I’m Vetoing Your Pants

Truly exceptional customer service (especially when you aren’t paying a premium for it) is a wondrous experience. Anytime I am blessed with it, I find myself amazed that more individuals and companies don’t make a greater effort to offer it because it leaves such a profound and lasting positive impression. A number of companies like Zappos and Rackspace have built their reputations and subsequent success around this idea, but they aren’t the focus of this post. In Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, they highlight the value of seeking out individual bright spots of success in otherwise bad situations as a powerful way to learn how to affect change in difficult situations. It is in this context that I want to share my most recent brush with truly exceptional customer service.

I don’t particularly enjoy clothes shopping because I’ve never had a particularly good eye for fit or fashion, but a friend recently sent me a 50% off “Friends & Family” coupon for Banana Republic (thanks Brent!). The coupon could only be used in an actual store, so I walked on over to the store hoping to take advantage of this windfall as I’d been in the market for new pants for a while now and my wife assured me that Banana Republic pants were among the best fitting pants that I owned.

On entering, I quickly sought out the nicest pants that I thought would look good on me to maximize my savings because I had already decided I was going to make a real investment in quality pants one way or another. With my armada of potential new pants in tow, I headed over to the fitting rooms. Surprisingly, there wasn’t anybody waiting to check me in or count my items, so I just went into the first empty room I saw. Shortly thereafter, my shopping experience changed when there was a quiet knock on the door. A salesperson on the other side said that she saw me go in and wanted to know how things were going and whether I needed anything. Nice.

Once I had my first new pair of pants on, I stepped out to see how they looked in the 3 way mirror. I was pretty pleased with my selection. However, as I was returning to the fitting room, the same salesperson looked me up and down and very politely (but firmly) said “I’m vetoing your pants. You can’t buy those.” She then informed me that the pants were too short (apparently they should fall just above the sole at the back of your shoe … who knew?). She then walked me through the various ways you can test your pants for fit after trying them on (be sure to sit down and raise one foot to the other knee to ensure that you don’t see too much sock). Somewhat flabbergasted and crestfallen that I’d been wearing the wrong size pants for years, I went back into the fitting room to undo my fashion faux pas.

As I started back into the room she asked to see what else I had brought in. On seeing my vast collection of ill-fitting pants, she told me to wait right there while she went out and got me new pants in the right size. She then gave me one last look and asked whether I was particularly attached to the cut of the pants I was wearing. I informed her that I was not, to which she nodded approvingly and explained to me that while the pants looked good on me (once you got past the too short part), there was a different cut of pants that was better suited to my body. So, if I didn’t mind (and I didn’t), she was going to swap out any of the less desirable cuts of pant with the preferred kind. Seemingly moments later, she returned with all the same pants I had originally brought in but now in the appropriate size and cut. I tried them on and she was absolutely right. Once I finished trying the pants on, she carried all the clothes to the register for me and then proceeded to walk me through the best way to maximize my discount based on the coupon’s specific rules and criteria before passing me off to the cashier. In the end, I purchased all 8 pairs of pants and saved over $300 in the process. I’m not sure where I’m going to put all the new pants, but I’m really excited about them.

My many previous experiences with clothes shopping (outside of buying a tailored suit) have always left me wishing that I had a personal shopper or that the cast of What Not To Wear would magically appear and do my shopping for me. Sadly (or not) my existing wardrobe isn’t sufficiently bad to require such an intervention, but it would be nice, as would the cash that goes with being on that show. However, on this particular occasion, this single individual salesperson managed to turn an experience which I normally dread into one in which I left feeling excited and looking forward to coming back again (and I will). That aside, having learned not to expect good customer service when I shop for clothes, I am guarded in my belief that I’ll actually receive this level of attention and service again in the future, but if I do, it will really make a lasting impact.

So, my take away from all of this – by providing me with direct and honest feedback coupled with a teaching moment and then a successful follow through on addressing the problem the salesperson left me in shopping nirvana. If only all customer service interactions could be so successful.

Honest feedback, teaching, delivery – three critical components to generating repeat business.


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