CHICAGO — Your employees are your ambassadors, it’s important to treat them as such.
I mean this in two ways. First, they need to be treated with the respect that title merits so they feel like they are an important part of a team effort.
Second, as the owner or manager, you must instill in them your philosophy on customer relations so they can deal with customers and resolve issues the way you want them to when you’re not around.
A TEAM EFFORT
Let’s start with the first point — respect and team atmosphere. This can be established in several ways on different levels. On a basic level, be sure to say hello to all of your employees when you enter the laundry. I know this doesn’t seem important, but making a point of tracking each one down and greeting them really opens yourself up to them and gives them a chance to talk to you in an out-of-the-office environment.
While you may see your office as a “hole,” they see that office as your special ground. It can be hard for an employee to approach you when you’re in your office writing checks or working on the computer. If they’re having trouble with another employee, if they’re having a personal issue, if they’re curious about how you’d handle a particular customer situation, giving them a chance to do this outside of the office is crucial.
Another strategy to help build a sense of team and personal ownership is to ask their opinions about things that you’re considering for the store. It could be as small of a matter as a new type of paper towel or as big as a new type of vending machine or dryer that you’re considering. But ask them what they think of what you have versus what you’re considering.
Here’s a homework assignment: Try this strategy next week. You may be surprised by the level of insight employees can share on things that you thought only a big, bad business owner could wrap their mind around.
Now, we turn from the simple and daily things you can do to the equally simple, but slightly rarer efforts. Birthdays are one example.
Everyone loves birthdays, especially those who make a point of saying how much they loathe them. So be sure that somewhere in your office or behind the front counter there’s a calendar with staff birthdays listed.
Here at the World’s Largest Laundromat, we have 15 employees, plus my father and me. For each employee birthday, they get a card signed and personalized by all of the other employees, they get a bonus and they get a mini-party. During their shift they get to decide what they want for their birthday feast, be it burgers, fried chicken, tacos, etc. Then, you go out and buy enough for that day’s whole staff. And when the food arrives, call the employees off the floor and take a couple of minutes for everyone to sit around together, enjoying the food and company.
Oh, and don’t forget the cake. (And speaking for a laundry that burned to the ground a couple of years ago, go ahead and skip the candles.)
With respect, you’ll be harvesting loyalty.
This is just one example, but hopefully you can identify unique opportunities in your store.
DEALING WITH CUSTOMERS
Now that they feel important, respected and loyal, it’s time to instill in them your philosophy on customer relations. The best way to do this is to let them watch you deal with a customer issue.
Employees can learn from your body language, your tone, and even the exact words you use. And when the issue is finally resolved, keep the conversation going with your employee, letting them into your head on why you handled it that way, or how you would have handled a slightly different situation.
Even in an odd and wacky laundry like ours, history will repeat itself. And when it does, the employee that came for your help last time will be able to handle it this time, whether you’re around or not.
At this point, it’s like a snowball rolling down a hill. Their confidence grows from being able to handle the situation itself, all the while knowing you’d approve of how they did it. So when that issues faces a green employee, the more experienced one is confident enough to step in and resolve it, thus playing the role of teacher to the green employee. This goes on until the basic tenets and consistencies of how situations are handled sinks in, and they suddenly find themselves an ambassador of your business philosophy.
I’ve received several letters about this column from some wonderful storeowners and managers, so I want to take this moment to thank you and encourage you to turn this column into a conversation.
And now, I’d like to specifically address a couple of letters. In a recent column, I spoke of the vigor in which people in my store jump for open folding tables. We have 300-plus machines and regularly have more than 250 people in the store at one time during the weekends.
Larry Adamski wrote me about his “Balanced Laundromat Theory.” This, in part, is what he said: “My Balanced Laundromat Theory requires one 6-foot-wide folding table for every three dryer baskets. Since you have 140 dryer baskets, by my calculations, you should have at least 46 large folding tables.”
Thanks for the advice, Larry, and sure enough we are short of the 46 tables you recommend.
I also got an e-mail calling the presence of crayons, paper and coloring books in your store a “recipe for disaster.” This is only a recipe for disaster if happy customers are considered a disaster.
Sure, my wall is inevitably going to be drawn on, but kids are going to be kids no matter where they go. And at least my store serves many large families that all come together. We have never had a real problem with crayons causing a mess, but we regularly get complimented and thanked by overwhelmed parents for giving their kids something fun to do while at the store...something that is far more creative than just giving them a candy bar and plopping them in front of the TV.
So, I’ll exchange the 10 seconds it takes to wash crayon off of something for the smiles and retention of our customers, young and old.
Send your comments and customer stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.