“I have never been especially impressed by the heroics of people who are convinced they are about to change the world. I am more awed by those who struggle to make one small difference after another.” – Ellen Goodman
What does “customer service” really mean?
Many retailers subscribe to the notion that world class customer service is achieved through acts of heroism.
Nordstrom's, for example, has built a reputation on its customer service folklore. In one case, a customer came into a store with a receipt to return a used set of tire chains. Without a moment's hesitation, the clerk refunded the customer's money and took the chains back – even though the receipt wasn't from Nordstrom's. The clerk refunded the customer from her own pocket, then on her lunch break, took the customer's receipt and the tire chains back to the store where it was originally purchased to get her own money back.
Home Depot has a website called www.orangeblooded.net where their employees can post the details of their customer service exploits. In one such account, 3 employees used a forklift to open a storm drain in their parking lot and climbed down 15 feet to retrieve a set of keys that a customer had dropped.
Employees making home deliveries to customers on their own time.
Staff spending hours with customers to share product knowledge and make sure they have everything they're looking for.
Driving to a customer's home to teach him how to use some new gizmo that he just bought and can't figure out how to use.
These are great stories and there's no doubt that the customers involved are now customers for life.
But what about customers like me?
According to published studies on retail out-of-stocks over the last 15+ years (not to mention my personal experience), on the average shopping trip, I walk out of the store with only 92% of the items on my list. Even worse, if I'm enticed into the store by a flyer or promotion, 15% of the time the product isn't there when I show up.
Don't get me wrong, retailers whose employees go the extra mile for customers should be fiercely proud and praise of those deeds should be bellowed from the highest rooftop.
I'm just saying that heroism isn't the only definition for world class customer service.
Time is the world's most valuable non-renewable resource. For 99.9% of my shopping trips, I don't need a hero. I need to be able to get into the store, get what's on my list and get out as quickly as possible without having to come back later or go somewhere else after being confronted with an empty shelf.
It won't make any headlines, but the greatest customer service experience I can have is to walk into a store, easily find everything on my list and then leave without having to speak to anyone.