Customer Experience News & Trends

3 true tales of service so great it saved its companies

Sales gets them, Service keeps them. That’s the old adage. But in these cases, incredible customer service went further … and either built or saved these companies.

“Customer service is a real business product that stands beside the primary product of every business enterprise,” says David L. Elwood, Ph.D., author of Two Factor Theory of Customer Service.

Many companies become successful because they created a product or service, often based on necessity or uniqueness, that took off.

Other companies considered themselves in the customer service business, and just happen to sell a product or service. As Starbucks Founder Howard Schultz once said, “We’re in the people business serving coffee, not the coffee business serving people.”

Here are three extraordinary tales of building legendary business using special brands of customer service:

1. Keep them happy

Stanley Marcus, son of a Neiman Marcus founder Herbert Marcus, felt that a customer was trying to take advantage of him in the late 1920s when she wanted to return a $175 dress that she clearly wore and abused.

His father listened to the young man’s argument that the retail store would lose money because it couldn’t pass the loss back to the manufacturer, so they shouldn’t accept the return. The elder Mr. Marcus replied, “She’s not doing business with the manufacturer, she’s doing business with us.” He explained that it would cost more than $200 to get a new customer, and it wasn’t worth losing a good, loyal customer for $175. “When you tell her (you are giving her a refund), do it with a smile,” the elder Mr. Marcus said.

Over the years, the woman spent $500,000 in Neiman Marcus stores.

2. Keep your promises

When FedEx launched in 1973, weeks after the first 28 salespeople hit 10 cities trying to sell the overnight package service, company leaders expected to ship 3,000 packages the first night. Only six were shipped that night — and four were orders from salespeople just testing if the service worked.

As orders and deliveries trickled in, employees increasingly saw the urgency to meet the promised deadline of delivering packages “absolutely, positively overnight.” Suddenly there was an all-hands-on-deck atmosphere surrounding the company. Pilots made ground deliveries or sales calls. Salespeople did pick-ups.

That led a “tracer” — a front-line employee who could check on a package’s delivery status — arranged a plane and scheduled a pilot to move a wedding dress from Detroit to Indiana quickly for a panicked bride. The dress made it there, and the overnight, on-time delivery turned into the talk of the wedding, where two RCA executives were guests. They contacted their traffic manager and suggested they try FedEx. Soon, FedEx was picking up 20 packages a day from RCA. Today, it has more than $40 billion in annual sales.

3. Stay true to the principle

If you’ve been working in the customer experience industry for any amount of time, you’ve likely heard the tale of a Nordstrom’s associate who gladly accepted tires as a return — even though the high-end retailer doesn’t sell tires — and wondered if it’s true.

According to The Nordstrom Way, it’s not just folklore, and it went down like this: In the 70s, Nordstrom acquired three stores from the Northern Commercial Company, which did sell tires, in Alaska. After the stores were converted to Nordstrom and the automotive department was eliminated, a Northern Commercial Company customer brought back the tires — and an employee refunded the purchase.

In another heroic service move, an associate at a Seattle store couldn’t find a pair of pants that a customer fell in love with at her store or five other Nordstrom locations. So she went across the street, purchased them from a competitor at full price, and sold them to the customer at Nordstrom’s sale price.

Employees do these kinds of things because they’re trained to stay true to this customer service rule: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

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