Pointers from Paulie B: Handling Unhappy Customers (Part 1)



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Paul Russo |

What you can do to turn that potential 1-star review into 5 stars

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:


It’s true, every complaint is an opportunity to transform an unhappy customer into a happy one, which will create a sales rep for your business. Here’s how to approach them:

  • Acknowledge their complaint in a sincere manner;
  • Handle it quickly and pleasantly, and thank them for alerting you to a problem; and
  • Make it right for them in a manner that is more than they expected!

Let’s begin with the most common customer complaint: “I put the money/card in and the washer/dryer didn’t start.”

Yes, some customers will try to scam you, but experience has taught me that the vast majority are telling the truth, or think they are telling the truth, due to an error in their operating the machine that they are not aware of.

It’s your duty to help them, not give them an annoyed look or a sarcastic remark. Since most of them think they are telling the truth, a snide remark can easily make them furious enough to never come back and/or leave you with a poor rating online.

Best response? “I’m so sorry. Let me help you by checking the machine.” Then you or your attendant quickly check if the machine is operating properly; do it in a pleasant manner, not like you are trying to catch them in a lie!

Checking a machine often requires another insertion of money. If the machine starts with your attempt, then pleasantly leave the customer with something like this: “It started this time, but thank you for the heads-up because it may not start for the next customer. Let me know when it’s finished, so we can give the machine a complete checkup.”

Then, when the customer tells you the cycle is finished, place an “Out of Order” sign on the machine in clear view. This validates to them that you really did believe them, which of course makes them feel good that they have chosen a mat with excellent customer service, that they will never get cheated by you.

Congratulations! You have now gained their trust and confidence, and they may just speak of that little interaction with family and friends, and possibly even post a nice online review. What did it cost you? One wash or one dry? Cheap advertising! A tiny price to pay to ensure that customer will keep coming back.

If this customer spends only $10 a week in your mat, you make up that wash or dry credit on their next visit! A year later, that customer has spent $520 in your store that you would not have if you brushed them off.

And, if you brushed them off and they left your business a bad review, it could cost you thousands in future business!

It all boils down to this: It’s far cheaper to keep existing customers than to find new ones!

Now, if the machine doesn’t start on your try, then you thank the customer for letting you know about a problem. Put their laundry in another machine, then put the original machine “Out of Order,” smiling while doing it. Smiles don’t cost anything. Acknowledge that these things happen and make the customer feel that you have his/her back when they do.

Here’s another thing to consider: Oftentimes, this refunding scenario is played out right in front of other customers! Many will be watching. So, depending on how you satisfy the complainer, your response could be multiplied in a positive or negative fashion without you even knowing it.

People are made uncomfortable by public arguments in “their” Laundromat, so unless you have a really unreasonable customer, try to avoid arguing with them.

Now, I know what you are thinking: If I just give in every time a customer wants a refund or credit, won’t the onlookers pile on? Won’t that customer try again?

Well, yes and no. Most will not pile on, and most will not try again.

For the ones that do try to take advantage of you, the solution is simple: a refund book.

Every time you or your attendant gives a refund or credit, enter the refund in the book by machine number, cause of refund, time/date, attendant name, and customer name. Have the customer sign the notation.

This can be handled with a simple book, but if you’re a real techie, and have the hardware and software, the customer can sign it digitally, just like you sign for a UPS package.

Having the customer sign for the refund will obviously show them that you are keeping a record of refunds and send a subliminal message that they can’t come in every time and declare that a machine “did not start.” Keeping a record puts the brakes on that, and it works. The book is also necessary to help you keep track of attendants’ handling of refunds.

With some card systems, a credit on a customer’s card can be easily recorded.

In the case of “My dryer stopped and my clothes are still wet,” you or your crew need to check the machine as usual. Sometimes, the dryer is really not putting out enough heat, or the dryer’s stove did not light up at all, or another customer came along and opened the dryer door, realized it wasn’t her dryer and then just left it stopped with the timer ticking away.

In all cases, I would just credit the customer and have them sign the refund book unless it’s obvious to you that they heavily overloaded the dryer. Then you need to educate them on how to dry properly: say, “The dryer needs room for the air to flow between the laundry,” before splitting the load into two dryers. I would still pleasantly credit them somewhat so they can leave with a happy experience.

In Thursday’s conclusion: Drop-off complaints


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