The Importance of Good Customer Service

Ramit Sethi

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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  1. The Editorialiste

    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.

    The Editorialiste.

  2. Alan

    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. RE Agent in CT » Why You Should Always Give Good Customer Service

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  4. acidspit

    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. Mark

    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. moom

    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. ken

    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

    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. chris

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

  10. Milind

    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.

  11. Pbanker

    cheap it may be but the point is by attempting to charge him they lost any possibility of future business whereas doing it for free wouldn’t have been a problem at all and might have far larger returns down the road

  12. Chris R.

    Where’s the rest of the story? Did you ever find a company willing to give you measurements for free? If so, I think they should be promoted within your post for doing the “right” thing from a WOM perspective.

  13. Ramit Sethi

    Nope, I had to get the measurements within the hour so I went to target and bought my own measuring tape for $1.99. I would have loved to promote a good company (as I’ll do next week with an amazing customer-service story I just had), but unfortunately this one just let me down.

  14. Sheridan

    Ramit, I have two things. I did try Googling for the search terms you mentioned and it looks like formal wear is two words (I was able to find “Nicole’s Bridal and Formal Wear” in San Bruno, but your search terms came up empty).

    Secondly, this story made me think of Nordstrom. Nordstrom is so utterly devoted to Customer Service that they have to tell stories to their new employees to get across how important customer service is to them. For example, they tell the story of the employee that offered to gift wrap a present for a customer, even though the item was in the bag of one of Nordstrom’s competitors. The kicker is the story of a Nordstrom in Alaska that took over a building from a Tire store. Shortly after their opening a person came in with a bad pair of snow tires he wanted to return. Nordstrom doesn’t even sell tires, but the employee asked him what he had paid, apologized for the confusion, and gave him a refund!!!

    Now, think about that for a moment in comparison with taking a 30 second measurement, and think about how each experience would make you feel if you were the customer.

  15. Dylan

    I’ve never had an issue being measured at a tux shop that I wasn’t renting from, and none of my groomsmen had a problem (all but one were from out of state). I always assumed there was some kind of understanding between formalwear shops about measurements, kind of an I’ll help your customers if you’ll help mine kind of deal.

  16. Henri

    I can definitely relate to this story. Just two weeks ago I was shopping around for a tux. I went to one place and the service was superb. I went online to compare price, and even though their price were slightly higher I decided to go back to the store and buy the tux because of the quality of the service I received. And because the sales rep remembered who I was and treated me nicely, I’m going back there for any purchases of that sort and recommending the store to all my friends.

  17. Stephanie

    Good for you. Nobody should put up with crappy service. I hope you print out a copy of this and mail it to them.

  18. Buz

    The real kicker is – the 30 seconds it would have taken them to do the measurement would have cost NOTHING. Even if these people were employees and not the owners -you weren’t taking them away form any other pressing matters. Nice of you to give them immediate feedback on their poor decision.

  19. Freeloader

    Couple things:
    First you were not a customer, you were a prospect. They decided that it was not worth 30 seconds of time to try to convert you on a service that they value at $5.

    Secondly you may have “saved” money in the real sense because you only spent $2 on the tape and measured yourself but you probably lost money if you count your time. If it took you 15 minutes to drive somewhere else (gas cost not counted), buy tape ($2) and then measure you lost money because I am sure that you make more than $12 an hour. ($3/.25hours which is your savings over time cost)

    They are probably also trying to shape behavior of people who walk into their store. Now would you run a different business based on better customer service maybe but that is their choice and my bet is that they got tired of giving something away for people who were renting out of town.

  20. Duane

    Bridal shops are the worst, so I’ll give you this advice when the fine day comes that you become engaged: Don’t tell any vendor your wedding day. I could write reams about how a bridal shop abused my wife and intentionally created chaos and delays in order to drive up costs for a rush order. We are on-time people who plan things, but the bridal business is built around burning through one customer at a time with little regard for repeat business.

    …mostly because no one expects to get married twice. Even if they do, most don’t do the whole wedding dress rah rah the second time, so they have nearly no incentive to treat you right. Keep this in mind.

  21. Sheridan

    Freeloader, regarding your comment:

    “Secondly you may have “saved” money in the real sense because you only spent $2 on the tape and measured yourself but you probably lost money if you count your time. If it took you 15 minutes to drive somewhere else (gas cost not counted), buy tape ($2) and then measure you lost money because I am sure that you make more than $12 an hour. ($3/.25hours which is your savings over time cost)”

    Might I refer you to an article on this very website?

  22. Jonathan

    That was very poor customer service, and anyone who disagrees does not know anything about giving good service. I worked in a retail pharmacy for a year and customers came to know me for my great service to them.

    Good customer service is easy — just be nice! Do unto others!

    Shoot, if I had some measuring tape on me, I would have done it for free. Sometimes I spend 30 seconds holding a door open for random strangers.

    To ask for $5 or anything for such a simple service was stupid. Instead of just measuring your chest, they probably sat around doing nothing.

  23. luboman411

    Speaking of customer service, there is one industry where I think it’s imperative–a matter of life and death for a company really since the profit margins are so razor thin–where treating the customer like king pays off handsomely: airlines. I love, love, love Southwest Airlines. Even though their airplanes looked run-down and cheap the last time I boarded one, I can’t tell you how nice and happy it made me feel to be treated like a person, with smiles and genuine hospitality, whenever I went to the airport on one of their flights. Traveling is already a huge hassle and having to deal with surly or bored looking airline staff just makes it that more awful. Hence I always go out of my way to use Southwest whenever I need to get from point A to B in the U.S. I also like that you get to choose your seat when you get there, and that there’s no luggage weight ceiling, which was good especially when I was in college. During my four years of university I think I clocked over 20 flights with them and not a single one was delayed or made difficult in any way. It was predictable, speedy and satisfying, just the way I like airplane travel. With me they have a customer for life (or as long as they continue being this way).

