GLENDALE, Ariz. — Because laundromats deal with the public, any type of personality can come into your store during working hours.
Most are fine. Some are wonderful, some cause problems, and some actively want to be a pain in the neck. This column deals with strategies for handling the problem customers.
Let’s face it, doing laundry is not most people’s favorite activity. In fact, some people downright hate it. Therefore, if we want to diminish the overall odds of negative customer behavior on a large scale, the mission should always be to make the laundry experience as pleasant as possible.
If you can’t make them like doing laundry, at least you can make the task less unpleasant for them.
HIRE HAPPY WORKERS … AND KEEP THEM THAT WAY
The worst thing you can do in handling problem customers is to have hired problem employees.
You need to have happy, patient people working for you who can handle a problem customer with grace and style. It’s not easy sometimes. The last thing you need is to hire a hothead who gets easily triggered by a rude customer.
One person in these confrontations needs to be able to keep their cool, and that person is your employee.
Also, your employees need to understand the skills in defusing a problem customer. They need to learn to remain patient, stay positive, and exhibit good listening skills. They must have a knack at communication and problem-solving.
THE HABITUAL COMPLAINER
Some people complain every time they come to your mat. Some are just trying to get something for nothing, while others are just miserable, unhappy people who are plain nasty each time they visit.
Why put up with these chronic complainers if it’s been proven time and time again that you will never please them? Why let them bring down your crew and the other customers?
As the boss, you have the luxury of banning people … as long as you don’t discriminate against them. The ban must be due to their behavior, which, of course, you will have documented many times.
I had a favorite reply for these types who would complain every time they came in:
“We’ve found that you complain every time you come here. We’ve tried to please you, yet you always find something wrong. So I ask you, why do you come here? Why do you want to subject yourself to our inferior laundromat? There’s another mat on the next block. I suggest you go there from now on. I don’t want to see you here anymore.”
Many times, they didn’t know how to reply. They never thought they would be banned, and some of them did apologize. They were like children, testing your boundaries.
Banning them got the monkey off my back and gave it to my competition.
The funny thing is, these types of people are hard to get rid of. They’ll sneak back in when they think you aren’t there, because you both know this is the best deal for them despite their chronic complaining. But now they will use your mat and leave without uttering a peep.
A woman once called the police on me because I banned her. This entitled person thought she was so smart to call the authorities. I thanked her for making it official because the cops could now enforce my trespass order, and that’s exactly what was done.
Some drop-off customers will try to extort money from you by claiming something in their wash-and-fold order is damaged or missing. To protect yourself, you should weigh the laundry upon receipt and after processing.
Ask them to please check again at home. This buys you time to trace your processing steps.
If you did lose something, give them a credit. It’s a small price to pay to make them happy and to keep coming back.
LOITERERS, BE GONE
Loiterers can really hurt your business. In my experience, they’re often drunk or stoned, which is a huge turnoff to customers who must sit alongside them. Sometimes they smell really bad.
Loitering absolutely must be nipped in the bud. Once loiterers find there’s no resistance to them “staking a claim” in your mat, it will be twice as hard to get them to leave, or to stop coming back.
(Tip: Make sure that your chairs and benches have armrests so loiterers can’t lie down fully to sleep in your mat.)
Approaching these people respectfully and politely is the best way to start. Some may leave with no problem if you approach them within minutes of their arrival.
For loiterers who are more stubborn, it’s best to approach them in numbers. If you can muster two or three people to accompany you, it does help.
For the safety of your crew, if you have to call the police, do so discreetly so the loiterer doesn’t know who called. I hope your mat is in a community where the police are responsive to such calls.
Some people simply refuse to be harmonious and will ignore your signs, your employees, and even you, the owner. These are narcissistic people who don’t care about anyone but themselves. So why continue to allow this selfish and disruptive personality to stay?
When all else fails, ban the customer from your store. A nice way to do it is to tell them there are laundromats all over and encourage them to choose another that can make them happy.
DOCUMENT THE DETAILS
Finally, don’t forget to document encounters with the people you see as problem customers. Keeping a record of these events can be very important in helping your case should the law get involved.
Record the date, time, names of persons involved, names of witnesses, and a step-by-step description of the encounter, including if it was captured on video.
A small-business owner like you has enough to worry about without having to spend a lot of time and energy contending with difficult customers. By being prepared for how you’ll respond in a given situation, you and your staff can best deal with these challenges.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].