Flow Communications

In Johannesburg’s car-wash sector, competition is stiff – so growing a loyal, regular client base without relying on drive-in custom is key to building a sustainable business.

Clifford Regenbaum, owner of Carspa in Illovo, needed to make his business stand out and grow by at least 15% in a year. Flow Communications responded by building TriggerMessage, an online, mobile-friendly platform that uses advanced artificial intelligence (AI) technology to increase customer loyalty and market share.

Customers scan a QR code to opt into one of two loyalty programmes – a free version that gives them their 10th car wash on the house, or a R300-a-month option for unlimited car washes.

The app detects their number plates using number plate-recognition algorithms. This triggers an automated message to be sent to the customer in real time via WhatsApp, with personalised offers and discounts.

The data gleaned is used to build customer engagement and loyalty.

Target audience

Carspa’s target audience comprises car owners living or working in Johannesburg, with a smartphone that uses WhatsApp. Often, people leave their cars to be washed while visiting the adjacent gym. Before the TriggerMessage system, Carspa had no real data on its customers. Now we know that the target market is mostly males who drive luxury cars.

When they arrive at the car wash, posters encourage them to sign up via a QR code. Once they’ve opted in, the system messages them each time they return, with personalised messaging such as:

“Hello, Richard! We’re happy to welcome you to Carspa for your 7th car wash. Just 2 more and then your 10th one will be free!”

Creative strategy

The Carspa/TriggerMessage strategy took the following considerations into account:

  • Carspa faced stiff competition from both formal and informal car-wash services

  • Maintaining and increasing customer loyalty is vital to any business’s long-term success

  • Car-wash customers are not always aware of discounts, specials and other potential upselling opportunities

  • They are a captive audience with five to 10 minutes of “dead time” at their disposal while their car is being washed. Sending direct messages to their mobile phones when they are at Carspa increases the chances of additional sales and improved customer loyalty

  • WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in South Africa, with over 93% of internet users on the platform

The strategy is devilishly simple: it uses AI to detect customers at Carspa, and harnesses the ubiquity of mobile phones and social media to message them personally, selling them more – and driving up Carspa’s customer loyalty and profitability.

Overview – mobile

The mobile-first functionality was central to the success of the TriggerMessage customer loyalty platform built for Carspa. The app is also available on tablet and desktop.

The system incentivises new subscribers to join, increases uptake of the service, and solicits feedback through survey requests. The app can be customised for use in other industries requiring lead generation and customer loyalty programmes, too.

Use of the Carspa loyalty offering is proof that deploying AI-driven marketing automation on mobile is a cost-effective and simple way to get customers returning time after time – knowing their loyalty will be rewarded with not only excellent service, but value-adds as well.

The application is hosted at Amazon Web Services in Cape Town, making the solution POPIA-compliant, fast and scalable. TriggerMessage has also been accredited as an AWS Activate Startup and has been accredited Tech Provider status with Meta, which enables us to send messages on behalf of other businesses via the Meta WhatsApp Business Cloud API.

TriggerMessage has had a major impact on Carspa, says Regenbaum: “TriggerMessage has made it a lot more accurate to market our business, as we now have the system to send direct to customers’ phones using WhatsApp instead of just using the old, random messages or bulk messages.”

Apart from not spamming his customers, Regenbaum says TriggerMessage also ensures they get their loyalty rewards: “Carspa customers now get each wash logged and messaged to them so they know that they cannot miss their free wash, which is their reward and value-add, and know their loyalty does not go unnoticed and unchecked.”

Customers scan a QR code to opt into one of two loyalty programmes
Customers scan a QR code to opt into one of two Carspa loyalty programmes.
Instead of random or bulk messages, the system sends direct messages to customers’ phones using WhatsApp
Instead of random or bulk messages, the system sends direct messages to customers’ phones using WhatsApp.