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Cautious, Customer-Friendly Collections

Howard Scott |

PEMBROKE, Mass. — I was in a Laundromat one busy Saturday morning when the owner came in to make his collections. I noticed that he had to ask several customers to interrupt doing their laundry so that he could open the washer or dryer and collect the money.

When he finished, I asked him if that was the best time to do the chore. “It’s my shop,” he tells me. “I do it when it’s convenient for me. Besides, crowded times are safe. There’s no chance of being robbed. So, sure, a busy Saturday morning is a great time to do my collections.”

“It is also an opportunity to meet my customers. Nothing is more important than getting to know your customers, right?”

I got to thinking about his answer. And my conclusion is that he is wrong. Moreover, I wonder how many others out there are collecting money at inappropriate times. Therefore, I’ve evolved these three rules of collection:

RULE NO. 1: NEVER COLLECT DURING BUSY TIMES

It’s too intrusive. It makes customers work around you, not the other way around. Furthermore, it’s sheer bad business to be handling money in a middle of a workday.

Finally, it’s rather gauche to be handling money while many customers are seeing their hard-earned funds go in your pockets. It’s like an enormously fat man eating a 12-course meal. It’s like the merchant behind the counter counting his money. It’s kind of rude, and it puts a negative spin on doing business with you.

At the Laundromat I visited, I didn’t exactly hear any frustrated comments toward this owner but I noticed customers’ facial expressions. And if I could put words to the expressions, they would go like this:

“Boy, what a rude guy to interrupt us and get in our way while we are trying to get our laundry done. He interrupted every single individual in this row. And he pushed that little old woman to get to her machine. He shows no consideration at all.

“Furthermore, he seemed to lord it over us, as if to say, ‘I’m the king here, and you will make way for me. After all, I own the place.’ And he didn’t even say hello. Sure, he’ll take our money, but we’re just nobodies who help him fill his pot of gold. I don’t think I’ll come here anymore.”

That’s the reason you don’t do your collections during busy times. You’ll annoy customers; some will be so put out, they won’t return to your store.

Let’s rewind the scenario. Suppose the owner wasn’t put-offish. Suppose he was friendly, laughing and joking with everyone as he pulled out money trays. Would that have made a difference? Yes, he would be more of a mensch, but still he would be interrupting, and that wouldn’t work well with customers. Many people still would have been annoyed.

So being a friendly guy, wanting to meet your customers, is no excuse for doing the work on your own time. Make your collections chore customer-friendly by doing it while they are not there.

RULE NO. 2: VARY COLLECTION TIMES

Mix up the times you cash out. For one thing, it’s safer. If someone was watching you, and saw that you cashed out at 9 every night, they could plan a robbery around that fact. Sure, you’d prefer even-hourly units for your collections, but variation to prevent problems is a more paramount consideration.

Second, mixing up your times allows you to observe your store at different times. This is especially crucial if your shop is unattended. You will learn.

For instance, going at night, you could see that a rougher element hanging around out front scares away potential customers. If you only cashed out in the early-morning hours, you would never know this.

If you only cashed out after the store closed, you might not know that the 3-to-6 time slot is busiest and could do with an attendant during those times (possibly you could be that attendant).

You might never discover that the store is dirty at night because the afternoon attendant isn’t doing her cleaning, if you only cashed out at 5 p.m.

You always learn something every time you enter your store with fresh eyes. Give yourself the opportunity for wide sampling. Vary your collection schedule. Obviously, the best times to do collections are early in the morning, while closing, and during slow times during the day. Figure out a varied pattern during these slots.

RULE NO. 3: MAKE THE COLLECTION CHORE AS INNOCUOUS AS POSSIBLE

Be as “invisible” as you can. Don’t brag, don’t tell customers that you are the owner, and don’t let cash be visible.

Frankly, it’s also a good idea to keep your talking to a minimum. It’s distracting. Focus on the task. Keep scrupulous records, but don’t do it in plain sight. If you have a small office, go in there to do your paperwork. If your office is at home, go there.

If you assign collections to a staffer, instruct him or her to follow the rules I’ve described. It is not OK for the staffer to do collections during heavy-use periods because they’re too busy to do it any other time. They must somehow find the time during slower periods to do the chore.

You could set up the rule that they can cash out only when the machines are unoccupied, but this means keeping records. The attendant will take the cash from machines 3, 4 and 5, mark this down, and go on. When machines 1 and 2 are unoccupied, the attendant would go back and pull out cash from those machines. This is perfectly acceptable, as long as the attendant is detail-minded.

It’s obvious that collecting is a vital function. Not only is it your revenue stream, but laggard collections could fill up the boxes, disabling machines.

Still, make the task as unobtrusive as possible. The less that customers see it being done, the better off you’ll be.

About the author

Howard Scott

H&R Block

Industry Writer, Drycleaning Consultant, and H&R Block Tax Preparer

Howard Scott is a longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant, and an H&R Block tax preparer specializing in small businesses. He welcomes questions and comments, and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359.

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