At Your Service

By Bob Nieman, CLA Member posted 27 days ago

  
What Are You Doing to Delight Your Laundry Customers?

The key is to set realistic customer expectations, and then not to just meet them, but to exceed them – preferably in unexpected and helpful ways. – Richard Branson

The numbers don’t lie…

• More than half of Americans have scrapped a planned purchase or transaction because of bad service.

• 33 percent of Americans say they’ll consider switching companies after just a single instance of poor service.

• Americans tell an average of 15 people about a poor service experience, versus the 11 people they’ll tell about a good experience.

• U.S. companies lose more than $62 billion annually due to poor customer service.

• 74 percent of people are likely to switch brands if they find the purchasing process too difficult.

• Seven out of 10 U.S. consumers say they’ve spent more money to do business with a company that delivers great service.

Yet, just go to the nearest mall or visit review sites like Yelp, and you’ll see that many companies fall short when it comes to serving and delighting consumers.

Don’t let your laundry business be one of them. Strive to provide excellent customer service and make sure that you and everyone else on your team are willing to go above and beyond for your customers.

Need some inspiration? Take a look at what some perennial customer support superstars – such as Trader Joe’s, Apple, Zappos, Nordstrom, and Amazon – are doing to differentiate themselves from the competition:

When it comes to recruiting for customer service roles, you’re better off hiring for attitude and training for skill.

In fact, Bruce Nordstrom, the former chairman of Nordstrom, once said, “We can hire nice people and teach them to sell, but we can’t hire salespeople and teach them to be nice.”

Trader Joe’s, the high-performing grocery chain known for its warm and happy staff, also hires based on attitude. Mark Gardiner, author of “Build a Brand Like Trader Joe’s,” talked about this topic when he described the company’s training process.

“It starts with everyone introducing themselves,” he explained. “Now, we’ve all heard these stories about how people fear public speaking more than death. But, in that group of 50 people, all the hands went up. It was like, ‘Pick me, pick me! I can’t wait to tell you about me.’

“The next really profound thing that happened – after realizing these people were not just a random group of people – was finding that the trainees were all naturally empathetic. They wanted to listen to other people talking about themselves. They wanted to have conversations with other people.”

When training your staff members, go beyond teaching them about your products and store policies. See to it that they’re also well-informed when it comes to the importance of body language and speech. Subtle changes in gestures and wording can make a big difference in how customers react.

Retailers such as Nordstrom and Apple are aware of this, which is why they have some specific policies for their store associates.

For example, Nordstrom salespeople rarely point; if you have a question about where something is located, they walk you there. Salespeople also can offer to ring up your purchase without you ever having to stand in line – this occurs a lot particularly in the shoe departments. Departments are generally trained to answer the phone on no more than the second ring. And salespeople are taught to walk your bagged purchase around the counter to you, rather than just handing it across the counter.

Apple is another retailer that puts a lot of emphasis on speech and body language. The company has some precise guidelines when it comes to the words that Apple Store Geniuses can use. For instance, Geniuses are trained to never use terms like “bug” or “problem” and instead say words like “condition,” “issue,” or “situation.” They’re also taught to read the body language of consumers, and its employee workbook even has a cheat sheet of what certain movements and gestures mean.

What’s the secret behind Amazon’s success? Everyone in the company – from support reps all the way up to top executives – has a solid understanding of their customers. Amazon accomplishes this by encouraging all employees (including CEO Jeff Bezos) to attend two days of call center training every year in order to instill humility and empathy for the customer.

It doesn’t stop there. Amazon’s obsession with shoppers extends to staff meetings at the conference room. As Forbes reported, “Bezos periodically leaves one seat open at a conference table and informs all attendees that they should consider that seat occupied by their customer, ‘the most important person in the room.’”

Zappos is famous for its award-winning customer service, and stories and case studies abound as to just how amazing its support team is. One of the ways the e-tailer accomplishes this is by empowering its representatives to use their judgement and just keep customers happy.

“We don’t have scripts,” said CEO Tony Hsieh, in an interview. “We don’t measure call times trying to get customers off the phone in the name of efficiency. We don’t try to upsell. We really just try to provide that human connection and deliver the best service possible.”

