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Management Strategies: Face of Your Company

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(Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/Aseev)

Diana Vollmer |

SAN FRANCISCO — Generally speaking, smaller drycleaning stores hire babysitters. Wikipedia defines babysitting as “the practice of temporarily caring for a child on behalf of the child’s parents. Babysitting is commonly performed as an odd job by teenagers for extra money.”

The key words here are “temporary” and “odd job.” These characteristics may be acceptable for hiring babysitters. You have no expectations for a long-term relationship, and there is really no loyalty nor motivation on either side to learn the finite details of the household. They are unacceptable for the drycleaner hiring front-counter staff.

Temporary child-care helpers are poor substitutes for parents. Parents care and foster the successes of their children. They are involved in all important aspects of the children’s activities.

Babysitters are not “bad.” They generally provide a safe, secure environment for short periods of time. There are no expectations that they will do more. No love or compassion is required, and, generally, no long-term relationship is established.

Customer-service representatives often are only babysitters. They perform the bare minimum required of them. They take in customers’ garments, return finished garments and collect money.

We find tasks to keep them busy, just like renting a DVD to give the babysitter something to do with the kids. In return, they talk on the phone, invite their friends over and cancel at the last moment, creating constant dissatisfaction for owners.

Asking for and Getting More. Some drycleaning plant owners have hired and instilled a sense of passion in their customer-service representatives. They are few and far between, but they do exist. It doesn’t come easily or cheaply, but it’s worth it.

As we know, the customer-service representative is the face and the voice of the company. Often, they are all the customer knows about your company.

It has been argued that smaller-volume dry stores cannot justify first-rate counter staff. You can’t afford to pay a lot for staff when you have a small counter, can you? This may be a chicken-and-egg argument. Poor counter staff results in low sales, which results in the hiring of poor counter staff, which results in low sales. Did the low sales come first or the poor counter staff? At least improving the counter staff is within our control.

Many operators have experienced significant sales fluctuations when front-counter staff changes. Sales can move up or down immediately. It is uncanny how customers know there has been a change. In reality, they may be looking at the staff’s car parked in front of the store. If it’s different, they’ll try you again. If it’s the same old “babysitter,” they move on to the competition. There is a good argument to upgrade the front-counter staff.

What are you looking for in a new employee? It is not necessarily someone who can do the routine jobs well. It is someone with a great attitude, a nice smile; someone who likes to chat with the customers, who makes them feel welcome and gives them a sense of importance.

If you are lucky enough to find a few of these individuals, the next step is to keep them. It’s a given that you’ll train them on the ordinary facets of the job, but you’ll have to do something different to provide them with a sense of value that will carry through to the customer.

Retaining great staff at slow stores is no easy task, but consider matching what you do in the busier stores as closely as possible. Show these individuals their worth. Visit as often as you see the staff at your main plant. You may see the staff at the main store five or more times a day, while you may only see the staff at slower stores twice a week, if you’re lucky. Close that gap.

When you struggle with a front-counter issue, you may ask your lead staff person their opinion. Ask those from the smaller stores as well and accept their suggestions whenever possible. Let the job grow with value-added tasks, not “busy work.”

Notes to customers, quality checks, feedback on front-counter designs and point-of-sale displays are all valuable. Group meetings with other customer-service representatives in the company allows these staff members to feel a part of a team rather than standing alone. Their problems and frustrations are the same as others; their successes can be celebrated.

Every small step you make improves your chances of retaining this staff that is so valuable to you.

Finally, pay what it’s worth to you. It’s a good time to find great people, as there are a lot of people out looking for part-time and full-time work. Build a pay scale that can pay in excess of what your pressers earn.

We are in a high-tech era featuring lots of indirect ways to touch our customers, yet it is face-to-face interaction that can have the most impact, positive or negative, on our sales and profits.

About the author

Diana Vollmer

Methods for Management (MFM) Inc.

Managing Director

Diana Vollmer is managing director of Methods for Management (MFM) Inc., a consultancy specializing in drycleaning businesses. You may contact her at dvollmer@mfmi.com, 415-577-6544.

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