Pointers from Paulie B: Handling Unhappy Customers (Conclusion)


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Paul Russo |

Drop-off service is whole other ballgame: Russo

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Customers complain. We’ve all been there—many times—and you will continue to experience unhappy customers on a regular basis for years to come. But why?

Sometimes you’re at fault, and sometimes you’re not.

Some customers are habitual complainers, almost to the point of being in their DNA! But some customers have good reason to lodge a complaint against your Laundromat, your employees, or you personally.

Some complain graciously, but some can come at you angrily. Don’t take it personally—this is part of the business.

Handling customer complaints is far more important nowadays than in the past because, quite frankly, they have power ... the power to leave you a bad review that can tarnish your online reputation!

So, if you want to change a potential 1-star review into a potential 5-star review, here’s what’s needed:


Drop-off service is a whole other ballgame. Your responsibility is higher because you are handling their laundry. 

I found that the “con artists” who think they are smart in scamming you almost always attempt this with their first or second drop-off. They are basically strangers.

Your regular customers fall into the category of the article loss/damage was real, or they think it is real.

We found sometimes that the customer or their “significant other” or family member actually left the article in question out of the drop-off bag but the customer was unaware.

So, our standard for missing items was:

  • Let the customer vent their complaint without interruption. Then take their personal information—name, phone number, date/time when they dropped off, when they picked up, and ticket number (if possible)—so you can trace their order. Then, take down a description of the item, including size, color, material, etc. The more information you gather the better. You can print up a complaint form for this to guide your crew in what to ask the customer.
  • Tell them the owner/manager will call them in a day or two (if he/she is not already on the premises).
  • Use this time to not only do your search but to ask the customer to check at home because, in many cases, it’s the customer who finds the missing item.

For damaged items, our standard was:

  • If the article is bleach-damaged, it could very well have happened in your place. I would just take responsibility and give them a credit.
  • For rips, tears and food stains, occurring while in your mat is not as likely. If you discover stains on the front of a shirt, pants or skirt, it was most likely done by the customer when they were eating, and you can tell them so. This shifts the responsibility to them, and you can look like the good guy by saying you’ll work on removing the stains at no charge.
  • If it’s a situation in which a pen, crayon, mascara or anything else has popped in the dryer, if you have a warning sign posted that tells customers to “check your pockets, as we are not responsible for...,” then you can legally avoid payment. However, is that the best response?

In claims of damage, always save the evidence! A crayon wrapper from a customer who has small children is like gold for you! Even if the customer denies it, you can always use this evidence in court … but again, is going to court the smartest move?

So now we are in the negotiating stage. Remain calm during this time, even if the customer is screaming at you.

Use evidence of pocketed items, stains on the front of shirts, etc., simply to get the cost of crediting the customer down. You know that they almost always say the item was “brand-new”! If they hit you with a nice round number like $200, be on guard that they are most likely jacking up the price.

My answer to that: “Well, since you say it is brand-new, then you must still have the receipts.”

The standard reply: “Well, I don’t save receipts!” Bingo—you now have the edge.

“Well, if have to go to small claims court over this,” you answer, “a judge would want evidence. Otherwise, he will rule against you.”

Googling the item’s real price will also bring them down to earth.

In the case of item damage, your response to “I don’t save receipts” is, simply, “Then you are asking me to compensate you for used laundry. Just the fact that you brought it in to be washed makes it used.”

If it’s a missing item, the customer would clearly lose the case. If it’s a damaged item, your argument of used laundry will clearly bring the compensation price way down.

However, you don’t really want to let this go all the way to court. This is a lose/lose scenario! You want to save the customer!

What you are trying to do is to simply get the customer to realize he or she is not going to get $200 out of you because he/she wants to punish you for all the unfairness in life with a “Gotcha!”

You want to bring him or her down to earth, so you can both come to a reasonable settlement. So reasonable, in fact, that he/she will walk away happy with what was settled, and you will feel satisfied that you gave a more reasonable settlement out of your pocket to keep that customer happily coming back!

When I was in that position, I actually offered them a little more than they expected: a free nylon laundry bag, or an extra $10 credit. 

I might have told them that I would be speaking with the crew member who made the mistake. If they disliked that crew member, I would say, “No problem! Here are the names of my best crew members. Just ask for one of them the next time you come in.”

Now, here’s where you’re gonna think I’m crazy! In some cases, when I felt the customer was still not completely satisfied, or seemed uneasy about coming back, or was going to leave a bad review, I gave them my personal cell phone number and told them to call me if they ever had another problem.

On the surface, you may be thinking, “No way!” However, doing this blows their mind in a very positive direction. They now feel that you trust them so much that you, the boss, are totally on their side!

Over the years, I probably gave out my cell phone number at least 50 times. At most, five customers ever used it. That’s the truth. (Besides, you can always block them if necessary.)

Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.

About the author

Paul Russo

Paul Russo owned and operated multiple Laundromats in New York City for more than 40 years before retiring recently. He’s a regular on the Coin Laundry Association’s online forum, posting under the pseudonym “Paulie B.” He invites comments from AmericanCoinOp.com visitors at MyLaundromat@aol.com.


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