Given that, we asked some of today’s successful laundry owners to share the specific ways in which they connect with and best serve their walk-in customers, as well as their full-service clients:

Daniel Sofranko
Perfect Wash-Express Laundry Center
Newport Beach, Calif.

Even in a store with relatively new, state-of-the-art machines and a modern buildout, great customer service is our number-one differentiator. Customer service starts with giving the customers what they want – and doing it with respect.

According to the Coin Laundry Association’s Laundry Customer Profile statistics, customers desire three factors from a laundry above all: (1) having enough machines available, (2) cleanliness, and (3) a feeling of safety and security.

If there are any machines sitting full after they’ve finished their cycle, we’re happy to empty the finished items into a cart to enable another customer to use this equipment. When we do this, we always wear gloves and cover the finished laundry with a larger item to show respect toward the laundry. We also place a custom-printed Post-it note on the cart and leave it adjacent to the machine we emptied. This differentiates us from the apartment neighbor who throws the stuff on top of the apartment dryer to load the washer.

We also will walk our customers around the card system and machine operations until they are comfortable with how our store works.

All of us contribute to maintaining the cleanest store in southern California, with a robust cleaning and maintenance routine. The customers always notice and let us know how much they appreciate it, either in person or online.

Since two-thirds of a vended laundry’s customers are women – and I’ve observed that about three-fourths of them come in alone – another main customer service point at my store is to “Keep the Ladies Safe!” Simply having an attendant present typically will cover it. However, it doesn’t hurt to have amazing customers, who on occasion have ousted undesirables.

Of course, we’re polite and fun, but if there aren’t machines ready for the customers in a clean, safe store, nothing else will matter.

As far as wash-dry-fold, consistency is the key – providing dependably great service and neat, professional-looking packaging. This shows our customers that we appreciate their business by respecting how we handle, process and package their clothing and other laundry items. It exhibits professionalism and builds trust. Whatever we process for them, the customer is going to wear or sleep on. That makes it personal to them and important to us.

The feedback we receive from customers – both verbal an online – is the most immediate and tangible benefit of our customer service initiatives. We constantly receive compliments about how helpful and friendly the staff is; how clean the store is; how they came in due to word-of-mouth from a friend, neighbor or acquaintance; how convenient, quick and effective our machines are; how cool the store is; and how safe they feel here.

Of course, there are costs involved with customer service. Doing things well usually means doing them right, which usually means not doing them cheaply. Bright, friendly people command a higher wage than their ordinary counterparts. State-of-the-art equipment and modern buildouts come at a premium. And regular maintenance adds up, as well as nicer supplies and packaging used to raise the bar for a wash-dry-fold service. However, all of those premium costs can come with a return when implemented correctly.

Lest I forget the spousal sacrifice of time, energy and patience, the greatest cost on the way up the growth curve, which God-willing will also someday yield a return.

The best advice I can give to other laundry owners is to remember that they’re in the “people business.” It’s people doing for people. Be good to your people, and they will in turn be good to your customers, and finally you can be good to yourself. The two attributes that have helped me above all others are my honesty and my authenticity.

We’re lucky to be fully attended by bright, friendly and caring individuals – for many of whom, laundry is not a passion. However, these staff members possess the integrity to do anything they put their names on to the best of their ability for the sake of our store and its reputation.

It’s those bright, friendly and caring individuals who are truly responsible for “giving the customers what they want – and doing it with respect.” For these great people, I am truly blessed and grateful, and it’s to them that I attribute Perfect Wash – Express Laundry Center’s success.

David Smith
Merchant Dr. Laundry
Strawberry Plains, Tenn.

I’m certain that customer service substantially impacts the success of a laundromat. Good customer relations are even more important now than they used to be, because of reviews and ratings on Google and other business listing internet sites. If you make a customer mad, they will give you a bad review or a low rating, which will be seen by many potential customers. If your customer ratings are low, many prospective customers will search for other laundromats with higher ratings. Therefore, you lose business.

