A Nordstrom “Nordie” Story

An unexpected customer service story right out of the pages of Chip & Dan Heath’s “Made to Stick”.

A Nordie Story
A Nordie Story

A little off topic for me but …
For the most part, I focus my posts on social software. But while doing so, I’m also working on a start-up project and spend time with books that I often refer to in my writings. Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die is one of them. As described in the book, one of the principles in getting someones attention, is to use stories about something unexpected.

Setting the scene
A few weeks ago, while on vacation, my family & I were walking through a mall in Hallandale, Florida. As we approached the Nordstrom department store, I started recounting some of the Nordie stories illustrated in the book, like;

The Nordie who ironed a new shirt for a customer who needed it for a meeting that afternoon;
The Nordie who cheerfully gift wrapped products a customer bought at Macy’s;
The Nordie who refunded money for a set of tire chains – although Nordstrom doesn’t sell tire chains.

My wife – Anna, thought the first one believable, the second just a mistake and the third simply ridiculous. But as fate would have it, Anna needed a dress for an upcoming wedding and despite my being the poster child for “I hate shopping”, I suggested we try Nordstrom simply because of the book.

The scene
Right, or, wrong, this is how I shop with Anna & the kids – Sara (11) and Alex (7): I let Anna walk up front while the kids and I hang a few steps behind. Being the Poster Child, I often backseat drive and offer which direction we should be going – call it payback πŸ™‚ However, this time I got us into a small enclosed area of with some brand name over top which I never heard but had Anna chuckling to herself. You must know that chuckle. The one you get when you refuse to stop for driving directions and you end up on dead end street. Within less than a minute, Anna held up a white T-shirt with a movie poster on it for $395 US dollars. I then bowed my head, held my kids close by and quickly and quietly, followed Anna into a friendlier neighbourhood.

The score
Thankfully, we found our way into a area that was more appropriate for our budget. And with the quick help of a salesperson – Bethany, Anna tried on a few dresses & settled on the first one – which by the way was around $150 US dollars. There was only one slight glitch; both Anna & Bethany thought a “shrug” would go nicely but there wasn’t anything suitable in the store.

So Bethany offered to hold onto the dress for a few days while Anna (read “we”) scoured the mall (read “malls”) for the shrug. However, feeling a little smug about scoring the dress in Nordstrom’s and fearing that a pattern may be emerging, I encouraged Anna that it would be a lot easier, to find the shrug if she had the dress with her. Besides, in the worst case, if Nordstrom could take back tire chains they can certainly take back the dress. Since the customer is always right πŸ™‚ , Bethany offered Anna a few places to check and sure enough, we scored the shrug too.

The unexpected
A week after returning home to Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Anna received that Thank You card above. Needless to say, the both of us were impressed. Its not like we’ll be back in area next weekend and decide to stop by Nordstrom’s. its also not as if Anna bought the $395 white T-shirt with the movie poster on it. But it was an unexpected and very pleasant surprise. One worth retelling and one worth visiting Nordstrom’s the next time we’re in the neighbourhood.

Thank You Bethany!

Thoughts?
Given the current economic climate, I would imagine more and more retailers would be following Nordstom’s lead. Do you have any unexpected customer service stories you’d like to share?

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My $0.02 to Dirk’s “Are you using twitter for customer support?”

More on how to infuse Social Content 2.0 into your social software lifecycle

One of Twitter’s endearing qualities is simplicity. After it’s “@” (Reply), or, “D” (Direct message), you have the remaining 140 characters to get your message across. Another powerful aspect of Twitter is it’s ability to broadcast, as well as, persist these messages. This means that anyone can pick up on a previous conversation and breath new life into it.

Traditionally, if you’re in customer service, or, support, this is probably the last thing you want. Imagine you’ve been working on an open “ticket”, playing round robin with the customer and perhaps development, you finally close the matter and someone, out of the blue, shows up with a new wrinkle. You may never be able to close a ticket again.

