It's All Your Fault!
Manage customer complaints without getting emotional or defensive to turn them into positive interactions.
By Shani Calvo, ICA Director of Media and Editorial
When customers are upset enough to voice their displeasure during a visit to your car wash, it can be challenging to figure out the best way to interact to turn the situation around. Some personalities can be difficult to understand, and if you can’t get through de-escalation might seem unattainable. We’ve probably all experienced this on a professional level as well as a personal one — especially if you have children (and a partner). Sometimes it can seem like there is no resolution that will satisfy your customer.
But, there are some basic steps you can take that don’t require a degree in psychology to master. And they will help diffuse just about all interactions, leading to a potentially positive outcome instead of continuing on the negative path on which they started.
The important part is that everyone on your team knows how to react and address a complaint when it occurs and everyone is referencing the same playbook — as the initial interaction with an upset customer will have an enormous impact on how the remainder of the event will play out.
“ICA recognized that this was a core competency needed for all car wash managers, and created eight courses in its LEAD training program to address communication and customer service issues,” said ICA Chief Learning Officer Claire Moore, who also heads up the LEAD program. There is even a course that deals expressly with communicating through conflict.
FROM THE FRONT LINES
In New Jersey, Wash Hounds Manager Misty Kondracki said managers and CSAs are currently working through the program, specifically the customer service, damage claims and challenging situations courses. Kondracki said they have new hires watch the videos and do the LEAD training right after completing the onboarding process, even before getting out on the front line.
She said some of the tips are common sense, but that sense is one that has the tendency to disappear when someone is approached aggressively. Reinforcing the correct way to counter an aggressive and upset customer helps keep those ideas front of mind when they are needed most. Plus, sometimes what is common for one is new for another. Or, it might just be a matter of reminding and reinforcing a correct response.
“The customer service videos did a good job of illustrating how to get everyone to be a team and work together and treat each other with respect,” Kondracki said. “Team members mentioned how they benefited from the reminders on diversity and inclusiveness.”
Michael Hillier, director of operations at Freedom Wash in Virginia, leads the implementation and rollout of the LEAD program there and recently credentialed all of its staff on the Communication & Service courses.
“What ICA put together is outstanding, and we are doing everything we can here to maximize its potential,” Hillier said. “It really complements our own onboarding and training. In fact, we accelerated credentialing our entire team of 25+ associates in Communication & Service in one month, just to make sure all new hires join a culture where everyone is on the same page.” Now, all new hires complete the LEAD training as soon as they come on board and the leadership team has started the Talent Management track, as well, he said.
At Freedom Wash, it was about being able to relate to the scenarios. “I think it was very useful for our staff to see so many situations in the training videos that are just like things we experience every day. One of our staff commented how they had the same encounter with an upset customer whose payment method didn’t work at the kiosk,” Hillier said. “It was helpful for him to see good and bad ways to approach that.”
Kondracki agreed about the realistic scenarios being helpful. The emotion of the moment is tough to capture on paper, but the videos and scenarios brought them to life. Employees have to know how to counter upset customers and keep their cool, Kondracki said. “That is a constant struggle at car washes.”
WE ARE ALL HUMAN
Customers are humans and may have other things going on in their lives that are impacting their behavior. Maybe they just lost a loved one or had a disagreement with their spouse or just found out their test results were a worst-case scenario. So, empathy is vital here. This doesn’t mean admitting fault — which is a big no-no — but it does mean giving your undivided attention to the customer and actively listening to their entire story.
“One of our main takeaways from the challenging situations course was the idea of ‘starting with yes.’ Reassuring the customer that if we caused an issue, we will make it right and then asking them to explain what happened,” Hillier said. “It’s important to pay attention and listen closely. That doesn’t mean we cave in to unreasonable demands; it’s all about the approach.”
THE REAL TEST
OK, so now you think everyone on the team is on the right page and has absorbed all the learnings from the same playbook. But you don’t want to find out the hard way if the lessons are engrained? LEAD addresses that by incorporating interactive knowledge checks that re-emphasize the correct and incorrect ways to handle a situation, plus there is a quiz at the end of each section.
Freedom Wash Owner and Managing Partner Chris Giroux said, “We are thrilled to have our entire team ICA-certified in Communication & Service. The LEAD platform is great — full of useful interactive content, quizzes and a final exam. We are looking closely at test results and workbooks to identify individual improvement areas.”
At Wash Hounds, Kondracki is very confident in her team members’ ability to respond to a challenging situation correctly, especially since they have all completed the interactive LEAD training. “With that extra bit of knowledge, especially with dealing with customers, I think that really helps,” Kondracki said. Simply put, “There is a lot of good stuff in there!
Some Do’s and Don’ts
When engaging with a customer who has a complaint, here are some do’s and don’ts.
Get physical with customers.
Try to solve the problem as it’s being explained or admit fault.
Emit an aggressive stance.
Raise your voice.
Curse or use inappropriate slang.
Learn how to detach yourself so the situation can be resolved in a calm, professional manner. Show empathy and respect.
Use only positive, appropriate words.
Handle internal reprimands privately, away from customers and other team members.
Use your best judgment in bringing in local authorities.
Be aware of your body language and how you are portraying yourself.
Listen to the whole story and repeat back to them what you heard. Do take detailed notes.
Speak to them in a professional tone.
Bring in a manager or other team member is the situation is escalating.
Be respectful of the customer’s time.
A Learning Bazaar
In 2020, ICA developed 22 courses designed to address talent management skills, which were released in 2021. An additional eight courses in communication and service were released in February 2022. Finance/operations, marketing/sales and leadership are three additional core competencies ICA will be incorporating into the LEAD training program.
Over 60 car wash companies representing over 3,000 learners have incorporated the LEAD program, thus far, and are using it to support and train their employees — making sure everyone has a solid base of knowledge about best practices when interacting with customers and team members.
The information shared in this article is just a fraction of the material shared with LEAD participants in the “Communicating Through Conflict” course in the Communications & Service domain, which consists of eight courses.
To see a free LEAD demo course or to find out more information, visit carwash.org/lead.