My coin laundries are unattended, but I am in those stores several times a week, and I always talk to the customers while I’m there and ask them if they’ve had a good experience in our laundry. And I always thank them for their business.

We have our phone number and email address posted prominently on the walls in our laundries, and we respond quickly to any customer issues. If a customer says he or she lost money in one of our machines, we will always provide a refund without questions asked. If someone says he or she lost $5 in a washer, I’ll refund $7 – to cover their detergent and drying. In fact, we typically pay out more than the customer lost.

In addition, from time to time, I’ll randomly start a washer for a customer for free. Or sometimes I’ll give customers free laundry bags. They tend to remember those small, random acts, and I know my self-service laundries do substantially more volume due to our excellent customer service.

Larry Adamski
Muskegon Laundromat
Muskegon, Mich.

At Muskegon Laundromat, service is Job One, because it directly affects the financial performance of the business. As a result, I’ve eliminated everything that distracts from providing the very best level of service for my customers. Our drop-off laundry service was eliminated more than three years ago because it placed a disproportionate demand on me and my employees. Today, my staff and I give our full attention to the experience of our self-service customers.

Excellent customer service in a strictly self-service laundromat like mine means paying attention to every detail. Every washer, every dryer, the vending machine, every area of the floor, the trash cans, the restroom, everything – it’s all cleaned as soon as it gets dirty. In addition, laundry cart wheels, seating units, washer door hinges and bulkheads are cleaned weekly. When something breaks down, it’s fixed in less than 24 hours. And a uniformed attendant is always on duty to answer questions posed by new customers.

However, excellent customer service goes beyond even these basics. It also includes beautifully landscaped grounds, extra wide VIP parking spaces, electric entrance door systems, an ATM, phone-charging stations, free W-Fi access, a convenient DCO payment system, and security.

Excellent customer service is an integral part of my business plan. In fact, my business plan is continually being evaluated through direct customer feedback using “Laundromat Report Cards,” which my customers choose to fill out from time to time. These cards are then inserted into a slot in the wall, and only I have the key to retrieve them. More importantly, my business plan is evaluated through the coins in the coin boxes. Each dollar coin is like a “vote.” It’s the customer voting for that type of washer or dryer. It’s the customer voting for my laundromat over my competitors’ stores. It’s the customer voting for how I operate my laundromat. It’s the customers voting that my prices are OK with them.

My lifestyle represents the total tangible benefit I’ve gained from my business plan, which is based on excellent customer service. The rewards have been great. I’ve owned airplanes and yachts. I live in an upscale home on a lake with my wife, Barbara, and our miniature schnauzer. And our next cruise is already booked. Those are the real benefits of first-class customer service.

These days, I work at the laundry a mere 12 hours per week, and I love my work. I could have retired at 55, but I’m having too much fun.

Debbie Dower
Paradise Laundry
El Dorado Hills, Calif.

Customers are the reason we exist. Those turns per day don’t just happen on their own.

One of the keys to good customer service – especially with unattended locations – is sending refunds promptly. Customers often assume that, since no one is on site, they will never receive their money back. Our original goal is for customers to receive any refunds within one week. However, we’ve recently added refund request forms to our website, which are sent to me in real time. As a result, refunds are now sent out within 24 hours.

What’s more, at our locations that accept credit cards, I will send the refund on a loyalty card, rounding up so that the customer actually receives more than requested. Never lose a customer over petty cash.

Henry Walter
Whale of a Wash
Martinsburg, W.Va.

My 10 stores are unattended. So, my best chance to make a positive impact on our customers is when they call in with a problem, typically after having lost money in one of our washers or dryers. Of course, our first response must always be, “Thanks for calling. I want to make certain you get a full refund of your money.”

Most customers will then respond, “You will? Wow, OK.” It’s amazing how their tone will quickly switch from “ready at battle stations” to a simple, friendly explanation of the issue.

We record their names and addresses in our customer computer file and promptly issue a check. We’ll get a few back as undeliverable, and we’ll also have a few customers who prefer to wait for a service tech. Also, the computer records enable us to be on the alert for those few customers who may be trying to “game the system.”

