Reach Out To Your Customers!

My local car wash does a neat thing: It offers a free wash every tenth time I bring my car in. And unlike the previous owner (who made the same offer but required that I bring in a punch card each time), these guys track my progress for me, by keying in my license plate and printing out on the receipt the number of washes I’ve earned towards the payoff.

It’s a great idea. Despite selling a commodity service, they’ve taken a significant step towards discouraging me from taking my business elsewhere, while adding a touch of personalization in the process (by “remembering” who I am via my license plate number).

Good stuff. But it could be a whole lot better if they layered in some Internet tools on top of what they’ve already got going. Here’s how. . .

Step One: Encourage More Frequent Visits. As with most service businesses, frequency is a critical measure. A car wash that can compress its average time between visits from three months to two months will realize a 50% gain in volume from its existing customer base! So. . .

a. Remind me to come back. They already track my visits in their computer system. Now they simply need to develop a means for sending me a friendly reminder email every time a predetermined interval has passed.

b. Email me upgrade offers. Free undercarriage washes, free interior vacuuming, whatever. The important thing is to encourage me to come in for my next wash by a certain expiration date. The upgrade offer is what gets me moving.

c. Show me my progress towards earning my Free 10thWash, in every email. It’s great that their current system tracks my progress, but it would be more effective if they reminded me frequently that I’m working towards a usage based goal, and without my having to physically come in to the car wash.

Step Two: Encourage Off Peak Visits. A key objective in a service business is to keep the assets working as close to capacity as possible, 100% of the time. Whether it’s loading delivery trucks, scheduling customer service staff, or filling car wash capacity, managing the balance between too little capacity — which causes your customers to go elsewhere, and too much capacity — which lets your assets sit idle, is critical for operating a profitable service business. So. . .

a. Email me special offers. Make the offers good only on certain days of the week or at certain times of day.

b. Cut the price of a car wash. Again, make the offer good only on certain days or at certain times.

c. Let me see how long the wait is! Put a live camera or other real time tracking device on your web site that allows me to see how long the line is while I’m at home. With this tool in hand, I will gravitate to your off peak times on my own.

Step Three: Build Relationships. One car wash is no different than any other; look for ways to enhance customer relationships.

a. Email me a birthday card with an invitation to come in for a free wash. It doesn’t cost much, it makes me feel good, and it further personalizes our relationship. Plus, once you have this information, you’ll begin to get an idea for how your customers break out by age group.

b. Send me an electronic newsletter. (You knew I’d get to this.) Include special offers, car care tips, car wash news, surveys, opportunities for feedback, etc. Give me useful information that helps me focus on ways to keep my car clean and beautiful.

c. Send me a gift. As with any business, some customers are worth a lot more than others. Send me something when I hit 25, 50, 75 washes. Figure out who the Top 10 Washers are and invite us out to dinner with you as a group (find out why we come in so frequently!). Find your Most Frequent Washer and make her a hero! Give her a year’s free washes, feature her in your newsletter, go to her house with 5 of your people and wash her car by hand!!!

Two very important final things:

You need customer email addresses for any of this to work, so start collecting them!

Request it on forms your customers fill out, give incentives for providing addresses (e.g. free car wash, chance to win something, etc.), tell your customers about the things they’ll get as part of your “email club.”

Every address represents a relationship — treat it that way. Give people the option to get off your list at any time; don’t sell or rent your list; don’t sell ad space in your newsletters; don’t do anything with these addresses that you wouldn’t do with your best friend’s email address. When you collect customer email addresses you are building an asset that represents a competitive advantage against any present or future competitor. Treat it like the gold that it is!

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