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Industry Headlines: Industry News

Easing the Sting for Customers Waiting in Line

Saturday, February 21, 2015   (0 Comments)
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Line management systems reduce the frustration for
 vehicle owners waiting to get their cars washed.


Every business – car wash or otherwise – knows that keeping customers waiting too long is a recipe for poor customer service. Not only can excessive waits cause customers to become upset and agitated, but it also costs the business in the form of lost revenue and poor customer reviews.

Fortunately for car washes that regularly deal with waiting lines of cars and trucks, a little organization and a better system for informing drivers as to their progress can bring calm and quiet to an area that is too often in upheaval. 

Not only does wait line management—also known as queue management—reduce the aggravation levels of customers and offer the potential to increase profits, but it also benefits the employees who receive the brunt of complaints from angry customers kept too long waiting. At the same time, the latest systems improve operational efficiency through the accurate tracking and evaluation of wait times and processes. 

For this reason the latest in “wait line management systems” are now being installed by forward thinking car wash owners who see the advantage of keeping customers happy by keeping the lines moving quickly.

“We had a system designed that uses a timer to keep the pace up so we could handle more cars,” says Tom Magazzine, owner of Station Auto Wash – a family owned and operated full-service car wash and express detailing center in Purcellville, VA. “The timers work very effectively. People get their work done quickly and then they move on. Customers really like the whole concept because they don’t have to wait so long.”

Longer waits = greater frustration and lost income
One of the quickest way to lose potential customers is to make them wait too long to make the purchase. By themselves, long wait lines create discontent among customers. “How long do I have to park here before I get to wash my car?!” is an oft heard sentiment. Not liking to be “kept in the dark,” people want answers. Without them, they get angry.

Adding to this frustration are environmental issues such as hot temperatures, exhaust fumes, and traffic noise. Then there are individual issues such as a medical condition, a gnawing hunger, or problems that the customer has carried over from work or home. Added together, you have a recipe for revolt.

This frustration translates into lost income, as some drivers eventually pull out of the queue and spend their money elsewhere. At a minimum, unhappy customers will complain about the long wait to their family and friends. Today, that complaint can reach much further through review sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, and even individual blogs.

“News travels fast, but bad news travels faster,” notes Terry Lang, owner and founder of Alzatex, Inc., an Aloha, Oregon-based manufacturer of high technology timing systems that serve the military, medical, sporting, education and car wash industries. “Not only that, but it takes about ten good reviews to outweigh one bad one. No owner or manager can afford to let complaints about waiting in line too long tarnish an otherwise solid reputation.”

Customer frustration from unknown wait durations further hurts a car wash business when that resentment gets taken out on employees. These workers can only take so much before they lash back; risking immediate customer alienation. Either that or the employee eventually becomes discontented and looks for employment elsewhere.

At the same time, poor wait time management accounts for losses on the balance sheets.

“Without the accurate tracking of wait times, management cannot improve operations within that aspect of doing business,” explains Lang. “Unknown delays in any part of a process add up to wasted opportunities in the form of lost sales and cost overruns.”

“In the car wash business we often gave time away for free by letting people waste too many minutes in the vacuum and detailing bays because we had no way of timing how long they kept their cars or trucks there while they leisurely toweled them off,” says Magazzine. “But if you give anything away for free, then people don’t value it. I had to find some way of speeding the process so those stuck back in line wouldn’t become aggravated, leave, and then never come back.”

Knowledge is power
Wait line management systems address these issues by coordinating wait times in order to help shorten them. Just as important, they keep those in line appraised of just how long the wait is. This immediately provides the customer with a great sense of reassurance. Now they know how long the wait will be and can look forward to the end. They also regain some sense of control of that time. 

“Keeping customers accurately appraised of their wait time gives them reassurance, so that they don’t second guess their reason for buying from you,” says Lang

The data to provide this knowledge is collected and broadcasted through several components of hardware and software within a line management system. Basic systems include a “take-a-number” ticket dispenser; hard-wired buttons that service personnel use to advance numbers; and flashing indicator lamps placed over service windows or vacuum bays to identify which spot is now open.

More advance systems serve several spaces and incorporate wireless buttons. The Alzatex system, for one, also offers a controller with SD card memory for capturing wait times, number of people waiting and several other events. As part of the system, that information is stored and organized in software that enables owners to handle all aspects of queue management in real-time and make adjustments where needed.

Information provided by such systems can include the: service type (as identified by letter codes); estimated wait time and number of clients still waiting; current ticket number for the client being served; total clients served per hour or per day; and minutes taken to serve each client. Such knowledge helps improve operations and the bottom line.

In the case of full-service car washes, some of this information gets displayed in the waiting areas.

“Through accurate notice of the ‘time interval to service,’ these systems transform wait time into free time,” notes Lang. “Customers can then open a book, make telephone calls, or surf the Web on their smart phones,”

Queue management in practice
If anything has delayed the wide adoption of wait line management systems, it is the fact that customization has been lacking. Until recently, such systems were only offered “off the shelf” for applications such as the post-office or bakeries. How could that carry over to a car wash?

This issue has now been addressed through systems that utilize customized engineering to link up of the various hardware and software components in manner tailored to meet the specific needs of even the most unusual application.

“We built a new car wash, and we wanted to introduce a new concept in self service where people could do their own interior work in an indoor facility,” explains Magazzine. “They pull in and have everything they need: vacuums, air, towels, and chemicals. But it was almost too convenient, so some motorists would take too much time to the frustration of those waiting behind them. We had to do something.”

“I searched on line for timers and found Alzatex, so I called them up,” continues Magazzine. “I talked directly to the engineers and told them about my situation and how I wanted the timing system to improve my operations. They then designed a system just for me that could help me handle more cars without alienating customers.”

“We charge $5 for the initial 12 minutes allotted for each car, but then charge for any additional minutes,” explains Magazzine. “The system starts beeping at the end of every minute after the initial 12 as a reminder that each extra minute costs them another dollar. Before we got the new system some folks would hang around for 45 minutes, but now we handle as many as 20 cars per hour per space. This has created a very profitable revenue stream for us while easing the frustration of waiting customers.”

“As for customer feedback, it’s been unanimous,” continues Magazzine. “We have yet to have a single complaint. Everybody who has used the system says they will come back and use it again.”

Given the many benefits that wait line management brings to the table, these systems deserve serious consideration by other car wash operators that now have the opportunity to employ them as a competitive advantage.

“We started with the system in two bays, but it worked out so well that we installed it in six,” says Magazzine. “It’s operating flawlessly. We expect our way of doing this will catch on in the industry.”

For more information, contact Alzatex, Inc.; 6400 SW 213th Avenue; Aloha, OR 97007; (503) 642-9693; (888) 808-4452; Fax: (503) 649-6539; or

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