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Ordinary People Taking Action
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I grew up in the suburbs of Seattle, Washington, and in the 90’s found my first part-time job working for the clothing retailer, Nordstrom. I was excited to have a paying job – and I won’t lie – as a 16-year-old girl, I was excited to receive the employee discount on clothes.
I started in the stock room. My job was to take all the clothes from the fitting rooms, then rehang or fold each item and return it to the sales floor. I can’t tell you how many piles of sweaters, jeans, and skirts sat waiting for me on those dressing room floors. So much sorting. Additionally, it was important that clothing returned to the floor be organized by size and appropriate color, with precisely one finger space between hangers. The racks should be full, but not too full. Folded clothes should have sharp edges.
It was an important job because unpurchased clothing needed to get back on the department floor quickly to maximize its sale potential. It was also at the bottom of the list of jobs that people wanted to do. Starting at the bottom and working your way up like this teaches you a lot. It ensures that you understand all the various positions as you receive promotions – giving you the ability to relate to those you manage.
Nordstrom was the gold standard of customer service and in many ways today, they still are. In the 90’s, there was a noticeable difference in the customer service from Nordstrom versus any other retailer. It’s been a while, but I recall two principles: always put the customer first and use your best judgment in gauging the perspective of the customer. If you made an error, yet the interest of the customer was positive, then it wouldn’t be viewed as a mistake.
Over several years, I would move from stock person, to sales person, to assistant manager, to department manager. Each promotion came with more customer interaction – with the same message – always do what was in the best interest of the customer.
I can think of several instances in which I really didn’t think the customer was right, although I would never tell them such a thing. Instead, I did what they wanted because in the end, if they were happy, they would return – and refer others to shop at Nordstrom. Of course, it’s impossible to make everyone happy all the time, yet I can honestly count only a handful of customers that walked out of the store truly unhappy in the 6 years that I worked there.
Today, as a consumer, I feel like customer service isn’t taken as seriously or made a priority anymore. I have spent some time thinking about why. For one, I think customer service is impacted negatively when people are too busy, too focused on immediate sales, lacking focus on the bigger picture and stuck within processes that don’t always work for the parties involved. Second, I think that when people are onboarded into their roles, they don’t receive all the training necessary to be set up for success, making the customer experience less than par. Third, I believe a lack of employee engagement and empowerment hurts customer service significantly.
I recently have had three experiences in which customer service was lower quality than I would have hoped.
The first occurrence happened during a purchase of some software from a local retailer. Not sure of which program I needed, I reached out to the sales person with some questions. His response: “Umm, I don’t know. I can read the comparison for you off the box, but our electronics person quit, and our manager is busy in the back and told me not to bug him. Maybe you should come back tomorrow.” I didn’t go back.
In the second case, I was trying to book a hotel room. The reservation system wasn’t working properly, so I needed to be transferred to a person at the actual hotel. Seven people and three weeks later, I finally booked my reservations. No joke – it was that difficult. I’ll stay at the hotel because that is where the conference is – yet I probably won’t stay there in the future. Honestly, I’ll think twice about the entire chain.
The third experience was with a small practice providing some services for me. When I first reviewed the services, I wasn’t happy – partially because the quality was lacking and partially because my piece wasn’t quite right. It’s generally accepted that the point of a review process is to gather information and make changes as needed. Instead, the team responded as though my feedback was an inconvenience. Whether it was their intention or not, I left feeling like their “big” clients were the priority over their “smaller” clients. We’ll finish the project, yet I probably won’t use them again – or refer them in the future.
In a short period of time, in three completely different experiences, the customer service – customer focus – was missing. We go about our day, interacting as customers in various places, and walk away feeling dissatisfied with the experience. Yet, it’s often we, the customer, who get marked as being difficult. Or people will say our expectations are too high.
My response? If we pay premium rates for services, as was the case in these scenarios, then it’s perfectly reasonable to expect that premium service will be provided. Shouldn’t it be like the old quote, “You get what you pay for”?
For all of us selling services and products, myself included, I hope that we will all take a moment to reflect on the customer experience we are aiming for.