National Clothesline
Customer service advice from the pros
Finishing demonstrations and spotting seminars popped up throughout the exhibit hall during the
Southwest Drycleaners Association’s Cleaners Showcase exhibition in Ft. Worth, TX in late April,
giving the more than 700 attendees a chance to not only see all the latest equipment but also how to
best use it.
But in the seminar rooms, customer service was the leading topic of speakers who presented their
ideas during the morning hours before the exhibition hall opened.
Starting with keynote speaker Doug Ewert, president and CEO of Men’s Warehouse, then with
Trudy Adams, former vice president of sales for Cleaner’s Supply and finishing on Sunday with
Carolyn Nankervis of MarketWise Consulting, the importance of providing first-class customer service
and how to do it was stressed again and again.
“All our businesses require a high degree of customer service,” Ewert said in his keynote. “It’s
what differentiates us from our competitors.”
Customers have more choices than ever today and they will switch if customer service is poor, he
said. Then they’ll share their bad experiences with others and with social media, bad service news
travels extra fast.
“No one can afford to disappoint many customers,” he said. On the other hand, loyal customers
become brand advocates.
Good customer service starts with employees, he said. For Men’s Wearhouse, that means training
of employees so they have the tools to succeed and incentives to do so. The company believes
strongly in promoting from within — Ewert himself started as a tie buyer with the company 19 years
ago. Managers are expected to lead by example and, the bottom line, all people are treated fairly
and with respect.
The formula has worked well for Men’s Wearhouse in becoming the largest retailer of men’s suits
with 1.7 million sold last year.
Following Ewert, Adams also
stressed that customer service begins
with employees. Adams herself was
an employee in the industry, working
Cleaner’s Supply for 14 years until
leaving recently to take a similar
position in the mining industry. She
was responsible for building Cleaner’s
Supply’s reputation for top-notch
customer service to its drycleaning
“Serving your customers and
serving your employees is one and
the same thing,” she said. “Customer
service is the complete experience. It
doesn’t start at the sale or stop at the
counter. Every person in the
organization is part of customer
service. Everyone is serving the
Start with a foundation that
includes job descriptions, training and
standard operating procedures, she
said. All must be in writing and
adhered to across the board. This
makes employees confident that they
know how to do the job and ensures a unified vision of the company for customers.
“The owner is the one with the vision, the one who determines how everything is going to flow in
the company. It’s their vision, their passion,” she said.
She urged cleaners to develop a first-time customer experience, including following up with new
customers through a phone call or postcard and let them know their business is appreciated. This
should be part of the standard operating procedure, she said.
“You spent a lot of money to get that customer to come in for the first time. Make sure they come
back,” she said.
If a customer leaves, find out why, she said. Don’t just assume they moved away. Call and learn
why. They may be upset about something and have gone to a competitor. You want to know about
Those problems and all other complaints should be seen as a gift, she said. Perhaps there was a
failure in the process or there is something wrong with the standard operating procedure. Complaints
provide an opportunity to correct those problems, not just with that one customer but company-wide
for all customers.
She also urged cleaners to establish an Internet presence for their business since the first thing
consumers do is search on line for companies to do business with. When they do that, she said, “you
don’t want them thinking about your competitor. You want them thinking about you.”
Finally, she said, identify products or services you can offer to benefit the customer and increase
your sales. CSRs need to be trained to tell customers about those services and ask for their business.
McDonald’s, she said, has made billions of dollars by asking customers one simple question: “Do you
want fries with that?”
Nankervis reiterated that during her talk the next day, asking her audience, “What are your fries?”
Is it home delivery? Alterations? Comforters, sheets, pillow cases? UGG boot cleaning?
Whatever your “fries” may be, customers need to be asked if you can provide them with that
service. That involves talking to the customer beyond merely asking “Phone number?” and “Whenya
want it?”
And that is a problem for the industry, Nankervis said. She would know since her company,
MarketWise Consulting, has been making secret shopping visits at cleaners for years and now works
with the Drycleaning and Laundry Institute to provide that service to its members.
Her data shows that fewer than half of customers are even asked about stains that need to be
removed. It’s a number that has held steady in the 40 to 49 percent range in secret shopper visits
since 2007.
“We’re not even asking them why they are there,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to clean if you know
what’s wrong.”
“That’s why we have people at the counter and not a lock box,” she said. The counter should be an
interaction, not just a transaction.
Customers come to the cleaner because they want their garments cleaned, stains removed and the
cleaning ready on time. That is the very basic level of service. And if a problem arises, they want it
resolved quickly and easily.
Problem resolution can drive customers crazy, she said. They may have to return to the store too
many times, make too many calls and tell their story to many people until they get to the person
who can fix things. The customer becomes agitated.
To avoid this, CSRs need to understand the company’s products and services and have training in
problem resolution with some authority to offer a quick solution.
“Review your problem resolution and look at ways to make it a rapid response,” Nankervis said.
And then try to go beyond that basic level of service. Go the extra mile to delight the customer.
“You can’t delight everybody. But delight is in the customer’s eye. Take what they think will be
difficult and make it easy.” Little things, like taking clothes to the car for a harried customer who has
kids in tow, can make a great impression and create a loyal customer.