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Handling of Refunds Varies by Laundry Owner: Survey

Some refund or restart machine without questioning, others want to see proof of problem first

CHICAGO — When one gets into self-service laundry ownership, it’s with the understanding that refunding a customer’s money is sometimes necessary when a washer or dryer doesn’t operate the way it should. But based on the results of this quarter’s American Coin-Op Your Views survey, how individual store owners handle refunds can vary a great deal.

The nature of the operation can influence how and when refunds may be issued. Attended stores frequently issue them quickly while it might take a bit longer to get money back from an unattended store, maybe even by check through the mail.

Among respondents to the unscientific survey, 36% operate an unattended store, 38% operate an attended store, and 26% operate both types.

Who in your store is authorized to issue a refund? Those taking the survey were asked to identify any position having that authority. Among respondents, it’s the owner(s) (82.4%) and/or any attendant (45.1%), the general manager (19.6%), store manager (19.6%), senior-level attendant (13.7%) or “other” (13.7%, including cleaners and technicians).

Some owners readily give a customer a refund or restart a machine, often with no questions asked. Here’s what respondents in that camp had to say:

  • “Most of the time, we give a refund, even when it’s the customer’s fault. Not worth the argument or bad relations.”
  • “Our rule is generally give the refund, as it is not worth the bad will, even if it’s a customer error (which is the majority of the time). If it’s a machine issue, we have them move their wash to a different (comparable) machine and then we pay for the new machine.”
  • “They leave a note, we mail a refund.”
  • “We look for obvious issues or malfunctions but generally take the guest’s word for it. I would rather not quibble over a couple of dollars to keep the loyalty of a long-term guest. Obviously, if we identify that somebody is abusing this, we politely address it.”

Others look into each situation a bit more deeply:

  • “When a customer calls regarding losing money in a machine, I ask a series of questions about how the money was lost. I then ask the customer to text me their name and address and (I’ll) tell them after I have reviewed the cameras. If I concur they lost money, then I will issue them a refund. If the cameras reveal they never even put money in the machine (which happens quite often), then I call them back and review what I watched on the cameras.”
  • “We try to get the machine working again. If it’s not a quick fix, we see where the mishap happened and then put money into a new machine for them, or extract their clothes if it just didn’t spin out. If the machine ate their money, we give them a refund.”
  • “Customer would tell attendant. Attendant contacts me. I run revenue and cycle report to determine if refund due or for us to start the machine.”

While still others do not refund money spent:

  • “No refund. (We) start another machine.”
  • “No cash refund! Ever! If that person is not happy, I offer to rewash their clothes. I often offer them soap to do so if they take me up on the offer. … Then toward the end of their wash cycle, offer them money to cover drying for their inconvenience. I cannot tell you how many people just wanted the money and did not accept my offer.”

While a store owner will honor the trustworthy customer, they don’t want to be duped by the dishonest. More than half of the owners surveyed (54.9%) say they record refunds in some way to ensure certain customers aren’t taking advantage of the situation.

Surveillance cameras and card payment systems have made it easier to identify events worthy of refunding, while apps like Venmo and PayPal make sending refunds via mobile device a snap. Still, a sizable share of respondents choose to mail a check or leave a refund in an envelope addressed to the customer at the store.

If a customer wants to know a particular store’s refund policy, they may have to ask. In the survey, only 21.6% of respondents say their policy is clearly displayed for everyone to see.

American Coin-Op’s Your Views survey presents an unscientific snapshot of the trade audience’s viewpoints at a particular moment. Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Subscribers to American Coin-Op emails are invited to participate anonymously in the industry survey. The entire audience is encouraged to participate, as a greater number of responses will help to better define owner/operator opinions and industry trends.