Sixteen years ago one of the most beloved books in the field of customer service was published by Jossey-Bass Publishers—Fabled Service: Ordinary Acts, Extraordinary Outcomes by Nordstrom VP and general manager, Betsy Sanders. The book opened with a powerful story that needs to be retold over and over. In our too-calloused, bottom-line obsessed corporate world, Betsy’s amazing book reminds us of what Marriott Founder and CEO Bill Marriott called, “The nobility of service”. Betsy gave her permission for her story to be shared again. If you are moved by her story, you will be inspired by her book.
The congregation sat hushed, unusually attentive even for a church in which they were accustomed to hearing powerful preaching. There had been speculation all week due to the sign in front of the imposing structure that proclaimed a sermon on the unlikely theme of “The Gospel According to Nordstrom.” Although members of this prosperous flock were no strangers to the Nordstrom in their neighborhood, they couldn’t imagine what this mecca of merchandising had to do with Gospel principles.
The homilist, Reverend Carolyn Crawford, skillfully evoked the luxurious and bustling atmosphere of a Nordstrom store during the holidays. She recounted the sights of abundant decorations; sounds of holiday music expertly performed by an elegant, tuxedoed piano player; the aromas of potpourri and expensive perfume; the crowds of shoppers laden with parcels. This shared reverie was jarred, however, when Reverend Crawford introduced an improbable character to the scene: a bag lady clad in torn, filthy clothes.
Convinced that this visitor’s presence would be as unwelcome as it was incongruous, Reverend Crawford followed the bag lady through the store with the intent of intervening with security and softening the blow to the woman’s dignity when she was asked to leave. The Reverend’s original interest in this visitor, who presented such a stark contrast to the gracious abundance of the store, changed to incredulity. No one attempted to stop the bag lady as she entered the elegant and pricey Special Occasions Department. Instead, she was greeted warmly by a smartly attired saleswoman.
Reverend Crawford, eavesdropping from the adjoining fitting room, was astonished at the salesperson’s solicitous responses to the customer. When the customer asked to try on evening dresses, the salesperson brought in gown after gown for the customer’s discriminating inspection. With infinite patience, the salesperson carefully evaluated which were the most flattering and appropriate. When the bag lady left the fitting room, her head was held high and there was a light in her eye. She had been treated like a valuable human being.
When questioned about her actions by Reverend Crawford, the Nordstrom saleswoman replied, “This is what we are here for: to serve and be kind.”
What is your real mission when serving customers? If you are a leader, how can you inspire, enable and encourage your associates to serve with a Nordstrom attitude? How can you serve in a fashion that turns ordinary acts into extraordinary outcomes?