Impressing new customers

There are times in this business, in fact in all businesses that present themselves as opportune times to impress new customers.  Sometimes they happen because we initiate them.  Other times, they happen by chance.  We can put a sign in the window that reads:  This week only – Shirts 4 for $10!  Or something like that.  We can promote any aspect of our business.  We can announce our hours of operation or that we are open on Sunday or the upcoming holiday.  Many times we advertise “sale” prices.  10% off!  Comforters Cleaned – $30.


The whole idea – and this should not be news to you – is to entice a new customer into trying your service.  The hope is that a new customer, brought in by a low price or convenient hours or anything else that you think contributes to your success plan, clearly sees value in doing business with you and that the enticement that you have offered to get them in the first time (Shirts $1.99!) is hardly necessary to get them to return.  The best plan will have them thinking:  “This place is a bargain at twice the price.”  You have under-priced your product to get them in the store, probably pricing shirts below cost “this week only”, but that’s okay because you should have earned your customer’s trust and respect and now they will return to pay full price and contribute to company profit.  This is one of the primary ways to earn new business.  Find any way to get them in the door.  Prove to them that you are worth doing business with.  Earn a customer for life, in spite of the price. 

But can something go wrong?  Oh, yes!  Price seems to be the way that we get them in the door, and shirts are often the sacrificial lamb.  It happens that I disagree with both of the points in that sentence.  I don’t want to get into that today, but I’ll merely touch on it.  Shirts are one of the trickiest items that we have to service.  Yet, we use that item to show a customer how good we can be.  We had better do a good job, always.  If we forget a button, will that be a valid demonstration to our customer (maybe, a new customer) of our work ethic?  Price isn’t the only way to attract customers either.  It could be your convenient hours, your home delivery, your friendly staff or your prompt service.  Do not make the mistake of assuming that price is all that your customers care about. 


There are times, though, that we have the opportunity to impress a new customer that we did not initiate.  Are we ready for this?  It can happen at any minute for any reason.


My wife’s SUV had two flat tires one day.  The right front tire and the spare tire were both deflated, although I could limp along for a few miles if I put air in the front tire.  My wife and I headed to my local tire shop first thing in the morning.  I have been going to Henry’s Tire Shop for over 45 years.  Henry and I went to high school together.  I have no idea if he cost more or less than his competitors.  I always get good service.  My car is always done on time.  He always has what I need in stock.  My children have now become customers.  The fact is that I have never had any reason to go elsewhere…until that day.  When I pulled into Henry’s today at 8 am, the doors were locked even though they should have already been open for 30 minutes.  Shortly, my wife realized that it was a federal holiday – President’s Day – and we deduced that Henry’s would not open that day.  Desperate for tires, we headed to a competitor’s place a few miles away.  Unknown to them, they had the picture-perfect opportunity to impress a new customer that they otherwise would have virtually no chance of ever attracting.  Given a track-record of years of good service and quality, I wasn’t going to drop Henry’s like a hot potato for a few bucks off on a tire.  But today, by no fault of Henry’s Tire, I went to Sullivan Tire instead.  Now, before I tell you this story, let me remind you that some new customers are easier to impress than others.  If Joe Smith comes to your counter for the first time because he is fed up with his regular cleaner after numerous failures, you don’t have to do a whole lot to win him over.  If he is used to poor, your mediocre may be perceived as great.  But this is going to be the exception. 

