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Nicole’s Bridal and Formalwear at Tanforan has poor customer service

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[This is part of the IWillTeachYouToBeRich Week of Discontent.]

Last week, I needed to be measured for some formal wear, so I went to a tux shop at a nearby mall in San Bruno, CA, where I walked in and asked if they could measure my chest. This is a 30-second procedure that involves using a simple measuring tape.

It was the middle of the day on a weekday, and there was only other customer in the store. The couple who worked there (and own the place, I think) looked at me and snarled, “Are you going to rent or buy something?” I wasn’t, so I just politely repeated my request for a quick measurement. They weren’t having any of it. “We charge $5 if you’re not going to rent or buy.”

Um, I don’t think so. “I’m not paying $5 for a measurement that takes 30 seconds,” I told them, “and I’m definitely not renting here.” And then I left.

Here’s the thing: Things could have gone much differently. Imagine if they’d said, “Oh sure, we can do that.” Then, as they were measuring me, they could have tried to make a sale:

Owner: “So, are you getting married?”
Me: “No, not me, I’m too young!”
Owner: “Why, you’re a handsome man? You must have a lot of girls?”
Me: (Laughing)
Owner: “Well, when it comes time to get married, you come back and see us, ok? Here’s your size.”

And guess what? The next time I needed to get formalwear, I would have gone back there. To me, this is a no-brainer: I hardly ever go to a tux shop, so next time I need one, I would just go to the first one that came to mind–especially if I had good memories of the place. For places we go to infrequently, we’re guided by the availability heuristic, or what’s familiar to us.

Those rude owners thought of their shop as a one-time transactional shop, but I think formalwear shops can be a relationship business, and you can be sure that I’ll never, ever go back to Nicole’s Bridal and Formalwear in the Tanforan Mall. Unfortunately, if anyone searches for formalwear San Bruno or Nicole’s Bridal and Formalwear or formalwear Tanforan, this post will come up to let others know about how poor their customer service is.

Is this just the rant of an unhappy person who was trying to get a free service from a company? Maybe a little, but I think there are larger implications here. How long would it have taken to measure someone? 10 seconds? 20 seconds? Even if 10 people per day come in for a free measurement, that’s less than 10 minutes. And there’s something else.

It’s the difference in trying to make a quick buck, or treating your company as a relationship business. For example, at PBwiki, we could charge everyone for every wiki and try relentlessly to upsell them. And we’d probably make a little more money — for a while. We chose to do it another way: by giving everyone free accounts and making our service valuable enough to to upgrade. We don’t know if it’s the right answer, but so far it’s working, and I’d rather build a community of people who love our service than run a closed service that nickel-and-dimes everyone for everything. Same thing for iwillteachyoutoberich. It’s the difference between making a quick buck or trying to build relationships.

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54 Comments

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  1. Ramit – you’re right on the money (no pun intended). I’ve had too many similar experiences where it was impossible to find a little humanity hiding inside a business – even if it’s a “mom and pop.”

    Kindness goes a long way – and it seems your local formalwear retailers forgot that they’re selling a service as much as they’re selling a product.

    Cheers,
    The Editorialiste.

  2. Yeah, that’s some bad customer service. Its kind of a bad time for a lot of tux/formalwear places right now, though, because formalwear is less and less relevant. The bread and butter of these places is proms and weddings. But kids are more likely to just wear suits to proms, and lots of weddings don’t go with tuxes anymore. Add to that the cheap suits/tuxes available at many department stores and the big chain tux places. So, being a ma and pa tux place these days sucks. Still, that’s all the more reason to be good to every potential customer, which these guys obviously have overlooked.

  3. […] Because sometimes the customer will blog about it. It’s a good post. Bookmark this article: […]

  4. Ugh. Bad customer service is the worst… Because mom and pop shops have to build their own business, they have to have something “extra” to build their business through referrals because they can’t rely on the recognizability of their name (ie, David’s Bridal, Best Buy, etc). This place actively refused your business in this case, and in turn, probably all the possible referrals that could have come their way.

    I’ve found that most service-oriented businesses, like insurance or CPA will give you a bit of free advice if you ask them because they know that it’s possible that this peson may come back, and the bit of free advice will generate new business. If you actively shut down every opportunity that comes your way, the business will probably tank in the long run!

  5. I love it. This is what makes the internet so great. I don’t know who said it…but “Word of Mouth” and the Internet is definitely the best source of advertising.

    As you mentioned, had they spent the 30 seconds to make sure your visit with them was pleasant, maybe you would have been inspired to write a post on your positive experience with them and that would be displayed in the results of future searches.

  6. Yeah, I’ve never worn that stuff in my life and I’m 42. My brother didn’t even wear a business suit for his wedding, though he did wear a tie.

  7. i’m surprise the shop has been around this long with that kind of attitude. a small customer service gesture goes a long way.

    word of mouth is very powerful.

    a good comment is past on to a few people.

    a bad comment is past on to dozens and can spread like wildfire.

  8. sfordinarygirl Link to this comment

    good customer service definitely goes a long way and keeps people coming back like at Trader Joe’s.

    I was shopping there one afternoon just perusing the aisles to see if there was something different. Someone came up to me and asked if I needed help finding anything. I didn’t even approach them!

    And when I did need something in a different aisle, they walked over to the correct aisle and brought me the item I needed.

    If I have to shop at Safeway or TJ’s, even though they’re both across the street from each other literally, I go with TJ’s.

  9. Still, Ramit, that’s pretty cheap. It’s not unreasonable that these people would ask for some nominal fee to work for you.

  10. Great little story, Ramit. I particularly appreciate the positive alternative you suggested.

    The owners chose the very risky option of going for the quick buck rather than the low-risk option of building a friendly relationship worth far more in the long term.

    Imagine if they had taken a couple of other measurements and written them on a business card. Beyond the positive association of their having done you a favor, their name and brand would be inextricably linked with useful information.

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