Be Ordinary, But Do It Extraordinarily Well

By Mark E. Bowser


“Fabulous service is quite simply ordinary people doing

ordinary things extraordinarily well.”

Betsy Sanders


As we begin this article, let me ask you a question for you to ponder. Is your organization known for it’s service?  There are three kinds of service organizations:  The ones known for great service, the ones known for lousy service, and everyone else in the middle whose service is just there, boring, almost not noticed. Where are you?

Actually, there is a fourth type of service organization.  Very few ever reach it.  That is because they perform legendary service.  Yes, we are talking about the Disneys, the Nordstroms, and the Southwest Airlines.  Why do so few companies reach this lofty viewpoint–this heartwarming love shown them by a grateful group of customers?

Well, let’s think about it for a moment.  What is a legend or a fable?  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a legend as “a story from the past that is believed by many people but cannot be proved to be true.”

Why would a story be believed to be true even though there may be no historical record of it ever happening?  Because, it so touched so many people that the word of mouth spread like a prairie fire spreading across the expansive landscape. There is probably some truth found in every legend.  At least, a truth in the principle being spoken or taught.  For example, some of the stories I tell in books, articles, etc… are known as parables.  They are fictional stories I have created to inspire a service truth.  Some of the stories I share are absolutely true.  We have quantifiable, historical record of them actually happening.  And… then there are other stories where we aren’t sure.  They fall under the legend or fable category.  One such story is as follows:

One day, a gentleman walked into a Nordstrom a bulky, somewhat worn, dirty looking automobile car tire under each arm.  He walked up to the nearest Nordstrom clerk and declared, “I am here to return my snow tires and I want my money back.”

Yes, it is true that Nordstrom’s has the reputation and policy of allowing any customer to return any merchandise and for any reason.  Hmmm, there is only one challenge here.   Nordstrom doesn’t sell car tires.  So, of course they told the man to hightail it out of their store and not to come back.  Wrong!  Nordstrom’s took the dirty, old tires off his hands and paid him for them.

True or legend?  We don’t know.  Even the high up executives at Nordstrom’s don’t know if that incident ever happened.  But, one of the Nordstrom leaders expressed that even though they can’t prove that it ever happened….they sure hope it did.  Because…that is the exact type of service they want to do every day, every store.

Now, let’s explore a true experience at Nordstrom’s that shows that they truly walk their talk or maybe a better way to put it is they walk their legendary status.

According to former Nordstrom vice president Betsy Sanders and the author of the book Fabled Service, an inspiring event happened one day at a Nordstrom’s store. Inspiring, yes.  Rare, no. No, because it is a lifestyle and philosophy that Nordstrom’s team members live by every day.

On this particular day, a poor raggedy, bag lady strolled into a Nordstrom’s department store.  Immediately, she was hit by not only the warmth of the store’s temperature, but also the warmth of the environment itself.  You see, it was Christmastime.  If you have ever been in a Nordstrom’s at Christmas, then you know exactly what she was experiencing.  The sights and sounds of the season are gloriously brought to life.  The decorations were everywhere…but not gaudy.  The aroma was sweet…but not overpowering.  It was as perfect as perfect could be.  There even was a sharply dressed piano player tinkling Christmas music for all to hear.

Shopping at Nordstrom’s on that same day was the Reverend Carolyn Crawford. By happenstance, luck, or one might say destiny, Reverend Crawford’s eye caught the bag lady as she entered the store.  She thought to herself, “Oh, no.  Security is going to toss this poor, old lady out of the store. Her self-image has already got to be low.  Maybe I can soften the blow when security tosses her out. Maybe, I can help her.”

So, the good minister discretely followed the lady through the store. The bag lady went up to a young, pretty clerk in the Special Occasions Department.  The young clerk greeted the bag lady with warm, friendly, courteousness.

The bag lady spoke with hesitancy and a bit of embarrassment when she said, “I would like to try on some evening dresses.”

“Why certainly,” said the pretty, young clerk.  She then went on to help the bag lady try on dress after dress.  She even commented on the ones which flattered the bag lady’s figure.  When finished, the bag lady thanked the clerk and walked out of the store with her self-image not only intact, but lifted even higher.

Confused and a bit perplexed of what she had just witnessed, Reverend Crawford walked up to the clerk and said, “I saw how wonderful you treated that lady.  You treated her as if she could have bought all of those dresses.  You treated her like a real customer.  In fact, better than most companies treat their best customers. Why?”

