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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Nordstrom Update

Beth received a card from the Nordstrom salesperson that helped her a week ago Saturday. The note thanked Beth for shopping at Nordstrom and wished Beth well in the job search that Beth mentioned. Writing such a note may seem like a small thing, but it pays dividends.

Whatever your business, realize that customers need not come to you. Other options always exist. If you can show customers and clients that you listen, and that you care, they will likelier return.

Beth felt well-served by this salesperson, and maybe would seek her out the next time. This note reinforces that possibility. How does it do that?

  1. The note is friendly. Wouldn’t you rather be served by someone friendly than one who is cool and disinterested?
  2. The note shows that the salesperson listened and remembered. I worked for years in a wine store. Many customers absolutely relied on the sales help to remember the wines that they liked. Beth can expect this salesperson to remember Beth’s tastes and needs.
  3. The note shows that the salesperson was willing to make an effort. The transaction did not disappear from her memory. More chance of keeping a customer.

We all need reassurance that those offering services to us actually care about our satisfaction. That means not just having the technical expertise for the particular product or service, but also a willingness to serve us. Good service is a frequently seen slogan but less frequently seen in action.

When should one send a note to a customer or client?

  1. When you meet new customers. This establishes the relationship. It also allows you to indicate more deeply the services that you can provide.
  2. When special opportunities arise, like sales or events. Make sure that these opportunities have real interest for the customer.
  3. Holidays or other times when your product or service could be useful.

Be discreet with notes and other contact with customers. Avoid giving the impression of chasing customers down. Instead, keep the idea of serving the customer’s needs in mind. Allow your relationship with the customer to grow naturally. It will last longer.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Google’s Hamfisted Buzz Promotion

I highlighted some instances of misplaying customers in my previous posts. Google’s launch of Buzz provides another instance of a company botching customer communication.

Google Buzz is a networking tool. If that phrase means anything to you—if you are hip to the buzz—you might be interested. It allows you to keep track of the people in your network.

Keeping track of your network sounds fine. Unfortunately, Google launched Buzz by adding it as a feature to Gmail. The people in your Gmail address book became your public network. With half a thought, one can see how that might create imbroglios, if not worse. At least let us opt in to this service, not thrust it upon us.

Google corrected this error quickly; you can now choose whether and how to participate.This incident must have starched the momentum that Google hoped to gain for Buzz.

The launch of Buzz showed Google in the position of not quite connecting the dots. Sure, maybe a lot of Gmail users will enjoy this service. Google failed to see how a certain number of people would not want to use the service, and especially have the service thrust upon them.

Beyond that, an issue of communicating what Buzz is and can do arises. The Buzz site tells you, “Start conversations about the things you find interesting.” Um,what does that entail?

Do you see from the Buzz page a clear indication of what it is about? I don’t. Rather than communicate the essence of Buzz, Google expected you to figure it out. Many will, and will set privacy settings accordingly. Those less savvy, however, were dumped in a situation they did not ask for. That is not service, and it is not communication.

And just to show that hamfistedness is not just Google’s problem, Microsoft opened Windows Live and Hotmail to public view in the same way Google opened Gmail. Despite the reaction that Google received with Buzz, Microsoft opted you in. If you do not want what you do on Windows Live made public, go manage your account. “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Nordstrom, Round 2


Beth got the wrong item at Nordstrom Saturday and returned to exchange it. (see previous post).

A formal swooping arrangement exists among Nordstrom help. Someone stopping to look at something triggers a salesperson to approach and offer help. It can be a trick to manage, I imagine, showing the customer space but being ready to help. I saw a salesperson target us and come over.

Beth explained the problem. No hassle with the return. The salesperson efficiently made the switch. Beth had further skin care questions. The salesperson showed less interest in this.

She suggested a product for Beth to sample. Beth did not want to use the open sample containers because while the sales staff uses gloves passersby do not. This was a sanitary concern. Though little product remained in the jar, the salesperson said she could not open a new one. Beth preferred not to try the sample. The salesperson said, There is nothing I can do for you, and walked away.

I was not fully involved in the conversation but saw no flashpoint to cause the salesperson to walk off like that. Being blown off shocked us. It made no sense. If it were really impossible to open a new sample for Beth, the salesperson could do something, like offer literature, speak to her manager, anything but leave a customer like that.

