National Clothesline
National Clothesline
Bill Gates made this profound observation: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest
source of learning.”
The difficult part is attempting to explain this to a customer service representative who has
been yelled at by an angry customer.
I received an email from a young
man who is relatively new to the
drycleaning industry. His inquiry had
to do with handling upset customers
and resolving issues that arise from
time to time.
How often have you heard these
words? “Your prices are too high!” “I
can’t find my pants at home so you
must have them.” “That spot wasn’t
there when I dropped it off.”
How about calling a customer and telling the customer you found a small tear, and the
customer provides the same response as with the spot, “It wasn’t there when I dropped it off.”
I recently visited a plant when a customer walked in and wanted to negotiate the price of
laundering shirts. The customer wanted a “flat rate of $2.25 because that is what the guy up the
street charges.” The customer went on to say, “I don’t want to use coupons, I just want a
permanent flat rate.”
In this case, the plant owner told the customer good-bye.
Training staff members, whether they are counter sales representatives or route drivers, how
to respond to problem situations is a large task that will take some time. You have to meet with
your personnel and constantly reinforce the messages that you want imparted to the
complaining client.
Immediately after meeting with the sales staff, your staff members will provide the message
they have just been trained to use. The problem occurs two or three months down the road
when they forget what to say because they are the target of the angry and/or frustrated
The interesting thing about price complaints is that customer objections occur no matter what
you charge. There are always drycleaners that charge less than your company does. So how do
your employees respond to those price complaints?
I used the following statement to placate price complainers. “Mrs. Customer, I am very sorry
that you feel our prices are high. We have a very demanding clientele. In order to provide the
product and service that our customers want, we have to charge those prices.” This is a very
simple response.
If you wish, you can provide information about your product differentiation. If you use a
special detergent or solvent, that can be mentioned. Any other things you do, such as the
number of inspection points, can be added to what you tell the customer. You are selling the
customer on why your company is better than your competitors.
All of this requires training of your staff. They will not learn it after one meeting. Constant
instructional repetition will drive the message home. That is why sales meetings are so
Dealing with angry customers is, in my opinion, the most difficult part of a counter sales or
route sales person’s job.
Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, said the following: “If we can keep our
competitors focused on us while we stay focused on the customer, ultimately we’ll turn out all
Have you ever dealt with Amazon? Their customer service is fantastic. When my wife Barbara
cannot handle an issue with her Kindle, she simply calls Amazon customer service and her issue
is resolved.
How do you handle the angry and complaining customer? The first thing to do is apologize to
the customer. The three words, “I am sorry” are crucial to calming down an angry person.
The next step is to empathize with the customer. Your staff member might say, “I can
understand why you are upset. If that happened to me I would be upset too.”
Another thing to consider is removing the counter as a barrier and walking around the counter
so that you are talking directly to the customer. A very old song had the title, “Little Things
Mean A Lot.” These kinds of little actions help calm the angry customer.
When you are dealing with an angry customer, you are dealing with a person who is
demonstrating childlike behavior. Dealing with this kind of behavior is in my January 2014
article. I am certain you have seen occasions where a small child pounds his or her head on the
floor or wall. What did you do? Did you stop the child from pounding or did you let the child
pound until the child stopped?
Let the customer vent their displeasure. Be a good listener. When the customer is finished
yelling, then go into your song and dance. Thinking about the song and dance behavior reminds
me of the movie Chicago, where Richard Gere went into a song and dance number named
Razzle Dazzle.  
After apologizing and empathizing, your next goal is to change the customer behavior into
that of an adult. How do you change the head-pounding behavior into an adult conversation?
That is your task. Consider asking the customer, “What can I do to make you happy?” If the
customer continues the childish behavior, the customer’s demand will reflect that.
However, if you can offer to deliver the garment that is not ready, or reprocess the stained or
damaged item, you might be able to resolve a difficult situation. I suggest you meet with your
staff and learn what the prevalent issues are that they have to deal with.
Upon learning their difficult issues, create a script for your staff to follow when a screaming
customer confronts them. It can be difficult. I was at my counter one evening when the sales
area was full. There were about 10 customers either being served or waiting to be served.
One customer started yelling about his collar not coming clean after being re-processed twice.
He had an audience, and he was playing to them.
He said, “Look at my collar. Look how black it is. You washed my shirt twice and you didn’t
get it clean.”
The man should never have yelled at me. If he had approached the situation nicely and asked
if any more could be done, I would have resolved the issue. My response to the customer had
the other customers laughing. I said, “Sir, if you washed your neck, your collar would not be
Yes, I lost the customer, but the other customers all had smiles on their faces.
In the event you need a question or questions answered, do not hesitate to send me by email
or phone. As you have read, I will respond to most questions, no matter the subject matter.
Cooling off an angry customer
Harvey Gershenson
operates Sterling
Drycleaning Consulting
and is a former owner of
Sterling Dry Cleaners. A
drycleaner, he has been
in the industry since he
was in high school. He
has served as president
of the Cleaners and Dyers
Guild of Los Angeles and
has served on the boards
of directors of the
Drycleaning and Laundry
Institute and the
California Cleaners
Association. He is also a
guest lecturer for the
California Department of
Corrections. He can be
reached by e-mail at
consultme@msn.com or
phone at (310) 261-
2623. His web site is