Putting customers and employees first

Putting Customers and Employees First

Here’s a great story from my days working in the department-store business.

I worked for a store called The Emporium. We had a flagship store on Market Street in San Francisco. It had been there for almost 100 years, and it used to be the only store in town.

Then, in about 1980, Nordstrom’s opened up a store next door. Nordstrom’s was (and still is) legendary for its excellent customer service. So The Emporium, trying to compete, initiated some changes. One was to ask the sales associates on the floor to write “Thank you” on the receipt they handed the customer, then sign their name.

We had some crusty older sales ladies on the first floor. Once, famed San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen bought something, and the sales lady handed him the bag containing his purchase. Then she grabbed the receipt out of his hand, scribbled, “Thank you— Sara” on it, and practically threw it back at him, saying, with barely disguised anger and disgust in her voice, “We have to do this since Nordstrom’s opened.” Herb Caen reported his experience in the paper—in a humorous way.

Whoever had given Sara the sales lady the direction to autograph the receipt hadn’t correctly explained the reasons for doing it.  What should these reasons have been? That everyone should put People First. And that she, Sara, was important and had a chance to connect with her customers as part of the same community. If she had been motivated by the feeling that she was important to the store, she would want to do the right thing.

Instead, however, there were just bad feelings—bad karma all around. And then those bad feelings got extended to the customer, who was part of this community. In this case, the customer turned out to be the very influential columnist, Herb Caen; and he wrote about it in the Chronicle. The Emporium was losing its way by not internalizing The Five Laws. Eventually, the company did go belly-up and close.

This is excerpted from The Five Laws of Retail.

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