How Social Media can protect your brand (Thanks, Nordstrom!)

The whole point of having an “industry” blog, in our conception, is to talk about what is happening OUT THERE, not necessarily what happens in the personal lives of our staff.  But when the incident is directly related to your job, you really HAVE to write about it, if for no other reason than not to put off expressing gratitude to a well-handled situation.

One of the reasons that I shop at Nordstrom is for the customer service.  Yes, sure, there are other reasons to eat there (like having a great lunch) but I know that if something goes wrong, and the original manufacturer doesn’t do right by me (which happens sometimes), Nordstrom will take care of me.  This was a theory, based on stories I read in textbooks, heard about at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, and had heard about from friends.  But the theory became a fact earlier today.

On Monday I stopped by Nordstrom with a cologne bottle which had an issue with the sprayer (I know, with a government shutdown this is a #firstworldproblem par excellence, but read on!) and I was hoping the staff could help me fix the sprayer or transfer the contents to another bottle.  The patient in question was a bottle of Ralph Lauren for Men Silver (which is, alas, discontinued, but lives on in ebay auctions) and I stood at the counter and chatted with the new employee who, like me, couldn’t get the sprayer top to stay on.  The supervisor was busy helping another customer.  The new employee and I worked on it over a period of 10 minutes (he also pointed out it was going be painstakingly long to transfer the contents to another bottle which would only hold 1/4 of what was left in my bottle).

Look, I’ve worked retail – I know you can only help one person at a time, and it’s probably Nordstrom policy to stay with your customer the whole time – but I would have appreciated a quick stopover from the supervisor to acknowledge my situation and to give me a time when she would be able to help me.  She did, after about 15 minutes of waiting (and that’s real minutes, not customer minutes.  I know the difference!) stop by and acknowledge the issue and that she’d be by to help me.

In addition to repeating what we had already tried, she checked over with the ladies’ fragrance counter for any other ideas.  None forthcoming, she asked when I had bought the fragrance.  Years ago, I told her.  I didn’t remember when, but it was likely in California and I didn’t buy it on a Nordstrom card.  We searched old phone numbers and zip codes to try to find a record of the purchase.  Nada.

“If we had a record I could process a return,” she stated glumly.  I thought to myself that surely the Nordstrom reputation doesn’t necessarily need a receipt.  I expressed surprise that I could “return” an item I had used for years that was discontinued.  If that was the case, why would the holdup be simply the paperwork?  To contextualize further, I had two samples in front of me, the Burberry and the Prada, which had some of the same scent profile of the RL – light, citrusy, etc.  I wasn’t expecting a full return – I would have been happy with some kind of partial credit and I would have bought a new fragrance right then and there to replace an old favorite.  So, perhaps the failure here wasn’t customer service, it was salesmanship.

In any event, I returned back to the office and tweeted.  I received a response from Nordstrom exactly one minute later.

We began direct messaging and I gave the Nordstrom social media rep a twitter version of the story I’ve recounted above.  She promised to look into it, took my info, and that was that.

A little over two hours later I received a phone call (I couldn’t answer) and heard a voice message from a manager at the Nordstrom I had visited informing me that I had a giftcard for an equivalent return waiting for me when I came back next.

Yeah, I just said that.

Photo Oct 03, 14 24 02Nordstrom processed a return for my cologne (which I had just left at the store when we realized we wouldn’t be able to fix it) at what the market rate would have been for that type of brand and gave me a gift card.  And they did all of this within about 2 hours of my first tweet.

I mean, the customer service lessons here are beyond obvious, but I’ll restate them, just in the spirit of recapitulating to the Nordstrom team what this meant to me:

1.  We all make mistakes in dealing with customers, but the mistake isn’t the issue – the issue is how you deal with it.  And Nordstrom lived up to their reputation (and exceeded it) in how they responded to me.

2.  You never know who you’re going to please.  Now, I don’t have some nationally syndicated blog, but I am what Malcolm Gladwell would call an “Influencer” and I often share my thoughts and views with family, friends, students, colleagues, and even acquaintances (ask the barista who I just told the story to while typing it up here at Parisi in Leawood) who go on to buy from brands and firms I rave about.  I’ve told at least 10 people about this story since Monday, when it happened.

3.  See customer service as an investment.  Sure, I’m going to use that gift card right away towards a new fragrance.  But they’ve strengthened their brand reputation with me and know the dividends that will come from this one act.

4.  Social Media moves as quickly as you want it to.  Nordstrom did not want to see their name in a tweet with #bummed in it.  They dealt with it at a speed that is not necessarily expected, even by a guy who runs a small boutique social media and blogging firm.  It made me feel important and taken seriously, and it ensured that their swiftness was documented (for anyone who wanted to go back and look later).

Thank you Nordstrom.  You guys rock.

Now if I could only get Ralph Lauren to bring back Silver. 🙂