National Clothesline
Keeping everybody in the loop
Do you have a customer communication loop? Well, we have employee communication loops, whether they are formal or informal. They definitely exist. They may be effective, ineffective, or most likely somewhere in between.
But do you have a customer communication loop? Can we or should we even have such a loop for customers?
The standard communication
Remember, communication is defined as a two-way street. What does such a loop look like for the customers?
There are already some standard customer communications built into most drycleaning operations. When there is a claim, the customer informs the counter staff of the issue. Frequently there is a form completed, an investigation pursued, and a resolution discussed with the customer. This loop involves both written and verbal forms of communication.
On a more frequent basis, there is a loop which begins when the customer comes in with a stain and points it out in the drop-off transaction. A flag tag is written describing the issue.
The drycleaner might read the flag tag, do the best he or she can, add a tag of his own saying “that’s the best we can do” and send the garment back to the counter.
The counter person reads the comment from the drycleaner before handing it back to the customer and verbally communicates with the customer that “We can’t do anything more without damaging the garment.”
The customer is okay with the response, if you’re lucky, and the communication loop is closed.
Wow, and we thought there wasn’t much to drycleaning! Even the seemingly ordinary transaction requires an entire system.
Building more
Both of these examples involve problems and exceptions to the normal, everyday transactions with your customers.
What sort of communication loop exists under these normal circumstances when there isn’t a problem, an issue, a complaint? What do customers want in the normal transaction?
The question has been asked and answered numerous times. They want their clothes cleaned and pressed. They want them back on time, but is that all they want?
Looking at the finer points, do they want their names used? We know they like this. Do they want you to know who they are and what they like? We know they do.
For the moment, let’s just focus on the top 20 or 30 percent of your customers as they do account for most of your sales volume and referrals. It’s a good place to start in order to build your normal communications.
These top customers, like most, want you to recognize them when they come in. They want you to show care for their clothes at the counter and not toss them on the floor. But what sort of communications do they want? If we translate their wants into messages, then we can provide guidance for these communications.
Building a communication loop can start small and then become very sophisticated. The use of the name is obvious. Even if you look up their order with a phone number, you can use their name in the transaction.
They want their clothes back on time. An email or text message that the garment is ready can be a part of the communication loop that completes this expectation.
Any tags that are added to show that a button was added or a hem was fixed can be verbally expanded upon by staff to communicate that you not only cleaned and pressed the garment, but improved it. These communications can be standardized and trained.
Other forms of communication take a little more time to develop. Customers want to be known. Some customers want a conversation; some don’t. Some want you to know that their dog died and others just want to run off to work.
It’s the hardest form of communication to systematize. In a study conducted in several operations, customer service reps were given a list of their top 20 customers, not top 20 percent, just the top 20.
During the next month, they had to learn something, anything, about each customer and report back to their manager.
It was a fantastic success. The employees were challenged, but they found out that the dog did die, that their best customer had just gone through a divorce, that her daughter was getting married, that someone was going on vacation, and on and on.
There was always something, even from those that you think don’t want to chat. Bringing these same issues or pieces of information up on their next visit provides the foundation for a real conversation, for the beginning of a relationship and for a long-term customer experience.
It’s one thing to have a communication loop to handle the mistakes and questions that arise. It’s a very different challenge to create that loop when there is not a time-sensitive need. Yet the value of this process far exceeds anything that a single flag-tag system could return.
But just as the value is high, so is the difficulty in establishing this system and, just as important, maintaining the system.
A long-term commitment by top management is the starting point. It can not be considered “the flavor of the month.” It must be more. It must reflect the values of the company, to believe that building that customer relationship through customer communication is critical to the success of the company.
With this foundation, the systems will develop, evolve, and blossom.

Deborah Rechnitz has been an independent management consultant to drycleaning industry members since 1980. She also held the position of chief operating officer of one of the largest USA drycleaning operations in 2008. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance and Personnel Administration; a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interpersonal Com-
munications; and an MBA in Operations Management from Case Western Reserve University. She can be reached by e-mail at
drechnitz@gmail.com or phone at (253) 405-7043.