When Bobbie Thompson left a handmade Portugese linen tablecloth, a silk jacket, and two silk blouses at the cleaners, she never dreamt that would be the last time she saw them. But it was: When she went back, the items– which she estimates were worth $1,200– had been given away.
Sounds like I'm about to spill the beans on some cleaner's alternate-universe approach to customer service, right? Wrong. Here's the kicker: Thompson waited eight months to pick up her order.
Furthermore, the rules were clearly spelled out on the claim check. The business would not be responsible for items left more than 30 days, and after 180 days, they could be sold. So why was Thompson indignant when she learned that her tablecloth, silk jacket, and blouses were gone?
Because she's human. Also, she suffered a bad fall five months into the saga, and three months went by before she remembered that she'd left the items at Rudy's Dry Cleaners on Maury Avenue. (Which, by the way, is separately owned from Rudy's Rug and Carpet Cleaners on Preston Avenue.)
She returned, expecting to claim the items and pay her bill, but instead learned they were gone– and was upset when owner Andy Loan couldn't tell her where they'd been taken. Thompson claims she returned several times to talk with Loan, but every time he had a different answer.
Loan says that he simply couldn't remember where he'd taken Thompson's items, and had suggested some possible recipients: the Salvation Army, the SPCA sale, a "clothes closet" maintained by Belmont Baptist Church, etc. Thompson went looking at the church and the Salvation Army, then gave up.
"I felt bad about it," Loan says, and adds that he'd rather get paid for cleaning garments than be forced to dispose of them. I can see why. First, he's required to store unclaimed items for six months. And second, he has to keep track of how long things have been held, and then, when six months are up– or, in this case, eight– transport them somewhere for donation.
Rudy's policy is to call the customer after 60 days and again after six months; Loan says he called Thompson himself and believes that he got an answering machine. Thompson, however, doesn't have an answering machine at home, so there's a chance he was calling the wrong number.
I asked why he didn't just send letters, and he pointed out that that would mean getting an address for every customer. After picturing what a bottleneck that would create for both customers and employees, I agreed that letters weren't feasible.
So what's the lesson? First, pay attention to the claim check and realize that if you want your stuff back, you have to go get it– and you don't get to decide when. One solution would be to keep a calendar posted in an obvious place with the date on the claim check circled and a reminder.
I was delighted when the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library adopted its new system. Every borrower is given a printed receipt that lists everything he or she has on loan as well as the due dates. Now, as soon as I get home, I post the slip at eye level on my refrigerator.
And speaking of local cleaners, I have to confess that I was once an alternative-universe customer. Several years ago I went to Brown's Dry Cleaners to pick up some cleaning, and the employee brought out not only the clothes I was expecting, but a second set as well– which I denied all knowledge of.
"But it's the under same name!" various employees kept repeating. Finally, when I became incensed, they gave up.
A couple of weeks later I noticed that my winter coat was missing, and yes– I wince to tell it– realized that that was what they'd been trying to give me.
I crawled into Brown's, bowing and scraping and declaring myself an idiot; though I know they agreed, they were too decent to say so. Even better, the coat was still there.
Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902.