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Handling Customer Claims (Conclusion)

Listen, listen, and listen some more—and then respond immediately

SAN FRANCISCO — Despite the generally low claim rates in the fabricare industry, customer claims seem to be one of the favorite topics of discussion for cleaners, thereby capturing a disproportionate share of business-focused conversations. Everyone has a horror story about their most outrageous customer demand or their most expensive customer claim.


According to NOP research, satisfying customers at the earliest point is good business and necessary to offset human nature of sharing bad experiences with many people and good experiences with very few.

  • A dissatisfied customer will tell 9-15 people about it. And approximately 13% of your dissatisfied customers will tell more than 20 people about their problem.
  • Happy customers who have their problems resolved will tell four to six people about their positive experience.
  • Reducing customer defections can boost profits by 25-85%.
  • In 73% of cases, the organization made no attempt to persuade dissatisfied customers to stay.


If a claim is large (insert your definition of large), it may be necessary to delay a solution, but keep the customer informed and resolve the claim at the earliest possible date. No claim should drag on and on—it will only make the customer angrier, and he/she will complain to more people.


Testing by a reputable source such as the Drycleaning and Laundry Institute (DLI) or National Cleaners Association (NCA) can give you peace of mind that you didn’t cause a problem (or it can show you where your process went astray). However, customers are seldom convinced by these tests and reports. They tend to believe that they are run “by the industry for the industry” to enable cleaners to refuse a claim.

Manufacturers, on the other hand, have a history of accepting these test results. They probably already know there is a problem in cleaning a particular item because yours is likely not the first one they have had returned.


If there is legitimate doubt about the cause of a claim and you want to have it tested, go ahead and do it, but make the process seamless to your customer. Let them know your plan but also assume the role of solving the problem with the retailer or manufacturer of the garment.

If you contact a store about a problem for your “mutual client,” it is more likely to cooperate instead of blaming you for any damage. The store can easily contact the vendor and possibly obtain a replacement garment. Even if you did cause the damage, this is a potential source of a replacement at wholesale or a discount as opposed to full retail price.

If the retailer is not cooperative, go direct to the manufacturer (see the label for contact information) and attempt a resolution for the customer. Taking on this role will set you apart from your competition and will earn loyalty from your clients and your retailer partners. They in turn will tell their friends and customers about your excellent service.


With the large number of items processed, it is inevitable that at some point there will be a large claim, whether through a mistake, mislabeling or another cause. The reason for buying insurance is to protect against significant unforeseen losses.

Although most owners are reluctant to make an insurance claim, insurance is designed to cover claims resulting in a large expenditure, such as replacement of a unique item. If the situation exceeds your comfortable financial threshold, use your insurance policy and its resources to address the problem as soon as possible and keep the customer.


Occasionally, you may encounter a customer who simply cannot be satisfied regardless of your sincere attempts to appease his/her multiple unjustified claims. At some point, you may reasonably choose to “fire” that customer. Do it professionally!

Remember that the tyrannical customer will broadcast perceived ill treatment to a large audience, so help them go quietly by firing them professionally. You can encourage their departure nicely by saying that you are sorry that you are unable to please them with your service and you will miss their business. Many times, these customers will eventually return and be much more reasonable in the future because you are the best at what you do, and they will learn to better appreciate your expertise.


Since Nordstrom is generally considered the standard of customer service, you might consider using its liberal policy as a guideline. It has found that giving the customer more than they expect pays off in loyalty and raving fans that send a steady stream of referrals to Nordstrom stores.

Regardless of the tendency toward fairness of the customer involved, a good rule of thumb to consider is “What would Nordstrom do?”

Before you get overly agitated about paying claims, take a moment to review your P&Ls and remember what a small percentage of your total expense it represents. Then use the situation as a marketing opportunity to expand your band of loyal, raving fans.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].