Industry View: Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword

Anthony Analetto, President, SONNY's/The Car Wash Factory

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When I first started my career in the car-wash industry, I remember a sign that was posted at the end of a tunnel that said, “If you are unhappy with your wash, tell a manager. If you are happy, tell a friend.”

As I sat down to come up with the idea for this article, I began to scroll through my social media feed. That’s when I came across a friend’s post: “I can’t believe the drug store on the corner is not going to sell cigarettes anymore!” Clearly, he was upset about CVS’ recent decision to no longer sell cigarettes. Far from the days of disgruntled customers standing outside with picket signs, shoppers now have the ability to share their experience by writing reviews or sharing their experience via social media.

Whatever happened to the good ol’ days of customers going directly to a store manager and informing him or her of their dissatisfaction?

The Internet is a great tool. It’s available at your fingertips and allows you to expand your scope from your neighborhood to every corner of the Earth. However, the Internet can be a precarious place for business owners, thanks to online reviews and social media. While helpful at times, these tools have the ability to send a business’ reputation spiraling out of control. Who hasn’t used an online review to decide on a product to purchase, or what restaurant or car wash to frequent? Technology has allowed customers the ability to drive thousands to or from your business at an accelerated pace.

Online Reputation

The Internet can be a cruel environment when a customer’s standards are not met. The fact that most people write reviews only if their experience was darn good or disastrous is a reason in itself to acknowledge reviews. Paying attention to every review is fundamental to satisfying customers, fixing complaints and building a loyal customer base. Maintaining a positive online reputation provides potential customers an excellent perception of your organization. Although many companies are already putting great effort into managing their online reputations, too many small-business owners I speak to are ignoring it completely.

If you’ve ever searched the Internet for a local business, you have seen that there are many mixed reviews. However, the ones that typically stand out are the negative ones. If you don’t believe me, try doing an Internet search for your business and read the reviews. You’ll find some whether you like it or not. Chances are, at least some of your customers will have posted something negative. As I mentioned above, it was not that long ago that customers would look for a manager and vent to him or her about their dissatisfaction. Today, customers may be more inclined to trash a business online, with dire consequences. So how do you resolve a bad customer experience before it makes it to a negative online review?

Ask for Feedback

The answer is accessibility. By being accessible, you are allowing customers to express their frustrations while still at your store. When it’s easier for an unhappy customer to contact a manager directly, it is more likely that he or she will do so before going online.

One way that a business can be more accessible is by bringing back that old sign that I mentioned earlier and redesigning it to today’s methods of communication: “If you are unhappy, tweet me; if you are happy, tweet your followers.” Make sure to include your Twitter handle as well as your email address or direct phone number. Put the sign somewhere visible, either at the pump or the pay station.

As Warren Buffet once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it.” Let’s hope that someday there will be an online movement under the banner, “Good people don’t trash good businesses online without a reason.” In the meantime, you can help customers to do the right thing by being more accessible and outwardly asking that they bring their complaints to you or your staff. You’ll end up with more satisfied customers and avoid being slain by the double-edged sword known as the World Wide Web.

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