We stood there for a moment wondering what happened when another salesperson offered help. Beth felt that the good feeling that we had from Saturday’s visit was gone, and wanted to leave, but she explained to this salesperson what happened. This one apologized and persisted in trying to help Beth, to which Beth finally acceded.

She located samples that Beth could take—why couldn’t the first one do this?—and asked if Beth wanted to speak to the manager. Beth did not. It is embarrassing to complain. You end up feeling like you are to blame. Customers should never feel that way.

Beth has been a Nordstrom customer for a long time but with the bad feeling of this one incident she wondered if she should go elsewhere. Why should you ever feel bad about the store at which you shop? Such are the terms here.

The salesperson asked again if she should have her manager speak with Beth. Beth asked, Why don’t you? The salesperson replied that the manager would be mad at her for letting Beth go unappeased. High marks to this salesperson for not letting the problem be pushed under the carpet. I offered that Beth should speak with the manager and Beth agreed.

The manager listened, apologized, and made the right sounds. Customers want a sense of being heard. Corporations have their own dismaying bureaucracy that often leave us feeling helpless. I assume the manager acted upon this incident, and spoke with the first salesperson. Nordstrom clearly trains its staff carefully.

My immediate reaction, as party of the first part and not the manager, would be that the first salesperson should be fired. Her disinterest is problematic, and her touchiness makes her a bad choice for the job. Flouncing off as she did, and at so little provocation, is an issue. Customers do not need to deal with someone who has a weed up the ass, which is how we felt that she acted.

Takeaway this: the necessity of full presence in the job as it swirls around you. Hear the customer’s concerns and let go of the inconvenience that you feel you suffer. The job is about serving the customer and maintaining the company’s integrity. The situation here only got out of hand because the salesperson walked away. It takes less than that to lose a customer.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Macy’s versus Nordstrom

We went to Macy’s to find toiletries for our son. We sought some sort of powder that might keep him cool and dry and not irritate his skin. This is not a product that our son could successfully purchase himself. We are trying to gather him into the adult ways of taking care of himself.

Beth delineated what was needed to a salesperson. This salesperson led us to a display of some newly-arrived cologne. Newly arrived and $70 a bottle were the only descriptors that she applied to the product.

Beth went into detail, namely that our son is a very hairy young man and gets inordinately hot. The salesperson said, Have you tried electrolysis or laser? Well yes, that is an expensive possibility, but right now we are looking for some kind of talc that might prove soothing for his condition. She recommended going to CVS.

Does that serve the customer? Had our son, who remains foggy about the concept, asked for help, he would either have spent too much getting something he did not need, or been sent away with nothing.

At Nordstrom, we inquired hopelessly for talc. We did not just want talc. we wanted to know what possibilities existed. A Nordstrom salesperson assured us that options existed. She led us to the counter, and introduced us to a salesperson. We got a clear message that we would be helped.

The salesperson eagerly—perhaps too eagerly—showed us a line of products that would serve our purpose. She went a little far into the product line and care regimen, but the products made sense and she was helpful. A second salesperson came along and tempered the first one’s enthusiasm; this second salesperson saw that we were being overwhelmed.

We ended up selecting more than we intended, because I vouched that I would try these products in case our son chose not to. In addition, Beth got some skin care products, having been introduced to the salesperson in that bailiwick. Except for some excess eagerness on the part of the first salesperson, we felt like our problem—why we came to Nordstrom—was effectively managed.

The lessons should be simple here:

  • Disinterest is offensive. I do not want to go to that Macy’s counter again.
  • Listening is important. We came to the store to buy something, not anything.
  • Empathetic imagination is a useful sales tool. The salesperson at Macy’s never understood what we wanted, nor could she rouse herself to care. This was in fact a sensitive hygiene problem. The Macy’s salesperson offered no relief.

That Macy’s did not offer the product that we sought is not the problem. Treating us like yokels is. The salesperson’s willingness to brainstorm with us, even if it meant sending us elsewhere, would have kept Macy’s in our minds as a place to go to. We would have come back with other needs, ones that Macy’s could supply. Instead, it is Nordstrom that won the day.