The Story of the Little Black Dress – Customer Service Par Excellence

I don’t remember which book I read this in.  It was quite a few years ago.  And, I suspect that I have a detail or two off, or missing.  But I know I’ve got the overall story right.  Here it is.

A woman called her regular salesperson (her personal shopper) at a Nordstrom location in Southern California.  She said that she needed the little black dress that was in the corner window inside the mall (she described it in detail), and she needed it for a party by the next day.  And she did not have time to come get it.  Could the salesperson overnight it to her?

The next day, she received the dress, the very one she had had described.  Inside the box was a note from the salesperson that went something like this:

“Here is your dress.  I knew exactly which dress it was from your description.  It was actually in the Saks window.  So, I went to buy it on my break.  I paid for it with my own credit card, so if you don’t mind, could you please send me a personal check directly?  I hope you have fun at your party.”

Needless to say, this cemented this person’s loyalty to that personal shopper, and it added to the legend of Nordstrom’s customer service reputation.

Here are the customer service lessons:

1) Know your customers. Do whatever it takes to please your customer.  The extra effort builds your relationships, your reputation, your future.

2) Know your competitors. This salesperson knew not only the offerings from her own store, but she also knew what her competitors had to offer.  That knowledge sent her to the right store to purchase this particular dress for her customer.

3) Be willing to think outside of the norm. This salesperson was willing to obtain the dress from a competitor to keep her customer happy.

4) Do exactly what is best for the customer – don’t try to do what is better for you. In this case, many salespeople would have said, “you’re thinking of a dress from another store – but we have a dress that is similar, that I think you would like just as much.”  No, the customer had her mind made up – she just did not remember which window she saw the dress in.  And this salesperson set out to please the customer, not please herself.

All jobs demand some combination of sales and customer service.  This story reminds us what excellence looks like.

2 thoughts on “The Story of the Little Black Dress – Customer Service Par Excellence

  1. omgmoments

    Another version of know your customers is told by the CEO of Market Street a few months ago at PowerLunch, Prestonwood Baptist Church, Plano. The store director was called to the meat counter for a very angry customer. She complained that the ham she had was not fit for her guests at home right now and she wanted him to do do something about it now. The store director pointed out that the ham was not sold by Market Street, but the competitor nearby. The customer started to die of embarrassment as she realized that her husband had been sent to buy the ham and she assumed he got it from Market Street. The store director said not to worry, please choose any meat from our selection at no charge. Take care of your guests.

  2. Jay Goldman

    Those are both great stories! It’s that kind of customer service that turned Zappos into a $1bn acquisition for Amazon. If you’re interested in this kind of thing, take a few moments and dig into the huge wealth of online content talking about the culture of customer service they’ve built.

    This presentation on 10 lessons they’ve learned about e-commerce dives into a bunch of that kind of thing (and includes a story about sending flowers to a customer battling breast cancer that’s pretty remarkable):

    Some notes I took at the SXSW 09 keynote given by Tony Hsieh, Zappos’ CEO (including the slides of his presentation). Plenty of hard numbers and stats to back up the customer service argument:


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