At one point, in Anchorage, Alaska, a guy returned some tires to a Nordstrom. Now, it hadn't been a Nordstrom when he had bought the tires. But Nordstrom had taken over the space, and so he was returning them from where he got them.
You may have heard the story. You may have thought it was lore. But it's actually true, according to Nordstrom spokesman, Colin Johnson. Nordstrom, and only a few other companies, have created brands around their customer service.
The stories are ones we tell each other because they're amazing.
Like the story of a hotel waiter that overheard a couple talking. The husband was sad that he couldn't take his wife, in a wheelchair, down to the beach. A conversation between the waiter and the maintenance staff resulted in a wooden walkway all the way down to the beach – all created without their supervisor even knowing. That's the Ritz Carlton for you – doing what they can, to make sure you have a delightful experience.
We remember these stories because they're amazing.
In fact, it's more than that. We hold them up as examples for everyone to follow. Right?
There's more to these stories
But before we get carried away with these amazing stories and demand that everyone step up to this same level of customer service, we should probably dig in a bit deeper.
I say that because it's easy to remember that the Ritz Carlton gives each staff the freedom to spend up to $2,000 to solve a customer's issue or to enhance their experience.
That's incredible. But we tend to only remember that part. We don't remember the other part.
You see, they've done their analysis. They know their customer's lifetime value (CLV). What if I told you it was $250,000? Would the $2,000 make sense then?
And I don't know what Nordstrom would tell you their CLV is, but I bet you it's not $50. Because you can't build an organization to deliver these kinds of results for $50.
Having Intellectual Integrity
When we transpose the content of a story from Nordstrom or the Ritz Carlton, without the context, we're doing ourselves and everyone else a disservice. Because we're suggesting that companies, regular ones, should operate in this fashion – even if they're not generating the same levels of revenue.
That's just plain intellectual dishonesty. And we shouldn't do that.
Managing our Expectations
Last week a WordPress vendor had an article written about it because it's product had some issues. I know it's no news flash that software sometimes has bugs. What wasn't articulated in the article was that the vendor had released, within a week, several patches to repair the issues. Several.
But the entire episode drove a dialogue around the concept of support, and what level of support should be given to this vendor's customers.
You'll notice I'm not getting into the details, because they're unimportant. Here's what's critically important.
- The software has been downloaded over five million times.
- It's likely been installed even more than that.
- And it's been supported for years. And…wait for it…
The software has always been free.
Customers and Users are Not Synonymous
When I was in college, an old high school friend gave me her old car. For free. I got a free car. You know, a car without paying for it.
Suffice to say, I was happy. I drove the car back to Cal and my roommates and I used it all the time. At one point, there was a problem with the oil pan. I don't recall what it was, but we had to have it repaired and it cost money.
Do you know what I did? I paid to have it fixed.
Do you know what I didn't do? I didn't call my friend up to complain about the oil pan not having been perfect when the car was given to me.
Because I hadn't purchased the car. I had been given the car.
I wasn't a customer. I was a user. And those two things aren't synonymous.
Years later I bought a Ford truck. And when it had an issue, I took it back and complained. That was my right. Because I was a customer. And as a customer, I even had a warranty – and it was fixed for free.
Some Great News
Here's some great news. When companies earn revenue from customers (not just users), they can afford to provide high quality support. Not out of the goodness of their own heart, but as a viable business construct.
We ought to cheer when companies like Yoast announce their going to be offering (in August) premium support. Because it's likely going to change how they think about my customer lifetime value (CLV).
I love it when companies embrace not only an evaluation of their CLV but also the work around segmentation that can then happen. Because then they can provide differentiated levels of service for different kinds of customers and users alike.
And as for me, I want to be a customer, not just a user. What about you?