Are you telling customers that you think they’re thieves?

Nordstrom has a longstanding reputation for providing outstanding customer service. A recent trip to the department store reconfirmed that opinion for me and gave me another reason to praise the store.

I purchased a couple bottles of nail polish for a gift and then headed to the customer service desk to have the store validate my parking ticket. When I asked, the woman at the desk smiled and said “Of course! We’re happy to validate your parking if you’ve shopped with us today.” I reached into my tiny shopping bag—which had been hidden from her view—to grab my receipt. The woman stopped me and said “Oh, that’s not necessary. I’ll just assume your bag is full of merchandise.”

I left with a validated ticket and a really good feeling. It was nice to be trusted.

I suspect that many companies, perhaps even most companies, have a very different policy for validating parking. After all, it would be easy for someone to cheat the system at Nordstrom. I could, for instance, have brought the bag with me from home and not have purchased a thing. I think most companies would at least demand—politely, of course—to see the receipt. And some would probably even mark it to make sure no one could reuse it.

Because I’m an honest person, it rubs me the wrong way when I get the impression that an organization doesn’t trust me. But many send that message of distrust loud and clear. Here are a couple of examples I’ve encountered:

  • I once went to a restaurant that included a note like this at the bottom of the menu: “Only one fountain drink refill per customer.  IF YOU SHARE YOUR FOUNTAIN DRINK, YOU ARE NOT ENTITLED TO A REFILL!” I felt like someone was just waiting to reprimand me if I offered anyone a sip of my soda.
  • Most of the serve-yourself frozen yogurt places have signs indicating that you can’t begin eating until you’ve weighed and paid for your dessert, but I went to one that was absolutely plastered with those messages. There must have been a dozen warnings. I felt like they assumed everyone was trying to steal from them.

Nordstrom gets what those other stores do not: It’s worth forfeiting an occasional $1.50 to pay for the parking of a dishonest customer if it means that everyone else has a positive experience. Those other places are “penny wise and pound foolish,” as the saying goes. They protect themselves from losing a few cents to people who share sodas or taste yogurt, but they lost themselves a lifetime of business from me. I’m not interested in being a repeat customer at a place that treats me like I’m a potential thief.

Does being distrusted as a customer bother you?

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