The young clerk looked into the reverend’s eyes a bit perplexed herself as if the recent event with the bag lady was the most normal of experiences. “Because, it is my job,” she said.

“What do you mean it is your job?” inquired Reverend Crawford.

With a gentle smile forming on the corner of her lips, the young clerk said in the sweetest, most genuine tone, “This is what we are here for: to serve and to be kind.”

Wow! Now, that is legendary service…fabled service.  Listen to the young clerk’s words again,  “to serve and to be kind.”  Can you say the same about the service in your organization?  Can we dare say the same thing about the service we ourselves perform?  For myself, I can say that I have dropped the ball many a time.  Because of stress, frustration, hecticness, whatever…there are many times where I have failed to simply “to serve and to be kind.”

But, I think one of the most important keys to the Nordstrom legend is the other part of the sentence the young clerk uttered.  Did you catch it?  She said “This is what we are here for.” This is the reason of their sole existence as a Nordstrom team member.  It is not only their job at Nordstrom’s, it is their life at Nordstrom’s.  We could even say that it is the life of the store itself.  That is why it is fabled.  That is why people aren’t always sure the Nordstrom stories are true or not.  They are so wonderful that they are almost unbelievable.  It is time that we make some unbelievable, wonderful fables of our own.

I had just shared that inspirational story during a keynote speech I had given for a conference, when a lady came up to me and asked if she could talk with me.

I said, “Sure.”  She went on to share that she was touched by the story I had told about Nordstrom’s and she wanted to share how Nordstrom’s made a difference for her friend.  She mentioned that she and her friend were shopping at Nordstrom’s and were browsing in the shoe department.  This lady’s friend (let’s call her Mary.  That isn’t her name, but for the sake of this story, let’s call her Mary), Mary, doesn’t have the opportunity to have very many shoes because she has a little challenge with her feet.  Actually, it is kind of a big challenge.  You see, her feet aren’t the same size.

As a result, Mary can’t afford to have very many shoes.  For, she has to buy two pair of shoes in order to have one pair fit. On this particular day, Mary found a fabulous pair of shoes that were simply gorgeous.  She had to have them. But, they were expensive.  Very expensive when you have to buy two pair.

Well, Mary’s friend convinced her to at least check it out and see if they had a pair in the sizes she needed to fit each of her feet.  So, they got the attention of a clerk.  He came up to them with a bright smile and said, “May I help you ladies?”

They explained that they were interested in this pair of shoes and they mentioned the sizes they needed.  At first, the clerk probably thought the two different sizes were for the two different ladies.  When he finally realized that they wanted the two sizes for the same lady, he was a bit confused.

With a bewildered look on his face, he politely enquired, “Why do you want two different sizes of the same shoe?”

A little bit sheepishly and I might say embarrassed, Mary said, “Because my feet aren’t the same size.  I always have to buy two pairs of shoes.”

It took just a second for the realization to hit the clerk. “Oh, you don’t have to buy two pairs of shoes.  Many people have the same situation as you. Let’s measure your feet and we will get you a shoe to fit each of your feet.  You only have to purchase one pair.”

As you can imagine, Mary was overjoyed.  She now had a very classy pair of shoes…and it didn’t cost her a Fort Knox of income. As Mary and her friend (the lady telling me this wonderful story) were about to leave, they had to know.  Mary looked at the kind clerk and asked, “If you don’t mind, I am a little curious. I am thrilled, absolutely thrilled how you have helped me today. I can’t tell you how grateful I am.  But, I am a little curious, what do you do with the extra shoes that now don’t have a mate?”

“Oh,” said the clerk with a big smile forming on his face. “We always want to be of service to our customers like you, but we also use those other shoes as a service.  They don’t go to waste.  We give them to people who have lost a leg or a foot.  We give them to people who wear a prosthesis.”

Incredible! Amazing!  Do you want to take you and your organization to the next level?  Just follow the lead of Nordstrom.  Adopt your own brand of “Fabled Service.”

*Mark Bowser is a popular Author of several books and a Professional Speaker.  He can be reached at his website

*Book Publishing Success Podcast featuring Author Mark Bowser and the President of Made For Success Publishing Bryan Heathman.  Subscribe at iTunes 


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