Nordstrom Quality Customer Service

Good for the “New Seasons” Grocery store, which is taking a page out of the Nordstrom Employee manual, “Use your good judgment in all situations.” The New York Times Reported:

[New Seasons] employees are given “get out of jail free” cards with the instructions to do anything a customer wants. Mr. Rohter said one young clerk opened 81 jars of mustard for a customer to taste. Then he went to his supervisor, handed the card to him and explained what happened.

Printed on the back of the card:

Dear Supervisor: The holder of this card was, in their best judgment, doing whatever was necessary to make a happy customer. If you think they may have gone overboard, please take the following steps:

  1. Thank them for giving great customer service.
  2. Listen to the story about the events.
  3. Offer feedback on how they might do it differently next time.
  4. Thank them for giving great customer service.”

“We never reprimand someone for helping a customer”, Mr. Rohter said

From NYTIMES, January 4, 2006: In Oregon, Thinking Local

My Positive Customer Experience at the Radisson

Just a quick post to share my experience at the Radisson in downtown Minneapolis. I’m feeling very positive about this hotel right now, in spite of two problems in the last 24 hours. The way the Radisson staff (1) quickly dealt with the problems, and (2) otherwise exceeded my expectations in small but meaningful ways has contributed to my satisfaction as a guest.

First, the problems:

  • PROBLEM 1: CHECKED IN TO AN OCCUPIED ROOM: After checking in, I made may up to the room. It was rather dark inside, and very clean, so it took me a minute to notice that there was a suitcase in the corner and a laptop on the desk. Uh-oh.
  • HOW IT WAS HANDLED: I made my way back downstairs. The person who had just checked me in (and also spent a few minutes reviewing the skyway map, and giving me the best route to the convention center) was occupied with a customer. The other desk clerk quickly booked me into a new room, apologizing profusely and (to my ear) sincerely. She asked if I would accept a free breakfast from the Radisson for my trouble, and gave me a very nice looking gift certificate to the excellent “Firelake” restaurant in the lobby.

  • THE RESULT: I felt happy, and taken care of. The way the situation was handled exceeded my expectations, which have been lowered by previous experiences at hotels in which check-in problems were not only NOT apologized for, but I was left feeling like I WAS THE PROBLEM. (Marriott, I’m talking to you. Twice!) Note to hotels: don’t shoot the messenger. Buy him breakfast.
  • PROBLEM #2: The business center computer ate my credit card. Yup, I actually had to feed my credit card in to use the computer. Upon sucking in my card, the computer promptly logged in, and then froze.
  • HOW IT WAS HANDLED: There were a number of signs posted that said “In case of emergency, dial 55”. I wasn’t sure if this was an emergency, but decided that it was close enough (I wasn’t dialing 911 after all.) I dialed and the phone was picked up immediately. The customer service agent said, “we’ll have an engineer come up immediately.” In 30 seconds flat, the engineer was there. He had my card out in 10 seconds, apologizing all the while.
  • THE RESULT: I was amazed at how quickly the problem was solved, and felt relieved and thankful that my afternoon did not go down the drain while I tried to deal with the situation. I’ve had very bad experiences with almost every business center I’ve ever used in a hotel–and they usually charge through the nose for the privilege of wasting my time. My good feeling at the quick response was heightened, as I logged in to another PC and quickly printed out my pages to discover that…wait for it… there was no charge, save an .08 cents printing charge (penny a page?). No charge for time on the computer. Again, my expectations were far exceeded.

A few other nice perks that have exceeded my expectations and enhanced my experience at the hotel:

  • They have Sleep number beds. I’ve been thinking about buying one. Now I get to try it out for a few nights!
  • Bottled waters in the room–free! I’ve always hated the way you get into a hotel after a long flight, parched like you just spent 40 days in the desert, and they try to charge you for the big bottle of water sitting out on the table. Well done Radisson!
  • Free wireless and wired internet in the room. None of that $10/day crap!
  • Huge, lit shaving mirror in the bathroom. Love these, and rarely see them in hotels.

These “little” touches help create an overall customer experience that also generates a valuable “background hum of satisfaction”. That “hum” probably makes customers a little less upset when something does go wrong–especially when the staff is so adept and empowered to address problems immediately.

Well done Radisson!

