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 you 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.
AVOID CONFRONTATIONS FROM THE START
First things first: Avoid or prevent angry confrontations from the start.
A busy mat raises tensions. Many problem customers will act only when your mat is busy with competition for machines, especially if some of the equipment is out of order.
On days when you know your mat will be busy, it will help you to have some extra crew members on hand just to supervise and help customers find open, available machines.
There were many times my crew would have to pause their drop-off work so customers could have a few more machines available. The best way to do this is to write up the drop-off orders’ pickup times while building in plenty of time to spare. Get the drop-off customers in the habit of there being at least a 24-hour turnaround, if not longer.
Discount the drop-offs during slow times, if you must. This gives the crew flexibility to give up their equipment during these busy times.
POST YOUR POLICIES PROMINENTLY
You should display signs that clearly state your mat’s rules and policies. You can’t enforce rules that aren’t posted.
I think you’ll find that many customers ignore your signs until they get into trouble for not following the posted rules. Therefore, the best use for a policy sign is that you can point to it when observing a customer violating a rule.
Policy signs will greatly help your case if a customer takes you to court. For instance, let’s consider the policy that a “customer must be present in the store when their machine stops or their laundry will be removed for the next customer.”
Without the signage, if you remove a person’s laundry without their knowledge or consent, they may become enraged that you touched their laundry.
Even with the sign, they can blow up if they were not aware of it and you are pointing it out. They can feel humiliated on top of their anger because you moved their clothes. So, post a big sign, or multiple signs.
PROJECTING AUTHORITY BY P.A.
Public address—P.A.—systems provide another tool to help prevent confrontations by announcing that a machine has stopped and asking the customer to remove their laundry. This projects a psychological impression of authority.
Your mat is busy, and people are waiting. All of a sudden, a couple of washers or dryers stop. Your worker gets on the P.A. and announces, “Washers number 20, 21 and 22 just stopped. Please take your laundry out.” This serves to alert the user that it is time to empty the machines. (In my stores, we routinely gave it three tries.)
If the customer is not in the store, don’t let the other customer take the laundry out. That’s what your crew is for.
Even then, some hotheads will start in, saying, “You never made an announcement.” That’s when other customers will usually come to your worker’s aid and say, “Oh, yes, they announced it 10 minutes ago.” Sometimes the hotheads will calm down, and sometimes they won’t.
If the customer becomes angry that their clothes were removed, then it’s wise to point to the policy sign. If they won’t let up, then point to the security cameras and announce, “I’m sorry but you weren’t here. The cameras don’t lie.”
This accomplishes two things: first, the angry customer has been checkmated, and second, they now realize they are being recorded, which makes them behave.
The best thing is to help the agitated customer secure a dryer, or a folding table, since they lost their place in line. You don’t want to just win arguments — you want to make friends!
SOOTHING THE SAVAGE BEAST
Your job, and the job of your employees, is to calmly listen to the customer sound off. Let them blow off steam without interrupting.
It’s always best to be patient and try to de-escalate a situation. Then you can offer solutions: another machine, or a refund, if necessary.
If it’s a drop-off order issue, you can always offer to redo it. Your cost is minimal.
In cases where our machines inconvenienced a self-service customer, we offered to finish up their laundry for them at no charge and they could pick it up later. This really soothed the savage beast (so to speak).
If you go this route, congratulations to you! You just turned an angry customer who would have bad-mouthed your mat into a sales rep for your business, telling everyone they know how great your mat is!
Once tempers flared and people grew so unreasonable to the point they were on the cusp of violence, I found the best way to bring civility back was to fall back on the cameras and the story they told.
Make sure you have a couple TV monitors that display what most of the cameras see. Having monitors in the store where customers can see themselves makes this doubly effective! But at that point, it’ll be up to you or your people to work out a peaceful solution.
Another way to get angry, disrespectful customers to calm down is to tell them, in a calm, steady voice, that abusive language or behavior will not be tolerated. If they want to complain about a person, a machine, or anything else, you’ll only listen to them if they speak calmly and with respect … as you have shown them.
Check back Wednesday for the conclusion!
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].