News travels fast among laundry customers. Once you establish a solid reputation for cheerful, no-hassle refunds, your number of online “likes” increases quickly, as do your subsequent turns per day. Our service techs are taught to always give the customer the benefit of the doubt – and to assume that the problem lies with the machine, not the customer. Despite this customer-first philosophy, our refund program – including expenses paid for any damaged clothes – has never exceeded 0.5 percent of our gross revenues per year for the 20 years that we’ve been in business.

Today, we’ve got an additional tool for measuring customer service – comments on Google, Yelp and other online platforms. We respond to every non-positive comment with a brief explanation, as well as “thank you and we will try harder.” What’s more, we proofread all of our replies to assure that we’re not projecting a defensive or negative attitude in our online communication.

I also believe strongly in signage as customer service. The machine capacity and vend price of each style of washer is clearly displayed on professionally prepared Coroplast signs, which hang above each bank of washers at an angle facing the entry to the store.

Signage also serves to properly inform customers about our policies on lost and found items, service dogs, unattended clothes, etc. These signs help to educate our customers and also may be politely referred to in response to a customer complaint with regard to any of those issues.

For me, customer service in the vended laundry business must be kept simple and consistent. I’ve found it to be very effective in helping build our business.

Bruce E. Rocha, Sr.
Mattapoisett Laundromat
Mattapoisett, Mass.

Customer service makes a big difference. We instruct our attendants to approach customers with advice on the size of machine to use and how to use them, in order to help them save money. We also offer to help carry heavy bundles in and out of the store. And our card system provides customer rewards for putting $20 or more on a card, so we’re sure to suggest they take advantage of those savings.

Beyond that, we make sure the parking lot is clear of snow and ice during the winter. We also provide automatic doors, free Wi-Fi access, and charging stations – all for the convenience of our customers. We offer a quiet, peaceful patio where customers can go outside and relax while they wait for their laundry. And, in the summer, I have a large vegetable garden, and I bring in baskets of vegetables to give away to the customers.

With our wash-dry-fold service, we greet regular clients by name. We tell them exactly when their laundry will be completed, and we stick to our word. We place finished items on hangers at no extra charge, and we package the laundry in clear plastic, as if it were brand new.

We immediately offer a solution to any issue; if it’s possibly our fault, we offer to reimburse them. If they claim a damaged item is a certain price and it’s even close to reasonable, we don’t quibble over it. Overpaying by $5, $10 or even $20 is a cheap price to pay for a loyal customer. After all, it costs more than that to attract a new customer through advertising. Also, if a customer is ill and needs a pickup or a delivery, we will provide it at an extra fee. Or, if clients need something processed extra quickly, we accommodate them – again, for an additional fee.

I visit the store every day and talk to the customers. I see customers bringing gifts to our attendants, and I will observe our wash-dry-fold customers giving substantial tips to our attendants. I also see our customers picking up after themselves, because the store is so clean and they just want to keep it that way.

Good customer service is simple: treat your customers as you want to be treated.

Tyler Blair
The Washboard Laundry
San Diego, Calif.

Good customer service is the key to any business’ success. If a customer has a bad experience in your store, the likelihood of him or her returning is slim. Not only does good customer service keep customers coming back, but those clients turn into a marketing machine for your business. After all, you know they’re telling their friends and family about how great the experience is at your vended laundry.

More than that, they’re going online to tell people. Therefore, good customer service will lead to positive reviews, while just a few negative reviews could possibly damage your reputation to the point where it will impact your business.

In a self-service laundry setting, customer service is about making sure the experience your customers have in the store is a pleasant and positive one. Excellent customer service is being proactive to any issues that might negatively affect your customer. Is the restroom clean? Are the magazines current? Is there any graffiti anywhere? Does all of the equipment work? Do you and your staff smile when you greet customers? What is the tone in your voice when you answer the phone? Excellent customer service is not one thing – it’s a wide array of little factors and behaviors.

Ideally, you want your customers to come and go with no issues. In my opinion, if a customer notices at least three things about your store or their laundry experience that aren’t right for them, they are going to come away with a negative image of your store.

