National Clothesline
Minimizing customer service problems
One of the biggest problems of being a part of a customer service industry is that one bad
transaction can instantly offset the previous seamless thousand ones. Think about the recent
Starbucks’ debacle. The Seattle-based coffee chain has well over 27,000 locations around the
world and the company has become synonymous with excellent customer service for many
years, but when two black men were arrested at a Philadelphia location following the call of an
employee, it eventually created a backlash heard around the world in the form of social media
boycotts and in-store protests.
The actions of one employee lead to a PR disaster of the highest order. Whether you love
Starbucks or hate them, it’s hard to deny that the company didn’t try to do whatever it could to
rectify the situation. They closed more than 8,000 U.S. stores on the same day to conduct
racial-bias training for over 175,000 employees, estimated to cost the chain about $12 million
in profits. You can bet they will rethink employee training in the future to make sure such a
costly incident never happens again.
The lesson from all of this is that time is of the essence when dealing with customer service
issues. The longer it takes to resolve a problem, the angrier the customer becomes and the
louder they yell. Don’t give a tiny spark time to grow into a huge conflagration. True, some
customers are always crazy and almost impossible to deal with, but some are quite rational for
a time until they reach a breaking point where the only way they can vent their frustration is to
tell everybody they know (and even complete strangers) how the company that wronged them
is the worst ever.
Hopefully you can avoid that scenario. The trick is to remember you are dealing with a less-
than-rational version of the customer whenever a problem arises. Train your CSRs to remain
calm, listen attentively (without interruption), apologize gracefully and respond
sympathetically. It’s the part of the job that your staff cannot afford to take personally. It is
highly stressful and difficult and the best thing they can to is to respond quickly with a possible
Again, that’s where the training comes in. The worst thing a customer can hear is that the
CSR is unauthorized to take any action. Empowering a counter person with the ability to use
their discretion for refunds or other creative solutions goes a long, long way in minimizing the
damage to the customer’s trust. At the very least, make sure you or a manager is accessible so
they can contact a person who can rectify the situation as soon as possible. Every interaction
counts. The more people they have to talk to about their problem, the longer they have to wait,
the bigger the problem becomes. Now, they aren’t just mad about a damaged garment, but
about losing more precious time and feeling betrayed by a company they once loved.
Surviving the summer heat
Nobody should be so foolish as to ask someone working in a drycleaning plant on a hot
summer day, “Is it hot enough for you?” When it’s hot and humid outside, you can be sure it is
even hotter and more humid in the plant. Stepping outside into the 90° air can seem like relief.
Drycleaning plants are notoriously hot and steamy and every drycleaner has some strategies
to cope with the heat. Some have gone so far as to aircondition the entire plant. It’s a big
expense, to be sure, but those who have taken that step say that it’s worth it in the payoff of
comfort and better productivity.
But there are other approaches. Area fans won’t cool the air but at least keep it moving.
Exhaust fans can be placed to draw hot air out and away from the work area. When combined
with area fans or spot cooling equipment, the plant can at least be made bearable.
Whatever strategy you use, it’s still important to be aware of and monitor the problems that
face overheated workers in the plant. The signs of “heat illness” can take several forms — from
heat cramps to heat exhaustion and life-threatening heat stroke.
Heat cramps are muscle pains caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating and
can be abated by drinking water and/or carbohydrate-electrolyte replacement liquids (e.g.,
sports drinks) every 15 to 20 minutes.
A worker suffering heat exhaustion — headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability,
confusion, thirst, heavy sweating and a high body temperature — should be removed from the
hot area and given liquids to drink and cold compresses to the head, neck, and face.
Heat stroke, the most serious heat-related problem, occurs when the body’s temperature
regulating system fails and body temperature rises to critical levels. Signs of heat stroke are
confusion, loss of consciousness and seizures. Workers experiencing heat stroke have a very
high body temperature and may stop sweating. This requires immediate medical attention!
We can’t avoid the heat, but we know how to deal with it.