Tags:

Convenience

In my last post on The Human Touch I discussed how a warm, caring human being trumped a crappy, highly inconvenient system. And now for something completely different…

A few weeks ago I went into Philly to meet an old friend for dinner. Mindy had just moved back to the Philly area after too long an absence. She was happy to be returning to the city life, and particularly happy to find that there was an organic food co-op a block from her new place. Over dinner she related the following story.

After getting moved in, Mindy grabbed her environmentally friendly canvas bag and headed down the block to the co-op to do some shopping. The co-op’s a fair-sized place, spread over two floors. Lots of veggies, fruits, meats, dairy, knickknacks, and a very active community bulletin board. There’s lot’s to see, so Mindy takes her time, browsing through the store, taking it all in, while slowly adding items to her canvas bag.

Little by little Mindy starts to feel a little weird. People are watching her. Giving her strange looks. Dirty looks? What’s going on? Maybe she’s been out in the sticks too long and is just not use to the unfriendly ways of east coast city life? No, people are definitely watching her. And following her. Like maybe she’s a thief…

After this goes on for about 1/2 an hour, the manager approaches her and says, “Is there some reason you’re putting items in that canvas bag?” Mindy replies, “Um, yes. Because I’m shopping.” The manager informs her in a none-too-friendly tone that all customers must use the little plastic baskets for shopping. Mindy says, “Oh, well, I didn’t know that.” So she grabs a plastic basket and transfers all of her items into it, wondering why no one told her sooner.

She finishes up her shopping, goes to the cashier, pays for her items and goes to the door. At the door she transfers her items from the basket to her canvas bag and walks out.

She’s about 1/2 way down the block when the manager comes running out of the store calling, “Miss!! Miss!!”. He chases her down, stops her, and says, “I’m sorry but I have to see what’s in your bag.” Mindy replies, “I’m sorry, are you accusing me of stealing? Here’s my receipt.” The manager insists he has to see what’s in the bag. Mindy says, “Fine” and dumps the contents onto the sidewalk. The manager inventories the purchase against the receipt, and then leaves.

There was no apology.

OK, so here’s the punchline. When Mindy told me this story I said, “So I guess you’re never going back.” Sheepishly she tells me she’s already been back. And she’s signed up to become a member. WHAAA??? Mindy says, “It’s just so convenient!”

The thing is, I understand. Convenience is something we all value. In Mindy’s case, she valued convenience so much it outweighed the crappy treatment she received. Of course, the co-op is not only convenient, it offers a niche service. You can’t go to the Acme and get the same goods, so the co-op can get away with lousy customer service. They’re not only the closest game in town, they’re the only game in town. Literally.

In my last post, I related how a human touch — truly exemplary service — helped make up for a decided lack of convenience. However Mindy’s story revealed how convenience can also trump bad service, especially if the service fills a specific need that is otherwise difficult to fill.

Ideally, of course, we want our libraries to be both convenient and customer-service oriented. We want well-designed systems AND the warmth of caring human contact. Unlike the organic food co-op, however, libraries no longer have the luxury of providing niche market services.

In the good old days (prior to 1994) many of our customers had to come to us. We were the only game in town. But I’m afraid that our prior near-monopoly on information services made some of us a bit too comfortable. We were able to get away with clunky systems, restrictive policies, and unfriendly staff. Customers didn’t have much of a choice. Well, those days are gone, and they’re not coming back. That doesn’t mean libraries don’t have a lot to offer, but it does mean we have to be much more aware of the value that our customers place on convenience and friendly service if we expect to remain relevant.

As some of you may know, I’m involved in the management of New Jersey’s 24/7 VR service, QandANJ.org. We celebrated our 6th anniversary in October, and in those six years we’ve collected thousands of customer comments. Two of the most frequent comments we receive are variations on, “Wow, it was great to have a live person helping me.” and “Wow, this was just so convenient.” I’m proud to be associated with QandANJ because we’re translating (or “operationalizing”) one of librarianship’s core values: removing the barriers between people and information. It’s personal service with anytime/anywhere convenience that our customers value.

I’m not suggesting that every library needs to be doing virtual reference (although I do think every library should at least be available through IM.) I am suggesting that if libraries are to thrive, it’s imperative that we audit our staff and services with a critical eye toward ramping up convenience and bringing a human touch to all of our services and all primary points of contact with our customers (our front doors, our phone systems, and our websites.)

