Don’t Betray the Loyal Client


"It's not that she couldn't do it, it's that she didn't say anything about it."

It was an odd comment, I’ll admit it, especially since the conversation was really about Obama and McCain, the Wall Street bail out and the price of gasoline. The problem was that I was truly miffed because my dry cleaner hadn't gotten a spot out of a white dress I'd last worn on the Silver Cloud for Silversea's top-producers' cruise— and lately I'd been unable to think about anything else.

What made it worse is that I like my dry cleaner. She's super pleasant and efficient. She always reminds me to take my newly cleaned clothing with me when I run in, pay her and turn around to leave empty handed, so distracted by my to-do list that I've forgotten the purpose of the transaction. I like it that I can walk in, give her a heap of bedraggled jackets, shirts and slacks and walk away. Sometimes just getting all of that stuff out of the car is enough to make me smile. I’d been going to her for years and she wasn’t cheap. I always handed over as much cash as she requested, without blinking. Was I the dream client or what?

I'd come to her after using a dry cleaner near the supermarket I frequented. That establishment had a sweet deal; get 10 pieces cleaned for $25 if I prepaid. The only problem was I didn't want to wear any of the clothing they treated because they'd ruined it. Another dry cleaner right near the train station I went to had other issues. She’d yell at me when I asked her why she hadn't gotten an obvious stain out of something. I tended to forget that she did that and return to her every few years because she was so darn conveniently located. Then she'd yell at me again. I hated her, basically.

When I picked up the white dress in question, paying in full of course, the offending spot was incredibly visible as I walked back to my car. There were new stains, too, that I hadn’t even seen prior to my dropping it off, they looked like something made from a metal wire hanger. I returned to inquire what was up and my dry cleaner didn't even look up. "That'll never come out," she said. I’ll spare you the exchange but essentially, all of these spots were hopelessly imbedded in the dress and it was fairly hilarious to her that I’d ever even dreamed they could be removed. She was cordial when I left though. "Good-bye! Have a good weekend!"

Tough Love

What made this shabby treatment sting all the harder was that I’d just returned from Signature Travel Network's Annual Owners’ Meeting where keynote speaker Dr. Lalia Rach had delivered a tough love speech advising that client retention is more important than ever, based on forecasts that the economy isn't going to get any better for the next 12 to 18 months. "What is a loyal client looking for?" asked Rach, who is the associate dean and HVS International Chair at the Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University.

Here are just a few of her insights:

"Quality service based on my needs. Consistency. Recognition of my values. Delivery on a promise, a.k.a., trust. A seamless exchange where promises are met. A knowledgeable professional who answers my questions correctly. Requests that are efficiently implemented…That you'll fix the problems and never blame the customer." To think that in one fell swoop, my dry cleaner had betrayed all of these tenets because she was taking my business for granted.

Later that day, my husband removed the white dress from its plastic wrapping, took out a toothbrush, rubbed it in bleach and got rid of the stains in about 60 seconds. In a down economy, when there’s no true professional around, the temptation to do it yourself is all too strong.

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