Customer Service at the Dry Cleaner: The Best Kept Secret

Carolyn B. Nankervis |

APPLETON, Wis. — As I travel around the country speaking to owners, it is apparent that dry cleaners measure nearly everything … except for customer service.

Ask about any esoteric part of the plant’s equipment, profit or costs and most owners can rattle off years worth of detailed data. In my world, if I ask about customer service, usually the best answer I receive from an owner is, “Well, yeah, that’s something we should look into.”

I was speaking with Mary Scalco, CEO of The Drycleaning and Laundry Institute, about this, and her comment was something to the effect of those who are in the drycleaning business tend to be the people who are interested in the nuts and bolts of the business. Obviously, this is important. As I have often stated, customers are coming to the cleaners for a reason. It’s usually to get items clean. So, if equipment isn’t up to par, it is important that time, money and effort are allocated and spent to improve equipment, staffing and training to do a better job.

I can’t say the same for customer service at the counter. If customer service isn’t up to par, I have seen some cleaners go to great lengths to spend money on anything but the customer’s experience.

Spending money on marketing is not going to help customer service. I call this “poof” marketing— poof, in a relatively short period of time a promotion, an offer, or a website can be created. However, marketing doesn’t address the central issue of customer experiences and loyalty. Marketing alone can’t create someone who is loyal. In my view, the only way to create a loyal customer is to deliver great customer service.

Obviously, fabulous cleaning is important, but a mute counter person, or a delivery driver who ignores drop-off instructions, will harm a customer relationship far more quickly than bad dry cleaning. Rapid response and good customer service will soothe a lot of drycleaning mishaps.

So, what’s a concerned dry cleaner to do? I say measure the counter performance—just like everything else. Improvement only comes after identifying what needs to be improved, developing a plan and following though to see the results. Hmmm, sounds suspiciously like what owners do every single day elsewhere in their cleaning establishments.

Here’s an idea for a customer service measurement plan:

  1. Inform front-line staff, including managers, that they will be measured on the criteria that form the backbone of good customer service:

  • Pleasant greeting with personal connection: “Hello, how are you?”

  • A smile.

  • Clean, pressed and appropriate clothing (logoed company apparel is great).

  • Good personal grooming (appropriate piercings and tattoos).

  • Use of the customer’s name.

  • Use of full sentences; “What do you have to be cleaned today” is good, “Dropping off?” is bad.

  • Inquiry about spots, stains, and special instructions.

  • Information about promotion or services (I call this the McDonald’s french fries question).

  • Positive closing remark.

  1. Develop a training program with a focus on three areas: empathy toward the customer; knowledge of fabrics and cleaning processes; and problem resolution.

  2. Pick a topic and decide who/how/when to train.

  3. Do it. Expect everyone to participate. Those who don’t are given a written reprimand and shortened hours.

  4. Explain that they will be tested in real situations at the counter, so practicing beforehand is the only way to be sure they know their stuff.

  5. Repeat the process.

We all know some managers and customer service reps will be better at this than others. Be sure to pair up those who are less adept at serving customers with those who are grade-A customer service players.

Finally, measure the results:

  • Fewer issues with clothing as it is processed

  • Fewer customer claims

  • Increased sales

  • Higher mystery-shopping scores

All owners have CSRs and managers. Measure their effectiveness! They are the key to improving and growing a drycleaning business.

The “best kept secret” is in reference to Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz. She had the ruby slippers all along. All she had to do was use them.

About the author

Carolyn B. Nankervis

MarketWise Consulting Group


Carolyn B. Nankervis is president of MarketWise Consulting Group, Appleton, Wis. Her firm specializes in small-business market research and highly detailed mystery-shopping programs. She can be reached at, 920-735-4970.


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