Granted, I’m pushing it a bit, but not much. The primary issue here is, Twitter is unstructured and traditional customer service and support need structure. And for good reason too! Customer service and support are legally binding. Customers pay money, in one form or another, for support and perhaps maintenance of the product, or, service. Once we, as providers of these products, or, services accept our customer’s money we are on the hook to deliver for a certain period of time.

So how do we convert this Social Content 2.0 that lives not only in Twitter databases, but in all the social networks, from casual conversations into legally binding action items? My guess is you don’t. I think if you try then you’ll stifle the casual conversations and pollute your service/support systems.

This is what I think you need to do with your customer service and support folks:
1. Explain to them the journey they are about to embark on in the new social networking frontier.
2. Take the time to onboard, or, train them on how to the tools.
3. Encourage them to use the tools in their personal lives first so they can appreciate their new found power and enlightenment.
4. Arm them with a core message so they’ll always know how to handle themselves. Read Chip & Dan Heath’s book Made To Stick about Southwest Airlines’ “THE low-fair airline”.
5. Follow other companies leads, like Dell, and create their social network accounts with their real names suffixed by the company name. For example: DirkShawVignette. Real people want to relate to real people. Not silly unprofessional icons and bizarro, or, no empty profiles.
6. Create a company web page listing all of their accounts so others can a) validate these people actually work there & b) discover more Twitter accounts to Follow. Look how Radian6 does it. Look to them again when you’re ready to scale your monitoring process.
7. To protect the richness and integrity of your Social Content 2.0 and not blur the line between it and your customer service and support systems, I would move some of traditional inside the firewall systems to the outside. Moving to transparent development means anyone, customer, or, not, can participate in the development and debugging process. That means you can see any defects already discovered in the system along with the internal and external conversations revolving around them. The same for feature requests. Maybe someone already asked for exactly the same thing, only slightly different. Go ahead and add your $0.02. The same for usability features. Maybe you’re having trouble with a particular feature. Could it be you’re the only one? Maybe, or, maybe not. At least you can check it out for yourself.

My guess is you’ll see a reduction in backend customer service and support costs, an increase in overall customer satisfaction and a happier, more fulfilled development team that’s not only more in touch with your market but also your new flock of evangelists.

IMO, of course πŸ™‚

Off you go now. Good luck trying to fit this into 140 characters. That’s what tinyurl is for.
Thanks for inspiration! I’m going to blockquote this stuff and repost on my blog.

Originally posted as a comment by stevenmilstein on Dirk Shaw’s blog using Disqus.

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OK, maybe you Got It, but will They?

Hmmm… maybe one more change
Most of my posts take a few days to write. I tend to write my first draft as a collection of thoughts and then start piecing them together. Most times, I sleep on it and return with different thoughts and maybe even a different perspective. Sometimes, especially when I’ve recorded my sketches and voice over, I may redo everything. That’s a tougher decision to make because of all the effort involved in creating those things. And finally, sometimes I’ll go through the whole cycle again simply because I inadvertently fell asleep putting the kids – Sara (11) and Alex (7) to bed. That too may result in an update since my best ideas usually come to me when I’m away from the keyboard and completely mellowed out with them.

Sticky?
I have a few ideas rumbling around in my head that I think are pretty slick. They’re actually quite simple. But that’s in my mind. You see I’ve spend quite a few nights snuggling with Sara & Alex, so I’ve gone through the above scenario more than once.

Pitching an idea is an art. I’ve been in a start-up before & was always fascinated by how the pitches were modified based on the audience. So whether I want to bounce the idea off of a friend, or colleague, or, am pinned to give the proverbial elevator pitch to a VP, it has to be good. It has to stick.

So I’m now reading Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die and have to admit, it is sticky. I am without a doubt more conscientious about how I express myself.

Beyond ‘Getting It’
But… Didn’t you ever wonder if you actually “got it”? Didn’t you ever wonder if you were able to do it justice? If the author, teacher, mentor were to review your work, would you get a πŸ™‚ out of them?

