Taken to the Cleaners

Following is an actual letter I sent to my local dry cleaners. It happened a couple years ago, but I ran across this saved file on my hard drive and thought it was a good “customer service” story to retell.

I’ve wondered since then, what ever happened to it? Did some employee receive it, read it, and throw it away? Did the management ever see it, and bring it up in an employee huddle meeting? I may never know.

Dear Management,

I am an occasional customer of your business – once or twice a year I stop in to clean a suit – and as such you probably would not miss my business if I were to choose to go somewhere else. Now don’t worry about that introduction – I’ll still come back. But I was concerned by something that happened last time I was in, and wanted to make sure you and your employees are aware of it and stay in the mind frame of considering the customer first. I don’t intend to get any specific employees in trouble in any way, and I do want to clarify that some time has passed since this occurred, so those involved may not even be working the same positions now.

I dropped my suit off in the morning, pre-paid for the cleaning, and was told it would be ready the next evening. That was fine and expected. I noted that the store hours said they’d be open ‘til seven. I knew it could potentially be a tight race against time, but I felt I could make it to pick up my suit. The following morning I would be leaving town to go to a wedding in Las Vegas, and wanted to make an early start of the trip.

The evening came, and I left my workplace just about 6:40. Traffic was awful as I tried to wend my way to the store to pick up my suit. I had my radio tuned to KSL (a local station that deals with accuracy in news, weather, traffic reports, etc), and was closely following their cues as they told me what time it was. By the time I made it to your shop, KSL told me I had three minutes left until seven o’clock. I was anxious about the time crunch – I’ve worked retail before, and so I hate to inconvenience anyone when they are getting ready to go home. I was confident in that I had prepaid, so all I would have to do it walk in, show my ticket, take my clothes, and be on my way. I was relieved to see the neon “Open” sign still lit in the window. I jumped out of my car, hurried up to the door, and gave a tug. Locked.

I stood confused. The sign says open, the radio says I am three minutes early, and the door is locked. I looked at my wrist-watch, which was not quite as accurate as KSL’s time, but still showed a minute to seven. I stood at the window, gaping in like a standard retail customer does, looking for a sign of anyone inside who will have mercy on me. After a minute and a half of that, the “Open” sign was extinguished. I returned to my car, and waited even another minute there, watching for signs of life inside, while I also listened to the top of the hour news begin on my radio. I saw the hours on the door said the store would reopen at 7:30 in the morning. I drove home, planning out how I would rearrange my morning to come first thing. Though I admit, I thought to myself “I hope the opening crew is more on time than the closing crew.”

I’ll pause my story here to let you know that I understand what was going on within the store. It was almost closing time, and the employees (who I presume were somewhere inside) just wanted to go home. They probably hadn’t seen any customers in a stretch of time right before closing, and decided no one else was coming, so they began packing things up a little bit ahead of time. I know this, because I’ve been there and done that. I’m sure the employees inside had things to do after the door was closed and locked before they could go home, such as some inventory count, cleaning, etc. I can appreciate that, because I’ve been in that position too.

The next morning, I came bright and early to pick up my suit. A nice young lady was there, and helped me. I casually remarked, and I don’t believe with any sarcasm or resentment, that the evening crew had closed up shop a couple minutes early last night, so I had to come this morning to pick up my suit. I was astonished by the reply I received. This warm, kind young lady instantly turned very cold, and with a very snappy, defensive tone she said, “We set our clocks to time / temp” (I presume she referred to the service where you can call a local bank and hear the recorded time and temperature). I was taken back. I had not meant any ill will in my statement, yet her reply suggested to me she did not care one iota. I got the feeling she had heard this before, and had built up a defensive reply to the question, yet I didn’t even think I was accusatory in my tone. I kept my composure, and with a smile on my face I replied with a tone of thoughtful contemplation, “Oh. I guess KSL must have had the time wrong then. Oh well. Thank you.” I took my suit and left.

I tell you my story hoping that your stores will benefit from the reminder and seek to excel in customer service, because I want your business to stay around to serve me for a long time. From my perspective, I believe I was right. I had been snarled in traffic trying to get to your place on time, and I had been listening to the time reported over the radio and knew I had arrived early. Your closing shift employee(s) felt they were right, because it was near closing time and “time/temp” said it was time to close. Your morning shift employee(s) felt a need to defend what the evening shift had done, rather than offer the customer an apology, or offer to look into it, or talk to them, or leave a note for them, or adjust the clocks, etc. Any of those responses would have been far better than snapping at the customer. Because, while it is true that the customer is not always right, it is a better business practice not to let the customer know that.

Like I say, I’ll be back to give you another try. I’m not asking for or expecting anything in “compensation.” I just wanted to inform you of what happened and I hope this will help to remind everyone to think in a more customer service friendly mindset.

J. Ryan Beardall

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