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Where do you think you are? Nordstrom?

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between an exceptional customer service provider, like Nordstrom, and a typical service provider, like Toys”R”Us?

First, consider what the two have in common:

  • Both are retailers with physical stores as well as a web-based store
  • Both distribute merchandise catalogs to a mailing list of existing customers
  • Both rely on front-line employees to be the “face” of the company
  • Both periodically advertise sales or other promotions
  • Both face competition from other retailers
  • Both serve customers

And where they differ:

  • Standards

Sure, they stock different products, offer different pay scales, serve different clientele, and differ in other ways but the biggest difference is the rules and principles used as a basis for employee judgment and behavior.

Recently, I was at Toys”R”Us shopping for a Christmas present for my three-year-old son. I was unable to locate a certain toy in the Scooby-Doo aisle so I stopped a store employee who was passing by to ask whether or not they carried the Mystery Machine.

He said that if it was not on the shelf, then they didn’t carry it.

Okay. I can accept that. It was a predictable response to an ordinary question.

But I would have appreciated a more engaged response such as, “If you have a moment, I can check the website for you to see if we carry the Mystery Machine. If so, you can purchase the toy now and I’ll waive the shipping charges to your home since we didn’t have what you were looking for in the store.”

I recognize that I was not dealing with a Nordstrom employee. Even so, there’s no reason why a Toys”R”Us employee cannot behave like a Nordstrom employee.

What he said next surprised me.

While holding up two novelty toy balls, he asked me, “Do you know where these go?”

I responded, “Are you serious?”

He said, “Uh huh.”

I said, “No. If I worked here I might.”

Can you imagine a Nordstrom employee asking you, the customer, where a misplaced pair of slippers go? Of course not. That’s ridiculous.

Earlier this month, I stopped by the Toys”R”Us merchandise pick-up door behind the store to retrieve a Barbie bicycle that I had bought for my daughter.

When the employee delivered the shiny new bike, he ripped the “HOLD” sticker off the seat and then suggested that I get some Goo Gone cleaner to remove the remainder.

Can you fathom a Nordstrom employee delivering a pair of blemished shoes to you at the counter and saying, “Give those shoes a good shine and that blemish will come right off!”

That’s preposterous! Why? Standards.

Since Nordstrom considers the effects of its procedures on customers, a sticker capable of leaving a residual blemish on a piece of merchandise would likely never enter the process. And if something did result in a product imperfection, it would be rectified or replaced in keeping with Nordstrom’s high standards of product and service quality.

Not so at Toys”R”Us. There, you’re instructed to pick up some Goo Gone on your way home to remove the imperfection yourself.

Some will consider this an unfair comparison. They will focus on the differences in products, pay scales, and clientele as justification for why a Toys”R”Us employee didn’t go the extra mile to locate a Mystery Machine. Or why he asked me, a customer, where the novelty toy balls are located within the store. Or why another Toys”R”Us employee was indifferent about delivering a new bicycle to me with an unsightly, sticky blemish covering much of the seat.

The major difference between exceptional customer service providers and typical service providers is the difference in their standards—the rules and principles used by companies as a basis for employee judgment and behavior.

So if you are looking to improve your customer service, you must first elevate your customer service standards.

I welcome all comments, questions, bouquets, and brickbats.

Happy Holidays!

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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