customer service: all hail the Nordstrom shoe department

Peter Bromberg wrote about being an agent for the customer rather than a gatekeeper (a topic sure to make me gleeful as the gatekeeper model drives me batty), and this reminded me I had meant to post on one of my favorite things: the wonder that is the Nordstrom shoe department.

As I have mentioned before, my feet are a problem to shop for. “What’s your shoe size?” is a question I cannot, in fact, answer in two words (and the two words that are closest are a size most places don’t carry anyway). So shoe shopping has always filled me with trepidation and angst, except at Nordstrom, where I recently bought a pair of shoes, which I suppose I will show off at ALA Annual.

What works about Nordstrom?

  • Collection development. They actually stock my size (or things that substitute for it). They stock it in a variety of styles. It is one of the only places I have tried shoes on in twenty years, because it is one of the only places I can.
  • When I explained my complex size to the salesman, there were two things he didn’t do: tell me I was doomed, or uncritically bring out everything in an 8.5AA. He expressed concern about the complexity of my need, but optimism about the process of meeting it. And he brought out one shoe, which he used to calibrate my foot and his mental sizing models, so that he understood what I actually needed, with more nuance than what I’d stated.

(Yes, I was squeeing about the secret reference interview going on here.)

This was striking to me chiefly because I am one of those people who gets really annoyed if I ask for help and I’m supplied with something I didn’t ask for. I tend to feel like I wasn’t listened to, and that the other party thinks I’m stupid or incompetent. But shoe guy, by doing a good enough reference interview that he could abstract the principles guiding my shoe needs, was able to supply good candidates — not all of which met my stated needs, but all of which were reasonable approximations of my actual needs.

Of course all the good reference interviewing in the world won’t solve the problem that the set of dress flats that I can wear is barely distinguishable from the empty set, but good service means I feel happy about the process rather than discouraged that I didn’t (maybe can’t) get what I really want, and also I’m gleeful that I’m wearing an awesome pair of sandals…

4 thoughts on “customer service: all hail the Nordstrom shoe department

  1. So it wouldn’t surprise you that I’m a former Nordie? 😉 Dave Barry once said something along the lines of, “If you want to hear about the Great Depression just stand next to someone who lived through it.” I’m like that with Nordstrom stories– if you make the mistake of standing next to me when customer service is the topic you might never escape. Anyway, thanks for the link love and glad to hear that Nordstrom is still delivering the kind of service that inspires people to write about it!

    See you at ALA? Defending your crown at battledecks by any chance?


    1. …if you worked in their shoe department I might have to hug you. (OK, I like the whole place, and in that mythic future day when I have a job I expect to spend rather more time and bucks there, but shoooooes.)

      And yes, ALA! Including Battledecks! I had been totally looking for an excuse/financing to go ever since the previous Battledecks, which my LITA/Ex Libris award helpfully provided ;). So I will see you there!


    2. So how do they screen & train for that level of service, anyway? Obviously you don’t get that by accident but I know nothing about how they *do* get it.


  2. There was literally no training beyond how to use the register. My screening consisted of a recommendation from a friend who worked there followed by a short, informal interview standing up, leaning in a rounder of tshirts. I think they try to hire friendly people and then empower them to give good service 🙂


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