At our business, we also handle a lot of commercial accounts, which are great because you’re typically working with other business owners and managers. Of course, these individuals have a lot going on. So, as their laundry service, we want to be reliable and consistent so that they know they can focus on other parts of their businesses. Customer service is listening to the customer and making sure their wants and needs are being met within reason. It’s showing up for deliveries when promised, listening to concerns and complaints, even if they’re not necessarily laundry-related. It’s being flexible to the customers’ needs, again within reason. Clearly, delivering a quality product is a huge component to building trust with a commercial account.

Overall, we spend hours training our employees. We train them how to greet customers, how to answer the phone, how to handle complaints, and so on. We aim to be consistent and reliable and to produce a quality product. We greet customers when they walk in, and we thank them on their way out. We check in with them to make sure everything is OK; I ask customers all the time if we are still taking good care of them. We even have “mystery shoppers” call the store and report back to us with regard to those interactions with our employees.

We gauge the success of our customer service program based on repeat business. Our goal is to create a repeat customer on the first visit. In fact, we just celebrated our eighth year in business, and we’ve got some customers who use our delivery service that have been with us for more than five years. It’s all about building and growing those relationships.

The direct tangible benefits of our customer service initiatives have been an increase in revenue, as well as a strong reputation on popular social media sites. We have worked hard on this latter aspect. It’s fun to see what customers will write about us, especially when it’s a bad review. Of course, we immediately correct anything negative, and then let the reviewer know that the problem has been solved.

In the food business, it’s said that “a good server can make bad food taste good.” I would suggest that laundry owners visit other local businesses and take notes as to what their personal experience was like. You can learn a lot that way. Make a list of what you liked and what you didn’t like. Next, work with your employees to make sure they understand the big picture as you see it. We’ve modeled our policies after companies such as REI, Costco, and McDonald’s. All of these companies make the experience enjoyable.

Lastly, don’t forget to follow up and then follow up again – and follow up some more. Never assume that everything is all right. You must constantly manage your customers and your cash flow.

Ross Dodds
Wash on Western
Los Angeles

Customer service has been the hallmark of our laundry business. Although we have new equipment and an updated store, those things come with a learning curve. I believe that being fully staffed, with our number-one goal being customer service, is what has helped our business grow as fast as it has. Vend price is certainly not everything, and our customer service has proven that fact.

Our staff is always there to make sure the store stays clean, safe, and ready to address machine questions or machine issues. Not only that, but we also are ready to lend an ear to customers who may feel like chatting about life.

When it comes to our store’s wash-dry-fold service, I feel we display our customer service in the form of our rewards program for repeat clients. We also provide the finished product inside of a custom reusable tote, which includes a thank-you card that asks customers to contact us should they have any issues with our service or finished product. Of course, a consistent folding technique providing the same high level of finished product every time, regardless of who processes the order, is a main factor as well.

All in all, our business is fully staffed all of the time, our employees are extended a certain level of authority to “fix” problems, and I am always available to respond to a customer issue immediately. This customer service plan has been quite effective, as evidenced by our continued growth. Also, we have nearly 100 Yelp reviews, and we’ve increased our vend prices three times, despite being open just a year and a half.

Obviously, there are costs involved with providing quality customer service. At our business, we offer a rewards program that runs through our POS system; we continue to stay ahead of wage increases for our state; we have an incentive program for our staff members; we keep our machines in service; and we fix any equipment issues within days. This all involves some cost, but it also has proven to be worth it.

Then again, sometimes the best customer service is simply being available to listen and to be able to say we will work on doing better. Customers can get angry and the negativity can escalate quickly. In today’s world of instant online access, if they are allowed to stew on some specific issue, they are bound to share those feelings in the moment. However, if you are there to listen and respond to them, nine times out of 10 a responsible customer is going to feel acknowledged and will calm down – and they will end up either not posting anything online or they will post how quickly and efficiently their issue was handled.

At the end of the day, good customer service is all about how someone feels after their interaction with your laundry business.
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