Washing a customer’s car is like a cup of coffee. Probably not a blog topic or association you might expect here. Bear with me. A few weeks ago, I was visiting a dealership. As I wandered around the store while waiting for my meeting, I noticed there was no coffee available and one of the two available vending machines was broken. Although I had the option of buying a snack, I had nothing to drink since there was no coffee or bottled water available. Just an old school water fountain located outside the bathrooms. I was there to talk to the dealer about his upcoming facility renovation. It dawned on me that our project was going to be more than just brick and mortar.

Modern beautiful bathroom at Pinehurst Toyota in Southern Pines North Carolina
The customer bathrooms at Pinehurst Toyota make customers feel welcomed and appreciated.

Just as the automotive business environment has evolved, so have customer expectations when it comes to their overall dealership experience. I have mentioned in a previous blog, why bathrooms in a dealership matter. Whether it be a sales or service customer, when they walk in your bathroom and see the condition of it, they make assumptions about the type of experience they are going to receive. If the bathrooms are clean and modern, they feel good and comfortable. If they’re unkept and outdated, they wonder it you care about them and their business. As I walked around the customer waiting area at the dealership trying find something other than the old water fountain, I found myself making those same assumptions.  How could they not have a basic amenity as coffee or water available for customers?

The Roast Office Cafe at Pinehurst Toyota
In dealership Cafes offer customers food and drink options while their car is getting serviced and washed.

Then I started to think. “What are the basic amenities a customer has come to expect in a dealership?”  Today coffee and water are staples in every automotive repair facility. Even your local muffler shop offers them. But what does your customer expect these days as a part of their overall dealership experience? Beyond the refreshments, there are other items like free Wi-Fi, comfortable seating, a clean facility, those are all given. But what else should be a standard deliverable? I found the answer in the service drive.

Still waiting for the dealership owner who was running late, I stopped and watched customer after customer picking up their serviced vehicles, having just paid their invoice. On one hand, I was happy to see the staff using the service drive to deliver vehicles back to customers. On the other hand, every single car was dirty. They were simply returning the cars in the same condition they arrived. Washing a customer’s car, isn’t that a given?

I watched an elderly customer pick up their car. It was less than two years old and had the dealership’s license plate frame. The advisor seemed to know the customer well. What struck me was that this newer car, didn’t look like it had been washed since the day it was purchased it from this dealership. Watching the customer get to and into their car, it seems very unlikely they would be washing it themselves anytime soon. How nice would it have been, washing this customer’s car and returning it looking like the day the purchased it at this very dealership. It truly is the little things that matter to customers. Always.  

Ironically, right behind the service drive there was a newer looking Roll Over Car Wash System sitting there unused. I asked one of the service advisors why they weren’t using it. His response, “half the time its broken, and when it is working, it takes too long so we just stopped using it.” I was shocked.

Washing a customer’s car is truly in your best interest. Returning a customer’s vehicle washed has proven to increase CSI.  We’re all aware of the range of manufacturer benefits a dealership receives from high CSI scores.  That’s why you ask your staff constantly to remind customers they’re going to receive a survey and to please let you know if there was or is anything that would prevent them from given you the highest scores.  Returning a clean car will help ensure that customers give your store those high marks. It will also be one more reason for them to recommend your dealership to their friends and family.

Belanger Car Wash System cleaning a customer's car.
The Belanger Car Wash System washing a customer’s car is like a free cup of coffee, they’ve come to expect it.

In closing, when I make the statement, “washing a customer’s car is like a cup of coffee”, I truly believe it should be on the list of standard amenities that all our clients offer. A part of every project we do, is to evaluate and upgrade the lighting in the service drive. It helps the advisors better see the condition of the incoming vehicles. So, why not take advantage of that and deliver a clean vehicle back to your customer? And if your store has a car wash like the one at this store which is unreliable and slow, maybe it’s time for an upgrade.

Car wash technology has improved significantly over the last several years. Several our clients have had great success with the drive-thru systems we have been recommending. When you can wash a car every 90 seconds and not have to wait for one to finish before starting the next, there is simply no reason not to deliver back every customer vehicle washed. Washing a customer’s car is just like that free cup of coffee, they’ve come to expect it.