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Dealing with Angry or Difficult Laundry Customers (Conclusion)

Focusing on self is recipe for conflict resolution failure: Hilton

PLANO, Texas — You’re in a service business—even if it’s technically a self-service business—and you’ve made it your mission to provide your local community with the ability to do laundry.

While many patrons will be pleased with your service, there will be times that, no matter what you or your staff do, a dissatisfied customer will grow angry or become difficult to deal with.

So what’s the best way to handle a situation like that and successfully resolve it to the satisfaction of everyone involved?

As a conflict resolution consultant, coach and mediator for his company, Resolution Stream, Dave Hilton has some ideas. In Part 1, he shared how much time you might expect to devote to conflict resolution, some signs that a customer may be difficult to deal with, and how to first approach an angry or difficult customer. Let’s continue:


When approached by a customer who appears angry or disagreeable, the worst thing that a store owner can do when someone complains is to become defensive.

“That’s our natural instinct, to become defensive: ‘This is my business, my location, and I do the best that I can.’ … First, you have to stop thinking of yourself and put yourself in that person’s shoes. And just listen,” Hilton advises. “The biggest thing that people complain about is that their issues, their problems, nobody is validating them.”

But be mindful about where you’re listening to the complaint and who else may be within earshot. By allowing a customer to openly vent in the middle of your store, you could unknowingly be giving others an opportunity to “pile on.”

“Whenever one person has a complaint and they finally vocalize that complaint to somebody, it gives other people permission. ‘Well, I have one, too,’ and all of a sudden you have this mob mentality of everybody ganging up. Most people can’t deal with that situation, or know how to deescalate that situation.”

Hilton suggests inviting a customer into your office to have the conversation privately. If that’s not possible, try stepping out onto the sidewalk: “‘Hey, it’s kind of loud in here because of all the machines and the TVs blaring. Let’s step outside and see if we can talk about it.’ That way, it’s about you and that person speaking individually rather than having those other people (chiming in). You can deal with those later.”


Laundry owners most likely to fail at conflict resolution tend to focus on themselves and their own feelings, according to Hilton.

“That’s where most people fail. They don’t make it about the other person, they make it about whatever restrictions or things that they can’t control,” Hilton says. “Well, what can you control? Ask that question of yourself first. What can you do—that may be different than what they’re asking for—that could still appease them and make them happy?”

When dealing with an angry or difficult customer, remember their long-term value to your business.

“You want them to come back and continue to use your products,” Hilton says. “That small little thing that takes 15 or 30 minutes of your time … could make them be extremely loyal to your location and come back for years to come.”

On the flip side, yes, there can be a time when dealing with a certain disagreeable customer isn’t worth the effort.

“There are some people that are just so toxic that they’re going to complain every single time, so how valuable are they to you? If they’re not that valuable, then it’s not worth engaging,” Hilton says. “‘I’m sorry this happened to you. Here’s your refund. Maybe you’d like to try the other laundromat down the road.’”

Now, if you’re located in a rural area and have a small customer base, you’re probably going to need to be willing to go farther to appease complaining customers than the owners of stores located in large population centers, he warns.

Getting back to those unfulfilled expectations, how can a laundry owner better understand how their customers think and feel about their store and how it’s being run?

“If you have an attended location, just ask simple questions,” Hilton suggests. “You will get a very good idea. … Ask their opinion about what works, what doesn’t work.”

Taking some time now to get to know customers will serve to help you should they come to you with a complaint.

And by remaining calm as you carefully listen to a customer’s concerns, you’ll be in the best position to find a way to resolve the matter and leave both of you satisfied.

Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.