The Towel Mat: How Little Things Can Make Big Impressions

Sometimes, the most memorable aspects of a great customer experience are also the smallest…

Here in New England, the arrival of spring kicks off the annual rite of liberating one’s car from its winter encasement of dirt, grime, road salt and other unidentified substances.


While some prefer to do the scrubbing and polishing themselves, others opt for the car wash route.  Which brings me to today’s story, about a family-owned car wash that’s been in business in my local community for decades – despite new competition from “big box” national car wash chains.


This car wash itself is pretty standard, and the attendants that work there are friendly and courteous.  You leave the car with them; it then gets run through the wash building while you watch from the safety of an interior corridor.  You pay at the register and walk back outside, where you find a group of attendants swarming over your vehicle, wiping it clean with soft towels.


When they’re done, the lead attendant opens the car door and motions for you to come over.  As you approach, the attendant snaps a towel down, unfurling it in front of your car door, so you can wipe your shoes off and step into your vehicle without getting the inside wet.


It makes for a great show.  Beyond keeping your feet dry and your car interior clean, it adds an element of theater to the whole exercise, making even the most harried patron feel like a VIP, if even for just a moment. 


No surprise, it turns out the improvised towel mat is what most people remember about this car wash.  With the basic elements all nailed (the car gets cleaned, not scratched; the attendants are friendly, not rude), it is this carefully choreographed moment at the end that leaves people with a positive, indelible impression. 


Plus, in the context of a car wash, the towel snap is such a novel (albeit simple) gesture, it’s the kind of thing that becomes fodder for water cooler moments, generating the type of favorable word-of-mouth that helps small, family-owned businesses hold their own against industry goliaths.


It’s a great example of how, when shaping customer experiences, little things can be big things.  Small details — stuff that’s easy to overlook — can actually be very influential in carving out a special place for a business in the consumer consciousness. 

And whether you’re a corner Mom & Pop car wash or a Fortune 100 global conglomerate, that’s a great way to make your business shine.