CHICAGO — Why does someone choose to use a certain Laundromat? Is it because it’s safe and secure, it’s clean, it has enough machines available? What about being close to home, with hours that fit their schedule, and offering sufficient parking? Where does vend price, or the availability of large-capacity equipment, or having an attendant on duty figure into the equation?
Actually, all of these factors might play a role in helping a customer decide where to clean their clothes. But what if the factors they find most important—say, machine availability, vend price and convenience, for example—are virtually equal between Laundry A and Laundry B? How does a customer choose then?
In cases like these, the manner in which they are served at A and B often becomes the tiebreaker. That’s right—it comes down to customer service.
And popular online review platforms like Yelp, Google and Facebook have placed even greater pressure on store owners to keep patrons happy or risk having their reputation sullied by an angry or disgruntled customer—whether the criticism is deserved or not.
American Coin-Op interviewed several store owners from around the country recently to learn how they go about providing customer service worthy of receiving a good review.
CONNECT WITH CUSTOMERS
To provide good customer service, it’s important to know what customers want. And that requires communication … or at least a good ear.
“I’m actually criticized by my partners sometimes because I’ll go out and spend a day in the laundries, just be there, fix the occasional broken machine or deal with the occasional customer service issue,” says Bill Norteman, who works as a pilot for United Airlines besides co-owning four Chicagoland Laundromats with various partners. “I basically schedule my duties on the busiest days because it’s the best time for people to complain.
“Sometimes, when you’re kneeling down unplugging a drain valve and you hear some customers chatting about this, that or the other thing they don’t like because they think you’re a regular technician, it’s really invaluable information. They won’t tell you what you really want to hear if you’re the boss.”
Besides instructing attendants to actively engage customers in conversation, California multi-store owner Boyd Woodard uses suggestion boxes. In the attendants’ room, he posts good comments from customers as a way to praise good performance and bad comments for attendants to use as teaching tools.
There are times that just walking the store and talking to customers can best inform your customer service efforts.
“We have a beautiful store,” says Glen Sheeley, who owns and operates Wash Co., a new Laundromat and car wash in New York state, with his parents. “Thought we had everything under the sun in it. And a lady says to my dad, ‘I love this place, but the only thing I don’t like is you don’t have coat hooks on the back of the bathroom doors.’ … So he gets them and puts them in. I’d really forgotten about it when this lady comes to the (office) door like a month later and says, ‘Omigod, you actually listened to me!”
“We learn what our customers want by exceeding their expectations,” says Marty Mullican, who co-owns the Owasso (Okla.) Express Laundry Center with his wife, Lynn. “This is not rocket science, but yet it seems difficult for some people to grasp. Just put yourself in the mindset of a customer. What would make their day go better? What would make this process go easier?”
IN SEARCH OF FIVE-STAR REVIEWS
It’s ever so easy for someone to post a review online these days, and the share of bad reviews frequently outnumber the number of good comments. Every store owner interviewed says he or she pays attention to customer feedback found online.
“What people normally do on Yelp is that they’re inclined to find the time to complain about a bad service,” says Tyrone Akins, who co-owns four Philadelphia Laundry Cafés with partners Brian Holland and Ray Chamberlin. “We try to flip that around and give them an excellent service and remind them while they’re there … to take a moment and let everyone know about their experience at the Laundry Café.”
“We fully embrace the things we’ve done well but we also learn quickly from the things we haven’t done so well,” Holland adds.
“If somebody puts something … online, and we do get comments online that we try to handle the same as we would in person, I think it means more in person,” Sheeley says. “I think when people write things on the Internet, you can read it any way … you can take it many ways.”
“I do see a lot come in through Google Reviews,” says Barrett. “I’ll respond to every review, as soon as I see the e-mail. I try not to put in canned answers. If I get a three-star review, I’ll reply right away and say, ‘Sorry about the concern. Please let us know if there’s anything that we can do better.’ … People reading it are going to see that you responded fairly quickly and left your e-mail address.”
Norteman and his partners pay to advertise on Yelp, Google and Facebook, so they’re adept at tracking the flow of information online. Like Barrett, as soon as a review is posted, they’re notified right away and have the opportunity to follow up with staff and then personally respond to the customer if they wish.
“I never ignore a review,” Norteman says, “at least not without looking into it and determining if there’s any validity to it.”
In Tuesday’s conclusion: Handling “mistakes,” and some final tips
If you missed Part 1, you can read it HERE.