Learning-Assisted Service: The Carwash Company Gives Customer Loyalty and Satisfaction a Steady Boost by Using Coaching, Certification, and Social Media to Develop Its Employees

By Salopek, Jennifer J. | T&D, October 2010 | Go to article overview

Learning-Assisted Service: The Carwash Company Gives Customer Loyalty and Satisfaction a Steady Boost by Using Coaching, Certification, and Social Media to Develop Its Employees


Salopek, Jennifer J., T&D


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Mike's Carwash is a privately owned chain of carwash locations that has been growing since its founding in 1948; the original location is still in operation. Now with 37 locations in Indiana and Ohio, Mike's employs 650 people, or 400 full-time equivalents. However, with turnover in the carwash industry at greater than 100 percent, recruitment, engagement, and retention are crucial areas of concern for the business.

Joe Rice has been director of human resources for 12 years. He and his 1.5 full-time staff members are responsible for all aspects of the employment experience at Mike's, including training and development.

"The learning function here is viewed as an important part of the company's strategy for success," Rice says. "Although we have had some lean years, training and development is the last place our owners and senior leadership look to cut expenses. There is a real commitment from the ownership team--Bill and Mike Dahm--to offering world-class training for our team members."

Mike's Carwashes are high-tech and totally automated, featuring some proprietary technology. As a result, employees in the locations focus on customer service, sales, and supervision. Like Rice, many workers start out part-time in the business while they're students. The company's mission is to "create lifetime customers through engaged and valued team members."

To keep attrition low, Rice and his team focus not only on retention but on the beginning of the process, at the hiring phase. After two to three years of unacceptable turnover, Rice and his staffing coordinator conducted extensive internal research to get at the root of the problem.

"It turned out that we just were not making good hiring decisions. There were some red flags our managers should have caught during the interview process," Rice says. His team developed a new training program, called "Hire the Best," that identified those red flags and set new hiring standards.

That information was then shared with hiring managers through location-level pretraining, a full-day workshop, and post-workshop certification. In the two years since the program was implemented, turnover has dropped by 25 percent. "As much as we invest in the training and development of our team members, we need good tenure to ensure return-on-investment," Rice comments.

Once hired, Mike's retains and engages employees through numerous techniques. Every employee has an individual development plan and receives performance appraisals twice a year. The progression from hourly associate to supervisor to shift manager to assistant manager is clear, understandable, and facilitated by internal certifications at each level that include up to 12 weeks of training and three examinations on which grades of 80 percent or above must be earned. Employee engagement and satisfaction is measured through a semiannual associate survey, exit surveys, and surveys issued upon completion of a certification.

"Our team members really appreciate the process; we don't put our team members in roles they're not ready for," says Rice. "The certification program also provides the team members with instant credibility. People know that their promotions are based on their performance and their ability to achieve certification. There are no politics involved or promotions based simply on staffing needs."

Team members also play a role in training and development decisions and design. Once the need for a training initiative has been identified, Rice's staff reaches out to the training and development committee for content and for testing the finished product. This 15--to 20-person team is composed of team members who have been nominated by their store's general manager; each person serves a one-year term. Team members serve as subject matter experts and are typically the first to participate in new training and provide feedback on its effectiveness.

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