Deliver What Your Customers Want

Carolyn B. Nankervis |

APPLETON, Wis. — When I was a new salesperson, one of my first bosses had a saying about the service we were selling: “You can have it on time, cheap, or right. Pick two.”

Consider having your top customer service representative (CSR) inform Mr. or Mrs. Cheapskate, “Well, certainly we will be happy to let you pay $X for dry-cleaning that designer wool blazer. It will be ready for pick up in July.” Or, “Of course we will be happy to charge you $Z and ruin the lining in the pressing process.” I’ll let you have some fun generating additional permutations.

The reason I’m bringing up the issue of cost is that my firm has complied the data from 2012 mystery shopping results from around the country. The cost of providing service is something we are hearing about from owners. For example, we have been told it’s too costly to:

  • Hire qualified CSRs
  • Develop a training/mentoring program for CSRs
  • Sustain a mystery shopping program to evaluates the customer’s experience
  • Survey and engage customers
  • Offer multiple ways of using dry cleaning and laundry services (i.e. routes, drive-ups, drop boxes, express bags; more about this in a future column)

The crazy part about cost is that it ranks lowest on the list of items that customers say is important to them.

From the recent NCA/DLI conference, here’s the order:

  1. Convenience
  2. Customer Service
  3. Quality
  4. Price

We have been performing mystery shopping for cleaners throughout the country for more than 15 years. For the past six years, we have compiled and analyzed the data. We look at scores for drop off and pickup, cleaning evaluation, and four key questions. Following are some of the conclusions and trends we are seeing for 2012.


Overall, scores for drop off and pickup have become more similar in this year’s report. Unfortunately, they are both lower than in previous years.

When we began evaluating the data in 2007, drop-off scores were significantly higher than pickup scores. Why? We found that experienced staffers were usually scheduled from 7:30 a.m. to about 3 p.m., while students or trainees made up the post-3 p.m. shift. Customer problems usually arise upon pickup, which usually occurs after 3 p.m. Guess who was there to answer a customer’s detailed questions? Yes, it was the least trained and prepared staff and part-time workers.

We have helped our clients reschedule workers to be sure that they have an experienced CSR on staff in the afternoons and evenings. Problem resolution is becoming consistent and swift.


In some respects, the least important factor about dry cleaning and laundry evaluation is the actual cleaning. Satisfaction and consistency has remained extremely high over the years, running way above 95%. If any cleaner has complaints of more than 2% of their total business, they have other serious problems.


Let’s drill down into the actual performance issues that comprise the drop-off and pickup scores, the “customer service” part of the transaction. We have been tracking four key items as seen from the front counter. They are if the CSR 1) used the customer’s name during the transaction, 2) asked about spots or stains, 3) attempted to cross-sell, and 4) engaged in small talk or conversation (only on non-express bag transactions).

Name Use — Use of the customer’s name has hovered around 60% for years, according to our data. Clients who have scores that are well above the average have chosen to track and post their CSR scores each month. The saying that you can’t change what you don’t measure is especially true with remembering to use a customer’s name.

Spots or Stains? — I have been on a mission for a decade to ensure that our clients’ CSRs are routinely asking about spots or stains. I’m happy to report that scores have increased dramatically. Unless a customer comes in for pressing only, there is a reason they are showing up with their clothing at a cleaner. Asking your customer about spots or stains helps to ensure a correctly cleaned item (nearly) every time.

Cross-selling? — Instances of cross-selling and using opportunities to ask an existing customer for additional, new business have doubled over the years we have been tracking such actions. We have found that if overall cross-selling at a location reaches 25%, the results show up at the bottom line. Asking for a sale equals more sales! What a concept. Again, keeping scores and posting them is the key.

Conversationalist? — Years ago, I wrote an article titled Speechless at the Counter. Sadly, we still are. The most common phrase heard at drop off is, “Dropping off?” The most common phrase at pickup is, no surprise, “Picking up?” One of our mystery shoppers wrote, “Really? I don’t have anything in my hands, so what do they think I’m there for?”

We encourage our clients’ CSRs to offer, “How are you today?” or “What can I do for you?” or “How may I help you?” If not memorable, at least these greetings are designed to prevent a customer’s counter experience from bordering on the absurd.

I opened this column writing about costs. What a cleaner invests in service helps the bottom line in ways that might not seem so obvious. Treating a customer as an individual reminds the customer that cleaning is not a commodity. Good service also helps the customer to see the value they receive for the price they pay.

Customers are willing to (and do) pay more for fantastic service, nearly perfect cleaning, and fair problem resolution. It’s up to you to be sure you are delivering what your customers are expecting for the price you are charging.

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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