This post was originally published in October 2016 and has been revamped for accuracy and new insight.
Nordstrom’s Legendary Customer Service
Have you heard the story about the guy who walked into a Nordstrom store to return four snow tires?
Disclaimer: Don’t worry, this isn’t a story where we set you up for a punchline like one of those tired “three guys walked into a bar” jokes.
In 1975 a man returned to a store with four snow tires in the bed of his truck. He bought the tires at a tire shop several weeks before, and he needed to return them. But as he pulled up to the supposed-to-be tire shop where he purchased his tires, he discovered the tire shop was closed, and a Nordstrom was in its place. Most of us would assume the guy chucked his tires into the back of his truck and sped off into the distance. He probably drove away disappointed and frustrated about losing his money on a set of faulty tires. But, nope. That’s not what happened. We’ll cut to the chase: after explaining his situation to a sales clerk, Nordstrom (a store that doesn’t sell tires, mind you) allowed him to return the tires, AND they refunded his money.
You might wince at the thought of refunding such an expensive purchase, especially for items that can’t be resold, but let’s remove the small financial blow from the equation. When we do, we’re left with one amazing truth: 43 years later, people are STILL telling this story. A lot of people, actually.
If you Google ‘Nordstrom tires,’ you get roughly 1,680,000 results. There are blog posts, forum threads, and news articles dedicated to the story. That single, phenomenal customer service experience gave Nordstrom decades of free publicity and word-of-mouth advertising. It’s a legendary customer service story, and it’s Nordstrom‘s to tell.
(If you’re skeptical that it’s true, several Nordstrom officials – and a book about Nordstrom – say, it is.)
There are several policies and strategies Nordstrom uses to fasten capes to their representatives’ backs so they can be customer service heroes.
But why dig into those strategies with a slew of words when John Nordstrom said it best in one short statement?
‘‘Our commitment is 100-percent to customer service. We are not committed to financial markets, we are not committed to real estate markets, we are not committed to a certain amount of profit. We are only committed to customer service. If we make a profit, that’s great. But customer service is first. If I’m a salesperson on the floor and I know that the people who own this place are committed to customer service, then I am free to find new ways to give great customer service. I know that I won’t be criticized for taking care of a customer. I will only be criticized if I don’t take care of a customer.’’ — John Nordstrom
Nordstrom is a towering testimony to the importance of empowering employees and supporting the policies that empower them to do what’s best for customers. Nordstrom employees have the wiggle room they need to make snap decisions that benefit their customers. And they can unapologetically make those decisions without feeling like stepping outside the lines will earn them a pink slip from supervisors. Going above and beyond to take care of customers is expected, encouraged, and praised above all else.
Nordstrom uses the power of fantastic customer service to remain a strong competitor in the retail space. They don’t rely on flashy sales events to entice shoppers into their store. They host occasional sale events as a loyalty incentive for Nordstrom cardholders, sure, but people shop there because they can count on the service. They’re known to have items that are a bit pricey, too, yet people are willing to pay the premium for the incredible, consistent customer service experience they get.
With all the hype around Nordstrom’s customer service, you might wonder if it’s all talk and no walk. I mean, what does it take to have customer service that is truly legendary? Does empowering your employees really make that big of a difference? We were curious, too, so we scoured review sites to see if we could find examples of Nordstrom employees going above and beyond for customers.
SPOILER ALERT: They do.
Here are the top 5 reviews we found and what they taught us about good customer service.
What we learned: Take responsibility for customer issues, and get rid of their pain. Make sure the negative experience your customer had the first time around isn’t repeated. Make amends and give customers a convenient solution.
What we learned: Help your customers when they ask for it, even when the issue isn’t your fault. People reach out to your customer service team for a reason, so make problem-solving a priority. When you do, watch the positive reviews pour in.
What we learned: If your customer service experience is consistently fantastic, you’ll have customers who are endlessly loyal and think of your company above all others. And better yet, they’re tell their friends, neighbors, and anyone else willing to listen about their experience with your company.
What we learned: You and your agents are on the front lines with your customers. And you have the power to truly make a positive impact on people’s lives.
What we learned: Surprise and delight customers, and they’ll be thrilled to share their memorable experiences. Personalized customer service paves the path for positive, long-term customer relationships.
Nordstrom’s phenomenal customer service is simply legendary. They live employee empowerment and are dedicated to true customer happiness. If you only learn one tidbit from Nordstrom’s customer service, let it be this: Every customer will walk away from your company with a story to tell. Pick up the pen, and write the version you want people to share. Then, all your customers have to do is rave about it.
Learn more about why customer service is so vital to your company. Read our article about why you should treat customer service as a feature of your product, here!