January 2, 2018

“I hate that jacket.”

That was the phrase that created the highest sale of the week at a local J. Crew store. My daughter Natalie, who says it like she sees it and recently started working at J. Crew, said that as an opening line to a customer who was trying on a jacket.

What happened to “can I help you?” Or, “are you buying for yourself or someone else?”

What happened (unintentionally) was that Natalie was being shockingly honest and as a result created a feeling of trust between her and the customer. Once that trust was created, the customer took her advice on many, many more items and had a fun (and expensive!) shopping experience at J. Crew.

Building trust in the dry cleaning business is sometimes difficult as it ranks pretty low on the scale of ‘trust in industries.’ This is especially true when you have a problem or a complaint which happens more often in dry cleaning than in many other industries.


There are two reasons. The first is because dry cleaners are dealing with damaged goods – people wear clothes, spill things on themselves, snag the fabric, etc. The second reason is that manufacturers don’t always make clothes for cleaning. That’s right. By law, (Federal Trade Commission), clothing manufacturers are required to put a care label instructing the consumer how it should be cleaned. They often don’t take this seriously as you can see in the image below that shows an actual care label! 

But guess who’s blamed when it shrinks, pills, loses color, etc (the list goes on and on…!)?

The reason I like writing this blog is not to be defensive but because it makes me think of the how’s and why’s of customer service and what’s behind ideas like “trust.” As I think of this idea for the dry cleaning business, I realize how many systems we’ve developed to not only help create trust but to defend against costly claims.

Here’s just one example: Bar codes.

At Fabricare, we bar code every item that comes in for a customer. This bar code identifies the item, the brand, the type of garment, the color, any notes about its condition and how many times it’s been cleaned. This process not only ensures the correctness of the order, it helps in discussing any issue the customer has with the service of the piece.

For example, a man may not realize how old his shirt is when it starts to show wear. The elbow is one area that wears out first and sometimes creates a hole that the customer thinks was caused by the cleaning process (of course!).

Now, here’s the opportunity to either create trust or embarrass the customer. Most customers don’t know we have this information from a little bar code. If we communicate the number of times it’s been cleaned and the age of the shirt in a way that alienates the customer, it could backfire and cause him to feel defensive or embarrassed.

So, just saying like it is as Natalie did is a good way to handle these kinds of things as it is being honest.  “Hey Mr. XXXX, this shirt has seen better days!” or something like this could make the point in a fun way.  Trust through honesty is built over time and something that all customer service businesses should try and build with each and every customer.  

 Actual care label

Actual care label