that I didn’t invent this. I stumbled upon this concept, called the Net Promoter Score (NPS), years ago. I find it extremely effective at measuring customer loyalty at a car wash. To measure customer loyalty, simply break your single-question survey responses into three groups: first, you have promoters with a score of 9 or 10. These are your loyal enthusiasts, and they fuel growth. Next are passives with a score of 7 or 8. These customers are susceptible to poaching by your competitors. Finally, detractors with a score of 1 to 6 are unhappy and can damage your wash with negative word-of-mouth or online reviews.

If enthusiasm is allowed to subside, indifference takes its place.

Calculating NPS scores is quick and easy: just take the percentage of customers who are promoters, and subtract the percentage who are detractors. For example, if you have 100 responses and 50 percent are promoters with a score of 9 or 10, 20 percent are passives with a score of 7 or 8, and 30 percent are detractors with a score of 6 or less, your NPS would be 20 (50% – 30% = 20).

I’ve read that the majority of businesses average an NPS score of 5 to 10, and extremely strong brands such as Apple and Harley Davidson score between 50 and 80. Personally, I believe that a score under 30 should raise a red flag for any car wash. Regardless, unless your NPS score comes in at 100 (meaning all of your customers would recommend you to their friends and family), there’s still room to improve. Unfortunately, improving your NPS score can be a lot harder than installing a new pay wax to keep up with the Joneses. It demands a systematic approach to elevating your customer’s experience. To get you started, I’ve prioritized the three areas I feel you need to address in order.

PRIORITY #1:

DESTROY INDIFFERENCE

Attitudes are contagious. Enthusiasm is infectious. This is the phenomenon that drives the success of any business, and it starts at the top. Think back to the grand opening of your first wash. Chances are you labored over every detail. Uniforms, signage, and wash packages were carefully crafted. Package names, price points, and service offerings to bundle incremental value were debated. The air was filled with enthusiasm and you were eager to earn the business of each customer. That energy flowed from you to your staff and everybody worked with a sense of urgency and purpose. If a customer wasn’t happy with the wash, your staff would have gone out of their way to fix the problem. But does that energy still exist today?

Examine every frustration a customer might experience on your site.

If enthusiasm is allowed to subside, indifference — which is dangerously infectious — takes its place. If you’re not already doing it, invest as many hours each week as you can in surveying customers. Thank them. Ask them for recommendations to improve your service, and listen. Have no doubt that your employees will watch your every move and model their behavior based on your enthusiasm. Talk to your staff about your customer comments and ask them if they’ve heard similar things — both good and bad. Take advantage of this free and easy tactic to keep indifference from creeping into your business and watch your NPS score (and profits) soar.

PRIORITY #2:

SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF

Some days I wish it were enough to deliver a clean, dry, shiny car at a good value. Unfortunately, I’ve been in the business long enough to know that that this will only result in a customer rating of 7 or 8 — leaving me with a passive customer who is likely to leave for a competitor. What’s worse is if that passive customer has a better experience at a competitor but continues to use my wash because it’s more convenient, I may earn their business temporarily, but these passives are not likely to recommend me to their friends or family and might even negatively promote my wash within the community (“I only use it because it’s close to me.”). Provided that you’re delivering quality service and your staff enthusiastically engages with customers, the path from detractor to promoter is relatively straightforward.

When I say, “sweat the small stuff,” I mean examine every frustration a customer might experience on your site. Are your menus and monthly programs easy to understand? Do you provide confirmation to customers that they’re getting the services they paid for? There are many small details you may need to address, but if you’re looking for a place to begin, start with something simple like the trash. Whether you’re a self-serve or an express exterior with free vacuum stations, a customer must never encounter a waste receptacle more than half full. I recommend that you shoot for — and train for — never exceeding a quarter full. This is critical. You may have to add staff, negotiate for multiple dumpster pickups, or invest in additional receptacles to hit this requirement, but in my experience it is one of the most cited frustrations customers have outside of the tunnel. There will be some abusers that view your facilities as a dumpster, but you have to clean up after them meticulously to keep your loyal customer base coming back. Evaluate your landscaping, paint, bathrooms, driveways, and lobbies. Your ability to keep all areas of your wash spotlessly maintained works like a powerful force field against customer attrition.

PRIORITY #3:

MAKE IT EMOTIONAL

I recently heard one operator describe his tunnel as an automated endorphin-producing machine. Think about that for a minute:

Cars change. Climate conditions change. Water quality changes. You likely spend considerable time evaluating, upgrading, and tweaking your detergent and wash equipment to deliver the best possible product, but are those priorities alone enough to succeed in today’s evolving market? The reason I referenced both Apple and Harley Davidson as two businesses with an exceptionally high NPS is because they demonstrate a focus on constantly improving the experience for the promoters of their brands. You may not have to create the next iPhone, but when was the last time you repainted your building, resurfaced your driveway, rebranded your signage and logo, or even just replaced the cloth? Advancements in chemistry and application technology, combined with the dropping prices of LED lighting, have made creating a dazzling experience inside the tunnel attainable for all — but that’s just keeping up with the Joneses. Your ability to destroy indifference, sweat the small stuff, and deliver an emotional customer experience just might produce the sort of measurable customer loyalty you can take all the way to the bank.

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