Customer Service: By: Everett Childers

In Juneau, Alaska, at the Red Dog Saloon, there is a sign that brought a chuckle to most everybody who read it. The sign said, “If our food, drinks and service are not up to your standards, please lower your standards.” It would be funny if it weren’t so tragically close to the attitude that most service businesses have today.
How often do you go to a grocery store, drug store, fast food eating place, auto mechanic, airport, convenience store or virtually anyplace else and encounter clerks that many times cannot even hold a conversation that totals over four words? How many times do you go to a fine restaurant and the first thing a waiter or waitress says to you is “How are you guys tonight”, usually only half of the “Guys” are guys. Frequently the other half of the dinner party is a lady.
Where has civility gone? Where has a pleasant smile gone? Where has knowing your merchandise, knowing your job, knowing the answers to common questions gone?

How guilty are we cleaners of doing the same thing to our customers? Too many times we set our store hours to suit ourselves or our employees. We set the length of time we will hold onto the customers’ garment, and frequently charge them extra if they do not fit our schedule of performance. We tell our customers what we will clean and to what extent we will actually clean it. We do this by not learning to be expert cleaners or spotters, or wetcleaners. If we do have an expert spotter on staff we frequently limit his abilities by telling how much time to spend on a garment and if it is not removed, then put a stain tag on it.

How many times do we hire someone to work the front counter and give them no training other than “Here is your fellow employee, she will show you what to do.” Too frequently we have to hire the first warm body that is able to slouch through our doorway. The excuse for hiring un-trainable people is that nobody wants to work. Maybe the cause is that we don’t want to pay much more than the minimum wage. Minimum wage also means minimum people or technical skills. Can we really afford to hire the least experienced and put them in our most important customer relation’s position?

I have noticed that too many times when there are customer service programs it is the owners and maybe one other that attend. I often wonder how much of the information they actually absorb and take back to their employees. If they do take the information back, what is the quality of their presentation to the employees?
Unfortunately, there are very few people who are able to travel to individual plants to teach customer service or technical subjects or just to consult and let the owner know what is available and how can they make their plants more profitable and efficient while lowering utilities and other costs. I wish I could recommend a way for the industry to bring itself up to the level of customer service where people would use us as a good example and help to counter the negatives that have been hurled our way for a lot of years.

It would also help the industry if more people would concentrate on the technical side of textile cleaning and strive to put out the best cleaning that is possible. Instead we tend to pull ourselves into our shells and pretend that we are doing a wonderful job of everything we do. When we get really excellent at cleaning, removing stains and customer service, then we could concentrate on marketing and profitability.

There are a couple of schools that employees or owners can go to attend a residential class but that is not always convenient or cost effective for a business. In the past there were schools run by either community colleges or trade schools. They are virtually all gone except, I suppose, the prisons still run drycleaning schools. It may not be worth devoting several years of your life to learn a trade though. There also were private schools that would teach drycleaning and all the related subjects to those either in the business or were going into it, but they are also all gone simply because there wasn’t enough interest to keep them open.

I am not even sure that there are classes or opportunities to learn good customer service and working with customers and fellow employees. One would think that job related training facilities would offer courses in this greatly overlooked aspect of business. Customer or even human relations are probably more necessary now than at any time in history as society has changed due to our children learning from an early age that it is OK to either be on the telephone, text messaging using a non-decipherable language, playing electronic games on Blackberrys or computers, for hours and even days at a time. There is little social interaction taking place and when it is time for the youth to get a job there are no skills except gaming and listening to music to list on their resume. Maybe we are at the point in business that we need to hire someone, then assume we have to then educate him and make him aware of the need for social interaction. Even if we take on this task there is no guarantee that the employee will work or even stay with us. I have always been under the impression that our publicly funded school systems were to educate our children and prepare them for entering the workforce. Today, that is mostly a false assumption, and the schools get by with it because we, as parents, allow them to turn out the students today that are frequently not equipped with even basic skills in order to enter college or the marketplace.

There are numerous remediation courses that the colleges and university have had to initiate in order to bring the high school graduates to a level they could actually take college courses. Most frequently, the classes are math, business arithmetic, English and reading. Sad, but true. The lame excuse is that the schools need more money so they can pay teachers better. Too frequently, the money allocated to schools go for administration salaries and buildings that are utilized only part of the time, while the expenses continue year round. Until we demand that the schools produce a hirable or teachable product this will not only continue but will get worse.

The cleaners of the future are going to have their own training and teaching facilities and will be a repository of knowledge. This knowledge has to come from somewhere and will most likely come from manufacturers of products and equipment for the industry. We have a bit of that now and hopefully will expand in the future. There could also be a resource of information that is collected and compiled by a private company and sold to the individual textile cleaners for their own use during training programs. Someday we will get to where we were in the 1940s and 1950s when unbiased research was being done and made available to association members. I hope that we can have information available we can buy that is industry specific and coming in training modules for easy learning and long-term retention.