So, I go to the new tire shop.  I am the first customer of the day.  There are two men at the counter.  One is drinking coffee and the other is on the telephone.  As I approach them, I greet them with a “Good Morning.”  They do not reciprocate.  Strike one.  What, pray tell, is so hard about returning such a simple greeting.  My guess is that if I had been a regular customer – someone that they recognized – I would have received a cordial welcome.  The guy with the coffee ignored me while I waited for the man on the phone to get through with what was obviously far more important than a customer. If you wish to defend them and argue that perhaps the coffee man wasn’t trained to wait on customers and that the phone man was on some kind of high-level corporate, heavy-hitter tele-conference, I will counter with this:  Every customer needs to be recognized at once, even if its just an up-pointing index finger indicating “I’ll be with you in one minute.”  Pretending not to notice a customer is gross.  The coffee guy left and I finally reached the top of the phone guy “to-do” list after a minute or two.  I told him that I had two flats.  He said that it looked like I needed two tires.  He went out to the car to see what kind of tires they were to “see if he had them in stock.”  I was already taken aback.  How does he already know that I need tires?  “Can’t you just fix them?”, I asked.  Maybe this guy was clairvoyant.  I got the feeling that he was a crook.  I told him to install two new tires because I want my wife to be safe, but I doubt that this was my only option.  I politely indicated that I was quite busy today and fast service would be appreciated.  I certainly didn’t feel like I was asking for anything much.  There were no other customers.  My wife and I went next door for breakfast when we were told that the car would be ready in 30 minutes.  After breakfast, we still waited more than an hour. It took over 90 minutes in total.  While waiting, I watched my car being serviced through the observation window in the back.  It was annoying.  The guy that was doing the job wasn’t working.  He was talking with a co-worker.  My car was on a lift.  His apparent inattentiveness caused him to mount the spare tire on the front of the car rather than on the tailgate.  The rims are quite different and I feared that I would be presented the car this way.  I wasn’t.  He realized his error and fixed it, all the while I waited.  As I said, I had suggested that I was in a hurry.  Management obviously could not wave a magic wand to replace my tires, but you’d think that a hapless employee that was too busy with friendly conversation to work at normal speed would be within the power of management to correct. They remained clueless.  My wife sat in the seating area and read a magazine.  This lounge was a failed attempt to make waiting customers comfortable.  It can not replace careless employees and incompetent management.  The only time we got a cordial tone of voice was when I was asked for a check for $199.25 and then was thanked for it.  I never got mad.  I never got agitated.  But I left with reasonable certainty that I wouldn’t return.

Surely, you see my point.  This same thing can happen at your store and maybe it happened today.  The two guys at the tire shop probably think that they did just fine.  I came to their store, they took care of me right away, they charged me.  I paid them.

My perspective is quite different, of course.  I never felt comfortable in there. I was in unfamiliar surroundings.  I needed help to feel comfortable.  The phone guy and the coffee guy ignored me because they didn’t recognize me.  They would have greeted someone else that they knew, I firmly believe. 


When someone comes to your counter with 5 shirts that need to be done quickly, you may do it for the guy who comes in every week, but if it’s someone you don’t know, you’re more likely to scoff at the idea of bending over backwards for this guy, when in fact, he could become a “heavy hitter” customer.  Maybe, this is your opportunity to show him what you’re made of.  It just may be that the guy that you’ve never seen before is exactly the guy that you should impress.  He could be your competitor’s regular customer.  Okay, so you can’t greet him by his first name, but you can greet him.  Making this guy feel unimportant will get you nowhere.  Making him feel important and welcome might get you somewhere.  There is nothing wrong with “might”.  Since the metaphor that I have chosen here is a tire shop, it might be especially relevant.  How many trucks do you own?  How many vehicles in total?  I’m going to guess that many of you own thirty or more tires and are a tire shop’s dream come true!


Personally, I am never more offended as a customer than when I am ignored at the counter.  I’m not alone on this am I?


If something is going to take 90 minutes, say 90 minutes.  When I was told 30 minutes by the phone guy, he knew it wasn’t going to be that quick.  Don’t tell a customer that his shirts will be done in an hour when you mean 3 hours.  The “one hour” may sound great to the customer at the time that you speak the words, but you will risk looking like a liar or a clown when the truth comes out.  Conversely, if you say that his shirts will be ready in 3 hours and he comes back in 2 hours and 45 minutes and the shirts are ready, he will be impressed.


If your work area – including the front counter work area – is visible to customers, make doubly sure that what they see is impressive.  Try to look at it from a customer’s perspective.  When in the business of cleaning, having clean equipment is paramount.  I don’t think that details are necessary.   


The tire guys gave me the impression that they were dishonest as soon as they began speaking.  If someone brings you 5 shirts and you immediately begin telling them how non-standard his shirts are and the related upcharges, he will not feel comfortable if the wrong words are used.  “We charge $1.90 per shirt, but starch is extra, French cuffs are extra, cold-water wash is extra and same day service cost a dollar more per shirt.”  A customer will feel uneasy hearing this in the wrong context even though an employee may feel professional and thorough. 


In the end, realize the importance of treating every customer as though he or she is your best customer.  Remember that they become a “best” customer when you make them feel special, not routine, inconsequential, inconvenient or disruptive.


“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

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