The Human Touch

The Human Touch (in which a crazy-bad “system” is made less bad by a live, caring human being)


In November I’m going to be staffing a booth at New Jersey’s annual teacher’s convention to help promote our statewide virtual reference service QandANJ. A few months ago I filled out the necessary forms to reserve booth space on the exhibit floor in the Atlantic City Convention Center. Soon after, I was sent the “exhibitor’s manual” which included another myriad of forms to fill out. So many options! Do we want a table? How many? What size? A table drape? What color? Carpet? Plush? Regular? Color? Chairs? How many? Wastebasket? Do you want the booth vacuumed? How often? Do you want electricity? What kind? (yup, there’s different kinds.) Internet Access? Telephone? Help setting up the booth? Taking it down? Will you be sending boxes of stuff? To the warehouse? To the booth? Etc. Etc.

I suppose choice is good, but the quality of the forms that would (hopefully) reflect my choices were not so good. Small type. Poor design. Lot’s of repetition. Yesterday I spent the better part of the morning attempting to fill out these many poorly-designed forms, all written in 6 pt type. There were eleven different forms. Eleven. And they had to be faxed to three different places! Each form asked for the same information: Name, phone, email, fax, credit card. Name, phone, email, fax, credit card. Name, phone, email, fax, credit card. Wouldn’t it have been great if I could have gone to a single website, entered this information ONCE, then made my selections electronically? Hey, a boy can dream, can’t he?

As it was, my morning was eaten up, my eyes were crossing, but there was a single saving grace: The exhibitor hotline. I had called the exhibitor hotline months ago when I first ordered the booth. In fact, I called it five times in one day (the initial forms I used to order the booth were no less confusing.) Each time I called, the phone was answered on the first ring by Kris. Kris was pleasant. Kris was helpful. Kris was friendly. When I called, I was feeling equal parts stressed, frustrated, and stupid. Kris talked to me like I wasn’t stupid. She comforted me and made it clear that I could call as often as I needed to. So I did.

Yesterday morning I renewed my contact with Kris. She was still there, picking up the phone after one ring with a friendly greeting, helping me figure out the forms and understand the ramifications of my choices. She even made a few phone calls to assure that I’d get the early-bird rate even though I was a few days past the deadline (“Oh, since this is your first time exhibiting…”)

So yes, the “system” sucked, and yes my eyes hurt, but in the end, to be honest, I felt fairly positive about the whole thing. Sure, I would have preferred a system that didn’t require me to interact with another human being (and I’m an extrovert). And I certainly would have preferred a system that didn’t take 3 hours of my time to communicate some relatively simple choices. But having a live person–a warm, caring, informed live person–available to help me gave a HUGE boost to my overall level of satisfaction.

So I ask: What happens when our customers need help? Whether it’s a reference question, a query about branch hours, or someone trying to find out what time storytime starts. Do they get a live person? Do they get an informed, warm, caring live person? Is the phone answered after one ring? Two rings? Five rings?

Kris was my escape valve. Ultimately it’s better to design our systems so we don’t need an escape valve. After all, what happens when Kris retires, or takes another job? Without her on the other end of the exhibitor hotline I would have been in hell. But even the best systems can only benefit from having an escape valve. A Kris who picks up after one ring. A human touch.

If asked to evaluate my experience as a prospective exhibitor at NJEA I’d give failing grades for convenience, but an A plus for the customer service I received from Kris. Overall, a solid B.

In my next post (on convenience) I’m going to describe a very different experience…

Customer Loyalty? It don’t enter into it.

Maria Palma over at “Customers are Always” recently posed the question, “What would make you stay loyal to a supermarket?” The question struck me as a bit odd, and my first reaction was to think, “Loyalty? It don’t enter into it.”

I regularly grocery shop at Wegmans, Superfresh, Target, and Costco, and where I lay my green depends on a number of factors. Each store offers me something different.

I get better service at Wegmans, but it’s a longer drive. I love the self-service at Superfresh, and the fact that it’s close to my home. Also, they are one of only a handful of stores that sell Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews   – the most perfect food on the planet.  I love the prices at Target and Costco, as well as the opportunity to browse lots of non-grocery items and spend more money on stuff I don’t need. Why just last week I went into Target to get a box of cereal and a birthday card and wound up with a new IPOD shuffle.

But loyalty? I’m “loyal” to these establishments to the extent that they meet my needs, and not one whit more. Which is to say I’m not at all loyal. I want them, quite simply, to meet my needs. Just give me some combination of:

  • what I want
  • when I want it
  • where I want it
  • how I want it
  • at a cost I find acceptable (Cost includes price, but is not limited to it.)

Making no overt attempt to tie this post to library services. Arf!