GLENDALE, Ariz. — The majority of Laundromat patrons are steady, loyal customers. This behooves you to make sure they are happy and satisfied. It is also a great opportunity to hear the good and bad so you have a better understanding of how to “steer your ship,” so to speak. If they have a complaint, this is your magic moment to resolve it (if possible) and turn that customer around.

In the early years of my mat career, I looked at complaints as a pain in the butt. My body language, tone of voice, and choice of words all showed it. My mats were screaming-busy back then, and my initial success went to my head. Boy, was I wrong!

After a couple of years of not listening to my customers and losing them, I realized just how important it is to communicate well and engage customers in a positive way.

Let’s explore the ways that you and your business can communicate with customers. There are more than a couple, and they range in value depending on the circumstances.

SPEAK FACE-TO-FACE

Let’s start with the obvious: speaking face-to-face (don’t forget your social distancing). As many mat veterans know, there are customers who want to meet the owner. Some will have compliments, some will have complaints, and some will try to sell you something. Always listen with your full attention. Remember that the customer puts food on your table, as well as the tables of your workers.

Customers sometimes may seem like bosses. But they can leave anytime, so we don’t want to scare them away through poor communication. They are regular people, often struggling with their lives.

ESTABLISH RELATIONSHIPS WITH REGULARS

Some customers will look out for your interests when you are not there, if they know you and feel truly welcomed by you. Cameras are great but they can’t give you the nuances that customers can capture, like overhearing an employee wisecrack or witnessing an incident outside a camera’s view.

MAINTAIN A STORE PHONE

Try to keep phones close and handy so employees can pick up quickly. If you have a busy mat, try using wireless headsets to improve efficiency. Fast-food restaurants have been using them for years to allow workers to multi-task.

TEXTING

Some businesses will offer a small giveaway in exchange for a customer’s permission to allow them to text them on their smartphones. This can be useful if you have drop-off customers.

Texting can be divided into two categories: first, for easy notification that a customer’s laundry is finished and ready for them to pick up, and second, for occasional promotions.

You don’t want to annoy customers by sending too many texts but an occasional offer of a sale where they can save a few bucks could be useful. Emailing customers is less invasive and may be a better route for promotions. Always allow them to opt out of any of your push notifications.

DEVELOP AN APP

More and more mats are offering their own custom apps that customers can download to their phones, especially for pickup and delivery service. Your distributor should be able to point you in the right direction, or you can check out industry forums to see what apps other owners are using.

MAINTAIN A WELL-DESIGNED WEBSITE

You should have a well-designed website. The days of simply “claiming your page” on review sites such as Yelp and Google are no longer enough. It’s one of the first ways a potential customer will learn about your business, so it better be awesome.

Just like a home’s curb appeal can make or break a home sale, your business’ online image is just as important, if not more. It’s becoming one of the most important ways that a customer will decide to pick your business over that of your competitor, so your website should be done well.

RESPOND TO REVIEWS

It’s important to respond to reviews, whether the input is positive or negative.

It’s nice to thank a customer for his or her positive review but it’s more important to respond to negative reviews! When you respond to reviews, it shows that you care. More importantly, a negative review is an opportunity for you to correct the issue that was raised and turn that customer around. You have a chance to win back that customer who, at $20 a week, is worth more than $1,000 a year.

All the while, potential customers who read the reviews can feel more confident to try your mat, knowing that it won’t leave them high and dry if they also have a problem. If you read reviews of your competitors, you may see that many do not respond, let alone correct them, so you have a potential edge here.

POST SIGNAGE INSIDE AND OUT

Tried and true, well-designed signs are extremely important for Laundromats. Find a good sign shop that can create most of your signs professionally to give your customers a feeling of confidence.

Get a laminating machine to make your paper signs much more permanent; many laminators cost less than $50. I found that eye-catching fluorescent paper (hot pink, lime green, etc.) with black ink will take a lot longer to fade if you laminate them.

If you’re really into “shouting out” new deals, consider a full-color, programmable LED sign. Some of them are really eye-catching. You can get a 40-inch-wide sign with 8-inch letters for around $150! Easily change your messages every day, if you wish. If you hang it in your main window, rather than outside, you may not need a permit for it. Still, it’s best to check local ordinances.

For signs that the driving public can see, it’s best to limit the message to seven words. More than seven may be too “busy” for passing drivers to read.

You can also hang a nice, big banner outside your mat. It’s “old tech” but still works very well. Banners are great for temporary promotions. If you change messages, consider making the banner material a different color for each message.

Check back Tuesday for the conclusion!