Nordstrom Scores High on Our Informal Customer Service Test

December 20, 2010

During the holiday season, when many shoppers are both stressed and trying to shop for other family and friends, some of whose tastes they may not even be that familiar with, good customer service is especially important – and could lead to an extended ‘relationship’ if the shopper goes home happy.

In a poll that came out last month, the National Retail Federation listed 10 top customer service businesses as voted upon by customers. Out of the 10, three were brick-and-mortar stores: Kohls, Nordstrom and J.C.Penney.

What makes these three so good? I culled ten “providing good customer service” tips from experts on the subject like Pamela Unruh, Susan Ward, and others, and compared them with my experience spending 90 minutes in a Nordstrom store, pretending to be a serious shopper.

Here we go:

Have enough sales people.  Sometimes looking for assistance is like playing whack-a-mole. Nordstrom’s has plenty of salespeople on the floor, and they’re easy to spot: They generally look better than you or I. Well, me, anyway.

Be polite.  It’s nice to be addressed as “sir” or “miss,” rather than “dude” or “you guys,” and Nordstrom staff have that down. They also say things like “thank you,” and “you’re welcome,” which made me feel… pleasant!

Be friendly. Have you ever walk into a high-end emporium where the $10/hr sales clerk acts like HE can afford everything in the shop and you’re a lowly grifter?  Nordstrom’s sales staff are devoid of that attitude. They’re nice.

Look professional. Nordstrom’s sales force is so appealing and stylish that when they single me out and ask if they can help me, I instantly feel more attractive myself!

Be a good listener.  Boy do I hate when I tell a clerk I’m shopping for my girlfriend, and she says, “What size are you?”  Nordstrom sales folks, in my experience, actually paid attention to what I said.

Share knowledge with the customer.  When I shop, I ask questions like “How come this pair of pants cost $60, and these cost $130?”  I’ve actually had sales people answer, “Well, this one is more expensive.”  At Nordstrom’s, Arnie gave me a decent answer.  It didn’t necessarily justify the price differential, but at least I understood it in theory.

Hold clothes at the register. Common sense: makes it easier for the shopper to keep shopping.

Bring customers to the next “help” person.  If the sales clerk you’re talking to can’t assist you, they should bring you to the person who can, if possible, rather than pointing “east” and ordering you to fend for yourself.

Ask open-ended questions. These are questions designed to elicit information, like “What kind of clothes does she like?” rather than “What are you looking for?” which, if I knew the answer, I wouldn’t need the clerk. Nordstrom’s did well in this regard.

Demonstrate. Don’t just program the new cell phone for the customer, show them what you’re doing, so they can do it themselves when they get home. Since I was mainly looking at women’s clothes and shoes, I didn’t require this service.