How to aggravate your customers in 5 easy lessons

Often, we talk about things that we must do in order to please our customers.  This is important dialogue. In fact, so important, that without such thoughts we would become complacent and our business growth, stagnant, at best.  Interestingly though, we are sometimes focused on certain things, perhaps our own personal pet annoyances, all the while oblivious to important things that cause us to irritate our customers or even lose them all together. 

It hasn’t always been easy for me to think like a customer.  After all, I have been immersed in the laundry and drycleaning industry since I was very young. My mother had 6 more children after I was born.  This meant that she would jump at the opportunity to have me hang out with my Dad at the laundry even at a very young age.  I estimate that of the roughly 17,100 days that I’ve lived, portions of at least 10,000-11,000 of those days have been spent in a laundry or drycleaning plant.  I barely knew what the other side of the counter looked like.  But my place in the industry today dictates that I retain objectivity. 

When I get my shirts back from my drycleaner, I try to critique them like a customer would.  I don’t go over each shirt with the proverbial fine tooth comb.  I doubt that the average customer does that.  But I, like I guess that they do, notice annoyances and I do not say to myself, “I remember that I did the same thing.”  That would be unfair because a customer wouldn’t think that, and theirs is the important opinion.  No, my drycleaner probably doesn’t make the mistakes that I list here, but some do.  I see them often enough.  Being aware of them will help you to keep them from happening in your plant.

  1. Replacing a collar button at the wrong place.  You’ve gone out of your way to stress button replacement and you have it down to a science.  So much so, that you have no worries about it.  For whatever reason, you are certain that every button is checked and every missing or broken one is replaced.  You can still annoy a customer to the point that his perfectly pressed shirt is unwearable.  The collar button must be put on at the same place that the old one was.  Many times, I have witnessed someone skipping the step of removing the old thread left by broken button and simply sewing the button on at the wrong place.  I was putting on a tuxedo shirt a couple of days ago and I was wrestling with the top button.  It was very difficult to button this button.  It is that event that inspired this article, in fact.  I have no way of knowing if that button had ever been replaced.  I suspect not, I was probably a few pounds lighter when I last wore it, but nonetheless, if that button is broken or cracked and subsequently replaced, it had better be put at the right place.  How annoyed would a traveling businessman be if he was unable to wear a packed shirt because one of your employees was too lazy to remove the old thread and instead chose to sew the button elsewhere?  If you sew the button-down collar button at the wrong place, Mr. Customer may still be able to wear his shirt, but when he buttons down the collar of that shirt, he will look a little bit like Bozo the Clown.  You are to blame, I’m sorry to say.  It takes a little bit of skill to sew the button at the right place.  I never said that this is easy.
  2. Wrapping too many shirts in a poly bag.  Most plants have some kind of rule about this but the ones that don’t seem to think that the road to profits is skimping on poly bags.  It’s hard to comment on that philosophy without sounding condescending.
  3. Putting the best shirt in the front of the bag or not touching up folded shirts.  Can I call this a morality issue?  Maybe business ethics?  Who do you think that you’re fooling?  I admit that a lot can be said for a nice presentation and I am ok with playing that game.  What I am saying, though, is that I consider it unethical to take a poorly pressed shirt and move it to the middle of a bundle of shirts so that the entire bundle, as a whole, is more presentable.  Sounds ok, I guess, except that a customer does not evaluate your work by looking at the bundle as a whole.  Each shirt (or garment) must stand on its own merits.  I think that there are 3 possible scenarios:
    1. If the shirt that you wish to “hide” needs touch-up, well, come on, touch it up!  Don’t hide it from the customer.  Again, who do you think you’re fooling?
    2. Maybe the shirt just doesn’t look good because it is tattered, torn or stained.  In this case, the temptation is real.  Hiding this shirt in the middle of the bundle may make some sense.  The customer, presumably, knows that this shirt is not the flagship of his fleet and he isn’t going to be surprised when he finds it nestled among his more pristine shirts.  But sticking this shirt in the middle of the bundle sets an ugly precedent.  It tells your employees that it’s ok to “hide” something.  That scares me.  I opt for avoiding that altogether.
    3. Maybe the shirt just doesn’t press well.  You know the kind; two big pockets, pocket flaps, seams where they aren’t necessary.  Try as you might, the shirt doesn’t look like you wish it did.  You haven’t been careless.  You’ve given it your all.  Maybe it needs to be hidden.  I don’t think so.  Not even a little bit.  If you’ve spent time on this shirt and you still get sub-standard results, you have a golden opportunity to shine!  Your customer service person needs to know about this shirt and must explain the issues related to it in your store at the counter.  This is when a customer will be most receptive to problems with their clothes.  At this point in time, you are being professional and informative.  If a customer finds this same shirt in his closet on the morning that he plans to wear it and then approaches you with it angrily, you will be not professional, not informative, but defensive.  You may say the very same things, using the very same words, but they will be seen in a completely different light.
  4. Sending shirts out with droopy collars.  We’ve talked about this often enough.  The remedy is rather simple.  But still the problem is rampant.  In spite of the fact that most of you have collar cones, less than 5% are used correctly.  Add to that, the most frequent cause of the droopy collars in the first place:  failing to dry the collars completely.  These are easy fixes, but they do require constant management and supervision.  Anything worthwhile does.
  5. Using grossly mis-matched buttons.  I am not fanatical about having every type of button in stock.  When there are 20 or 30 types in stock, the typical employee does not go through them all in search of the exact match.  They stop looking when they find a reasonable match.  This is, in nearly all cases, perfectly fine.  But what is not acceptable is grossly mismatching a button.  The completely wrong size, for instance.  Can you imagine the feeling of the customer that has dressed in the morning, has just knotted his necktie and when he goes to button down the collar finds that the replacement button doesn’t fit through the buttonhole?  Sewing on a white button where a colored one is expected isn’t a good idea either.  The best practice is to first check the tail of the shirt to see if there is a replacement button there.  If there is, it will be the correct color, size and style.  If you use one of those, sew it at exactly the correct location where it is needed and then replace the spare button in the tail.

How to aggravate your customers in five easy lessons.  That wasn’t so hard, was it?

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.”

Donald Desrosiers

Donald Desrosiers

Don Desrosiers has been in the laundry and drycleaning industry for over 30 years.  As a management consultant, work-flow systems engineer and efficiency expert, he has created the highly acclaimed Tailwind Shirt System, the Tailwind System for Drycleaning and Firestorm for Restoration.  He owns and operates Tailwind Systems, a management consulting and work-flow engineering firm.  Desrosiers is a monthly columnist for The National Clothesline, Korean Cleaners Monthly, The Golomb Group Newsletter and Australia's The National Drycleaner and Launderer.   He is the 2001 winner of IFI's Commitment to Professionalism Award.  He has a website at and can be reached at or my telephone at 508.965.3163

Click the ad to connect by phone

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *