CHICAGO — Everyone of us is a customer. We buy goods from big box stores and neighborhood groceries. We dine in elegant restaurants or grab a bite from a fast food drive-thru on our way home. We try to burn off those calories during trips to the gym. And the list goes on.
So, when you visit one of these businesses, are you more likely to have a good experience and plan to return in the future if Company XYZ is a) warm and welcoming or b) cold and indifferent.
Indeed, stores that are welcoming, bright and secure draw more business than their dark, dank competitors.
American Coin-Op reached out to several industry experts and asked them to share what they think it takes for a self-service laundry to be customer-friendly through and through.
Q: What does being “customer-friendly” mean in the context of running a self-service laundry?
Steve Bowie, national sales manager for equipment manufacturer Speed Queen Commercial: Simply put, if you were a vended laundry customer, would you want to visit your store? That’s the quickest way to understand what customer-friendly means. If you would not, you have work to do.
Kevin Hietpas, director of sales for equipment maker Dexter Laundry: Customer-friendly covers just about everything, but I’d describe it as everything that goes into delivering a great overall customer experience. It encompasses everything from hours of operation, to the layout of the store (including ample folding space), to variety, condition, operation and availability of equipment along with, of course, the friendliness and attentiveness of staff.
Randy Karn, global service manager for equipment manufacturer Whirlpool Corporation Commercial Laundry: A customer-friendly experience starts with the basics such as having a well-lit, clean and safe environment with store hours that meet the needs of the neighborhood. This requires knowing the area demographics and planning for a customer-friendly store from the beginning. For example, if the neighborhood has a high concentration of families with young children, then a children’s area with books and toys may be appreciated. Seniors in the area may be grateful to have the chance to store their laundry detergent and other laundry items so that they don’t have to carry them back and forth from home. Whichever way a store is set up, remaining consistent is important to keep customers content.
Being customer-friendly also means having the appropriate equipment. The right number and types of machines may help decrease wait times, increase store efficiencies and provide for overall positive customer experience. For example, too few dryers can cause longer wait times while having washers with greater capacities may help larger families with big loads. In addition, keeping equipment running and having a preventive maintenance schedule may help decrease breakdowns and avoid customers having to return at another time for an open machine.
Unfortunately, sometimes our best efforts to help ensure everything runs smoothly fall short, and challenges happen. Having a process to address customer complaints is as important as trying to prevent them in the first place. Make sure customers know how concerns can be addressed, whether that is a comment card and box for an unattended store or being able to bring complaints directly to store employees in attended stores. Providing employees with customer service training and empowering them to make decisions on behalf of the store can help them address basic concerns in a timely manner. Being aware and responding to customer issues in a timely manner will help maintain customer satisfaction and can help increase word-of-mouth marketing.
Michael Mastorides, owner of Electrolux distributor Masters Laundry, and a multi-store owner: Each customer is worth $1,000 a year in business. Everyone that walks in the door is a very valuable customer. Good news travels fast, bad news travels faster. A customer has a bad experience, they’re going to tell 10 other people. So, if you [tick] off a customer, you’re really losing $10,000 in business. … People are coming into our stores, doing something that they really don’t want to do. … As comfortable as we can make it for them, by means of (being) clean, hot water, hot dryers, customer service, a cup of coffee, help with folding.
Kathryn Rowen, North American sales manager for equipment maker Huebsch: Ensuring a store owner provides a clean, safe, well-operating facility, so customers can get in and out as efficiently as possible. It sounds easy, but making sure there’s always clean equipment that’s readily available is paramount and keeps customers returning.
Tod Sorensen, vice president for distributor Continental Girbau West: Being customer-friendly is critical to any vended laundry’s success because it results in repeat business for years to come. Attendants must be friendly, helpful, informative and outgoing. They should greet and assist customers – making them feel welcome and so comfortable that they want to come back. Your store and your staff need to make it easy for the customer. Attendants should always be asking themselves how they can help the customer.
Q: What responsibility does an owner have for making his or her laundry customer-friendly? Does a manager and/or attendant share in this responsibility, if any?
Hietpas: I’m a big believer in leadership, and that starts with the owner. If an owner has a positive attitude toward taking care of customers and delivering a great customer experience, it’s very easy for staff to see that and feel better about also trying to deliver that same great experience. Unfortunately, leadership can also work in reverse. If an owner isn’t as customer-friendly as he/she should be, it’s also easy for staff to pick up on that and act similarly.
Karn: Providing a good customer experience starts at the very beginning with how an owner decides to run the business and how that owner defines customer service. A positive store experience is the result of a customer-friendly culture. Store attendants and managers are customer-facing and can have an impact, both positive and negative, on how customers view a business. The environment, employees, equipment and amenities are all hard-working when it comes to differentiating a store and therefore a reflection of the owner and manager. It makes sense that an owner will help instill customer-friendly values within their business model.
Mastorides: The days of a laundry owner double parking outside, running in, grabbing his money and leaving are gone. And the days of this business being called “absentee owner,” to some degree, are gone as well. Owners need to really focus on every square foot of their store. What is our customer seeing in that store, and what is the employee doing to make every square foot of that store a good experience? … (Owners) really need to take the extra time to get in front of every washer, every dryer, the bathroom, make sure everything is 100% spotless. … The employee’s responsibility is to come ready to work.
Rowen: Firstly, a safe, clean and well-lit facility is the ticket to admission, meaning your laundry is positioned for success. However, those three elements do not guarantee success. Customer service is the final must-have, and anyone who works with the business is responsible for taking care of the customer. When staff is 100% committed to an outstanding customer experience (on all levels), it builds loyal customers, who become advocates for the store, helping the business grow. Good customer service costs less than bad customer service any day, and with the advent of social media, a reputation for poor customer service can spread quickly.
Sorensen: A customer-friendly laundry starts with the owner and trickles down to the laundry manager and attendants. While people are the most important aspect of achieving a customer-friendly laundry, cleanliness, equipment, services and amenities all play big roles.
Bowie: If the owner wants to be successful in this business, they will take the responsibility of making their store customer-friendly and ensure each employee that works for them is just as committed to this charge. It’s important to stress that the attendant and/or manager must take their role seriously, as they are the face of the business and likely interact with customers more than the owner.
In Part 2 on Tuesday: Addressing exterior appearance and signage; days and hours of operation; and parking and access to become more customer-friendly.