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Customer Service: Roll Out the Red Carpet (Part 1 of 2)

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Red carpet
(Photo: ©iStockphoto/Bart Sadowski)

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Trudy Adams
Trudy Adams, director of customer service and sales for Cleaner's Supply, a New York-based dry cleaning supplier. (Photo: Bruce Beggs)

Bruce Beggs |

LONG BEACH, Calif. — Providing good customer service was a common theme among the dry cleaning professionals presenting educational sessions during the recent Fabricare convention in Southern California. And Cleaner’s Supply’s Trudy Adams, the New York-based dry cleaning supplier’s director of customer service and sales, believes nothing is more integral to the health of a service-oriented business.

She opened her presentation by asking the dry cleaning store managers and customer service representatives in the audience to raise their hands. “That’s fantastic, because I’m one of you. I don’t own a business. I am a front-line employee. Front line determines your bottom line.

“You are going to decide whether your business is a success or a failure. You are the most important people in that business when you are at the front counter. You are the face of the business.”

And just what is “customer service”? “It’s systems,” Adams proclaimed. “Systems that you have to create. The owner and your manager have to get together and say, “This is how I want every customer treated, non-negotiable.”

GOOD EXAMPLES TO FOLLOW

When the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute and the National Cleaners Association co-host their annual warm-climate brainstorming conference in January, their featured speaker will be Jack Mitchell, CEO of Mitchells/Richards/Marshs, a three-generation company that operates upscale men’s and women’s apparel stores.

His family of companies is well known for its personal service touches and strong customer relationships, and Mitchell shares his philosophy in a popular book titled Hug Your Customers: The Proven Way to Personalize Sales and Achieve Astounding Results.

Wegmans is a family-owned Northeast supermarket chain headquartered in New York state. Many of its newer stores are of the “superstore” variety and feature stations offering a multitude of services—including dry cleaning—in and around the many aisles of groceries. Adams worked for the company for nine years and considers it an example of customer service at its best.

“You’re not selling groceries, you’re selling an experience,” Adams says. “Jack Mitchell, he’s not selling clothes, he’s selling an experience. And who’s doing that? His employees. You, you’re doing it.”

WELCOME AND APPRECIATE

Why do you think that retailers like Walmart or Outback Steakhouse place greeters at their entrances to welcome newly arriving customers and to thank those who’ve finished shopping or dining? Adams asks. “It’s the experience. … They know, statistically, that you’ll spend more money if you are welcomed, if you are greeted, if you are shown that you are appreciated.”

The decision to choose one business over another is based on emotion 98% of the time, Adams says, so it’s just good practice to greet customers and thank them for their business each and every time. “Why? Because everyone has options.”

A 2002 Drycleaning Usage & Consumer Attitude Survey compiled by the Fabricare Foundation asked frequent dry cleaning customers what they liked least about their current cleaner. Unfriendly service was near the top of the list. “If you are hiring part-time employees to man your counter, (employees) that don’t care about your company, then your customer is not going to care about you and they’re going to go somewhere else.”

THE FIRST TIME

It costs a business six times as much to land a new customer as it does to keep a current one, says Adams. “If there’s just one thing to take from what I’m talking about today, it’s to create a standard operating procedure for (handling) first-time customers, because they are the golden nuggets of your company.”

Adams also directs customer service and sales for WAWAK Sewing Supplies, a company acquired by Cleaner’s Supply earlier this year. With every first-time order, WAWAK includes a special surprise: a cookie. The unexpected treats generate many positive comments and often helps create repeat business, Adams says.

The company routinely calls first-time customers to ensure their order has arrived and is correct, then sends a postcard welcoming them to the “family.”

Check back tomorrow for Part 2: Making connections and embracing complaints

About the author

Bruce Beggs

American Trade Magazines LLC

Editorial Director, American Trade Magazines LLC

Bruce Beggs is editorial director of American Trade Magazines LLC, including American Coin-Op, American Drycleaner and American Laundry News. He was the editor of American Laundry News from November 1999 to May 2011. Beggs has worked as a newspaper reporter/editor and magazine editor since graduating from Kansas State University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. He and his wife, Sandy, have two children.

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