EXECUTIVE LESSONS FROM MY DRY CLEANING LADY

On Saturday I walked into  a dry cleaners with a pile of clothes at three minutes before closing time.    I walked out with three lessons.   One, the power of customer service. Two, the power of remembering names.  Three, the power of politeness.

Customer Service

When I walked in with a big load just before five o’clock on a sweltering day, the owner of the shop did not groan or give me a pained look, although clearly she had gone through a long, grueling day.  In fact, she mentioned cheerfully how busy she had been.  The dry cleaning owner could have said we’re closed or given me a sour-puss facial expression.

How many business books and advertisers out there talk about putting the customer or client first? Plenty.  How many executives and professionals actually do?  Not nearly enough.  I left my previous dry cleaning lady because she charged me to replace two buttons that her dry cleaning process damaged in the first place – no customer service there.

Forget Me Not

The dry cleaning owner finished taking care of the customer before me and then attended to me.  She knew my name, although I had only been there four times in a nine-month period. I asked her did she use mnemonic techniques to remember people’s names.  She said no and mentioned that many of her customers asked her how she remembered their names.  I asked her how she did it and why.  She said, “I make a great effort to remember a customer’s name after the second time I see the person – I force myself to think hard.”  She went on further to say, “I do it because I am the owner of my business, not an employee, and it is important to know my customers.”  The dry cleaning owner could have chosen not to remember my name.

A former colleague of mine told me a story about how the late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, a Democrat, met him once and never forgot his name upon subsequent meetings – that made a huge, positive impression on my colleague, a Republican.   Self-improvement guru Dale Carnegie said there is no sweeter sound to a person than to hear his own name.  It is true.

Good Manners

While I was counting out my many shirts, she asked me whether I would mind her taking care of the woman behind me who had come to pick up a very small batch of dry cleaning.  I said no problem.  The dry cleaning owner could have helped the other customer behind me without asking for my permission. 

Our mothers stressed good manners as a way of being gracious and smoothing social interaction.  How often do we forget to do even basic manners?  The other day, I heard actor Robert Duvall repeatedly say “yes sir”  or “no sir” to a radio interviewer and those simple, polite replies endeared him to the audience. The dry cleaning lady had made a point to ask my permission before waiting on the other customer.  Manners do matter.

Everyday there are wonderful lessons and reminders all around us of how to be better executives and better people.  Now if I can just get rid of my brain cramps and start remembering people’s names.

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