Above & Beyond: My First Visit to Nordstrom’s

Recently I was happily responding to the excellent questions posed by organizer’s of the weekly #custserv tweetchat on customer service.  One of my responses caused another participant to mention something about Nordstrom’s.  I replied (within the 140 character limit of Twitter tweets) that my first visit to a Nordstrom store had been extraordinary.

And so..

At the end of October in 1989 I spent a week in San Francisco.  I was there on critical business for the U.S. Department of Labor.  My task was to persuade the leadership of the DOL’s principal employee union to agree to a unique labor-management partnership initiative proposed by the Department.  We were at a hotel just off Union Square, a bustling center of the city.

Around the corner was a large Nordstrom department store.  At that time we didn’t have Nordstrom stores in new Jersey, where I live.  I had heard about the legendary Nordstrom customer service, and I had also heard about the seemingly impossible spiralling escalators in the store.  So one day at lunch, I walked over to Nordstrom. From the street level, you entered the department that most stores put front and center – perfumes and cosmetics.  I was looking for a shirt to get as a gift for my son, who was then 2 years old.  Like many kids, he liked to play with masks and costumes, pretending to be Batman, or a cowboy.  I approached the perfume counter and asked the woman working there if she could tell me where the boys’ clothing department was.  Her response was not like anything i expected, or had ever encountered in customer service before.  Where I expected “oh… that is on the fifth floor, towards the rear,” what I was told was “I’ll take you there.”

The perfume counter woman was going to TAKE ME to the boys’ clothing department?  She quickly got someone to cover the perfume section, and came around to escort me.  As we walked and rode the escalators, the perfume sales woman asked me a series of questions.  In short order, she knew my name, where I lived, and all about my son and what I came to look for that day. Why is she doing this?  She sells PERFUME, not kids clothing!

It was only a few minutes to the boys’ department.  When we arrived, the perfume sales woman introduced me to the boys’ clothing sales person.  “Jim,” she said, “this is Mr. Waltuck, from New Jersey.  He is visiting us for the first time today, and looking for a  Western-style shirt for his son Miles, who is two.”  I was stunned! NO ONE treated their customers this way!

The woman shook my hand, and left to head back to the perfume counter.  The boys’ department salesman showed me several racks of shorts in my son’s size.  I quickly spotted on that was perfect.  A cool western geometric print, and on sale at a great price.  When we got to the register for me to pay, the salesman handed me his personal business card. “I’m sorry we didn’t have a bigger selection of these shirts for you today.  Call me, and I’ll send you the catalogue from the manufacturer.  We can get you any style.” 

What planet was I on?  Had the spiral escalators taken me to another dimension where incredible service was actually REAL?

As I took the salesman’s card, he gave me the signature “Nordstrom final touch.”  He walked around from the behind the counter, bringing me my bag with the new shirt.  He handed it to me, and offered his handshake to thank me for my purchase.

I left in a daze.  I had read about Nordstrom’s legendary customer service.  This was far more than anything I had ever experienced (before or since, I should add, although the next year, a newly-opened Nordstrom in New Jersey did an equally remarkable job serving my then three-year-old son as he shopped for and got a new pair of shoes), and far more than anything I had expected.

As the tv credit card ads might say, “the value of Nordstrom service in establishing loyal customers: priceless.”

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2 Responses to Above & Beyond: My First Visit to Nordstrom’s

  1. Great story Bruce! Isn’t it amazing what happens when we treat people like we genuinely value them! Of course that’s hard to fake, so the real magic may lay in genuinely valuing people.

  2. This is a perfect example of the exponential power of extra, personalized effort. Impressed customers become evangelists and multiply the effort you invested in them. It’s so important to remember this when interacting with customers, and – as you said Jamie – being genuine in caring.

    Thanks for an inspiring story Bruce!

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