Depending on the situation, following through with that new approach can be a leap of faith. You get one shot to make your pitch. Are you going to risk it all on;

  1. Did you get it?
  2. Did you do it justice in your preparation? Or,
  3. Did you even take the right advice?

Here’s a little story
We have an amazing instant messaging tool – IBM’s Lotus Sametime, which lets you find anyone working in the company – IBM . Like many of these tools, it has Presence Awareness – you can tell everyone whether you’re “Available”, “Away from the computer now”, “In a meeting”… yada yada yada. But not like any other competing tools I’ve experienced, you can also see where anybody is in the organization chart, who they report to, their title, piers, who reports to them and loads more.

A few months ago I was looking for a new job within IBM and was chatting with my colleague Angus Mcintyre. Angus pointed me to a few other names that may be able to help me out. I usually check their info first before pinging them (checking if they could chat) but this time I forgot. I pinged Jeff Schick, a VP. Normally I would never ping so high up in the food chain but what was done was done. So I forged on.

By the end of the day I had a 30 minute phone call scheduled with Jeff at 7 AM – the next morning. I really wish I would’ve read the Heath brothers’ book back then. But, I was in the middle of another excellent book – Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures which I blogged about in Lots of pictures. I stayed up till 3 AM sketching my brains out trying to figure out how am I going to get my message across. To be clear, let’s review the situation:

  • I have a VP
  • He’s never heard of me before
  • I was persistent with his assistant to get any time on his calendar. (In a company of more than 390,000 employees, we are actually encouraged to be “persistent”. But one never knows for sure how its received.)
  • He was going out his way to talk to me
  • It was 7 AM
  • I had less than 30 minutes

I took that leap of faith & trusted that I had gotten enough of the book to pull it off. I sketched my last 20 years of experience in one image and called it “How [my profile image] came to [Jeff’s profile image] and Why”. I set up an ad hoc meeting with Sametime Unyte to share the image with Jeff and Sametime’ed (sent him an instant message with) the web site address (URL). Snafu. Jeff pushed back. It was too early in the morning for this sort of thing. So, I immediately apologized and backed off. I said he could just close the window but I’ll keep mine open because I’m sure the answer to any question he has in there somewhere.

It wasn’t easy and to this day I have no idea if Jeff actually saw my work or not. I do know that his first question was something like “So how did you come to me & what can I do to help you out?” It was an awesome phone call and I certainly did achieve some results.

Netting it out. Can you do it?
Another colleague of mine, Claudia Mueller Thompson, once advised me that you’ve got to net it out for execs. Don’t ever send them flowing prose in email expecting them to scroll and scroll through your War & Peace email. Make it one sentence – preferably with no punctuation. These folks are constantly being bombarded with distractions. They could easily have someone in their office, already be on a conference call and have Sametime chat windows firing off like popcorn.

So if you – the genius behind your idea, can’t net it out in less than one sentence, then how do you expect the person on the receiving end to Get It?

Imagine test driving your one-liner elevator pitches
Imagine you were posting something that, if done right, could really help your career. I’m sure you can because that’s apparently one of the reasons why people blog. (I wish I could find that link again.)

Try doing this. You could create a survey (for free) at SurveyMonkey and

  1. Add the link to your blog, or email message
  2. Use Twitter to broadcast it

Thanks to Michael Stelzner for introducing me to SurveyMonkey.

Please take my survey Which one of these titles is the stickiest?.

Be sure to follow me on http://twitter.com/stevenmilstein and I’ll tweet whenever I get results.

Reflection
Can you see yourself doing something like this? Give it a shot & please come back to let me know how it worked out for you. In the meantime, I’ll be more than happy to respond to your survey. And if we collaborate, then the next time you question whether you can net it out or not, you know the answer will be Yes We Can. Sorry, I just couldn’t help my self πŸ™‚