Being a Problem-Solver

Howard Scott |

It’s endless. Customers leaving litter on the folding tables. Children monkeying with washers and dryers. Teen-agers marking up walls with graffiti. Mothers tossing diaper messes in the bathroom. Harried individuals overloading machines. Rude people asking for refunds because their stained garments are still dirty. If only you didn’t have to deal with customer problems, business would be a breeze, you say.But it’s not possible, because customers, along with their problems, bring in the revenue. The goal is to minimize customer problems and maximize your peace of mind (read: mental stability).First, you are paid to handle problems. This is management’s job. People problems. Machine problems. Occupancy problems. Population-transition problems. These are the bread-and-butter issues that determine the success of your business.Ignore one area, and the whole edifice will collapse. Give customers free rein to do whatever they want and your store will be in disarray. Many cooperative customers will be perturbed. Some will search for alternative choices. And before you know it, your laundry heads in a downward spiral. So, deal with every small matter that comes up. Make your store the best it can be.LAY DOWN THE LAWThe first line of offense is to create strict rules and enforce them. That is the key thing you and your staff must live by. Hang a sign on the wall with these rules:

  • Don’t litter.
  • Take out what you brought in.
  • Do not let children misbehave or tamper with machines.
  • Don’t overload machines — weigh heavy loads beforehand.
  • Keep the bathroom clean.
  • Treat this laundry like your own home.

Putting the rules in writing helps enforcement. Ask the young couple to toss several drink cups and crumpled bags of chips on a coffee table into a wastebasket. Be pleasant, but point to the sign. Tell a parent that her son is being too rough with a vending machine. Request that the mother bring home the baby waste left in the bathroom. Point out that putting too many clothes into a machine will reduce cleaning effectiveness.A LITTLE TACTIn every instance, be polite but firm. People are angered more by tone than the actual accusation. You want to convey that you’re an earnest soul trying to run a clean, efficient laundry. Sometimes, explanations are necessary. To the mother who complains about bringing the baby waste home, explain that this is the establishment’s only bathroom, and other people are bothered by the offensive smell. Discussing how an overloaded machine will lose its effectiveness because the garments aren’t able to stretch and absorb soap might just convince a person to reduce quantities.Conclude each time by pointing and repeating: “That’s why there are rules. Thank you for following them.” When you appeal to reason and decency, most folks will be amendable.Some stores are unattended, so using customers as “spies” might be helpful. Speak to a few good customers and ask them to be watchful of any poor customer behavior and to report the offense to you. They probably won’t know names and phone numbers, but good descriptions are a starting point. Make spot checks around the times the offending customers might be there and, if you catch them, you can make a case for treating the place with respect.When dealing with the offending customers, you might start with, “It’s your place, too.” Or, “You wouldn’t want a pigsty when you came in, so please leave it in good condition when you leave. That’s not asking much, is it?”Even better, if the customers are willing, you might enlist them as secret helpers. They might say that they are friends of the owner, and such behavior is not tolerated.Show your appreciation to those good customers who take their responsibilities seriously. Talk about how indebted you are. Prove it by giving them gift certificates to a favorite restaurant. Or, even better, offer to do their clothes free for a month.THE TOUGH CALLDismiss a few of the worst customers each year. You’ve spoken to these individuals several times, and it is clear that they have no intention to mend their ways. They are Laundromat slobs, and their attitude is, if you don’t like it, lump it.Well, you’ve lumped it one too many times. Tell these customers — the two or three worst offenders — that they are not welcome at your laundry. Be firm. Make your displeasure known. They will soon seek another store.Admittedly, this is not a great business tactic — it goes against the old business adage: The customer is always right. But this will reduce your biggest customer headache. Convey to customers that you mean business, that attention must be paid to the rules on your wall. Your employees will understand that your high standards aren’t just words — they are the law of the land.The general rule is that 10% of your customers will create 90% of the problems. By eliminating a few customers each year, you will keep this percentage in place, if not reduce it.Your employees will follow your lead, as all business practices emanate from the top. Take every opportunity to point out unacceptable conditions and behavior. Give advice on how to enforce the rules. Try role-playing. You become the troublesome customer. Make sure the employee handles the situation correctly. Assess his/her attitude to make sure it is forceful, but not argumentative. Finally, give the employee the authority to do what has to be done. Never second-guess, for if you do, the individual will never again be assertive.Handling customer problems is an art. Deciding to take a hard-line approach is a decision. Make this policy work for you. 

About the author

Howard Scott

Industry Writer and Drycleaning Consultant

Howard Scott is a former business owner, longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant. He welcomes questions and comments and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359; by calling 781-293-9027; or via e-mail at [email protected].


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