  24. Andrew

    Tux shops are supposed to measure you for free — I’ve had it done at least a half dozen times over the years.

    As far as the guy who wrote “my bet is that they got tired of giving something away for people who were renting out of town”: Ramit is right — what are they giving away? Their time is either spent measuring a “potential” future customer, or doing nothing instead.

    Never had a problem getting what they call a “courtesty” measurement done before at a tux shop. Most even have cards designed specifically for this.

    Ramit is right, they were wrong. People don’t go into a tux shop often, so it’s in every tux shop’s best interest to be THE tux shop that sticks in your mind. Whenever you DO need a tux, they should want you to think of them.

  25. Jonathan

    Just to add a recent example, my brother owns a contracting business. He got a job recently, just because he was talking with the customer like a person, and giving him ideas of what he could do with his house.

    The other contractors who went out there just tried to get a price to give the guy as soon as they could. Nothing special. Nothing out of the run of the mill ordinary.

  26. Dave

    I had the same thing happen to me last week when buying a suit for a job interview.

    I went to a Macy’s store where there were three representatives standing around helping one customer. I asked for them to measure me, but not one of them came off to help me.

    In my disgust I left for the nearby JCPenney, with only 1 man running Men’s Suits. He measured me, he got the sale. And I ended up spending a whole lot less too.


  27. JR

    I paid $5 or so to have a full set of my measurements (chest, sleeves, waist, etc.) taken for my sister’s wedding. I have no problem paying for a job done well, no matter how small the job might be.

    The tailor has paid for training and knows how to measure correctly. Your shirt may fit perfectly, but I’d be a lot more confident in the results if the tailor took the measurement.

    You argue that it’s short-sighted for them to charge for a one-time thing, but I believe the opposite. Someone who is unwilling to pay a small fee for a small service is going to be just as cheap when it comes time for a large purchase. They’ve effectively winnowed out the worst customer.

    I love the site and think you have a ton to offer, but this is one instance where I think you’re off base. And the intentional search engine poisoning is vindictive.

  28. James

    “Speaking of customer service, there is one industry where I think it’s imperative–a matter of life and death for a company really since the profit margins are so razor thin–where treating the customer like king pays off handsomely: airlines.”

    I completely agree and have a mini-rant myself. Last week I bought a ticket over the phone from Northwest Airlines. I clearly stated I wanted to leave on Fri and return on Sat and the sales rep even repeated this. When we were done she said I would receive an email with my reservation. 4 days later I still had no email, so I go onto the website to look it up with my confirmation number. I found out she booked a flight that arrived and departed on Fri leaving me a little over 2 hours between arriving at my destination and leaving. That doesn’t even make sense since it’s hardly enough time to leave the airport. I found out later that she had also spelled gmail as gmial which is why I didn’t get the email. I called the head manager who wanted me to pay $300 to get a ticket on the correct flight. In the end I had to move my return flight to Monday, requiring more vacation time, and pay an additional $30. That sucks for something that was completely their fault. I will never fly northwest again!

  29. Adam

    I disagree with JR. I always try to remember places that treat me right. And not wanting to pay $5 for a service that doesn’t take a whole minute doesn’t mean I won’t come back and buy a nice tux if I come back.

    I had an amazing customer service experience a couple weeks ago. I’m a college student and was doing laundry at a laundromat on saturday evening right before I went out. I thought they were open 24 hours, so I left my stuff there with the intention of moving it to the dryer the next morning. When I got back the washers were empty.

    I called the number on the wall and the guy said they cleaned everything out at night, but if I came back at 2pm, he’d get my stuff out of the back of the laundromat for me. I expected to have to rewash my now moldy clothes. However, when I met him that afternoon, he pulled out my laundry which he had dried and put in bags for me. Then, I had to work hard convince him to let me pay for the drying.

    Needless to say I was unbelievably impressed. It was a little thing, but it took time out of his day, and convinced me to go back there every time I do my laundry even though there are a bunch of other places nearby.

    This is all to say that every little positive experience makes a difference. Who wants to go to a business that treats you poorly when there are better alternatives?

  30. john

    I noticed some rust on my car. I phoned an auto body shop that a friend recommended.

    A person at the shop spent a few minutes asking and talking about it. Then he invited me down so he could have a look. He looked at it, explained the cause, and what to do to fix it and then to prevent it from happening again.

    I asked if they sold the protection and he recommended a different company to go to.

    He didn’t charge me anything. He didn’t try to sell me anything. I can say without question I will be calling that shop if I need work done.

    He turned a not-yet-a-customer into a highly-likely customer. Also you can bet if someone asks me if I know a body place I will send them to that place.

  31. Jason

    the nordstrom story about the tire being returned in alaska is a popular urban myth, but their customer service is still legendary. i exchanged a shirt that i had bought at another store, and even told them that i had, and they gladly accepted it. i’m a customer for life.

  32. Frank

    No, no, no… can’t you guys see how giving Ramit a free chest measurement would’ve been the worst move for the business?
    Look… They cheerfully measure Ramit’s chest. Next, Ramit is so delighted with this freebie, he tells his friends. Then his friends tell *their* friends. Soon the business will be destroyed by the mob in their store all clamoring to get their chests measured for free! :oO

  33. links for 2007-04-04 ∞ Get Rich Slowly

    […] I Will Teach You To Be Rich » Nicole’s Bridal and Formalwear at Tanforan has poor customer servic… Ramit has a poor customer service experience. Stuff like this boggles my mind. In business, and in your personal life, BEING NICE pays dividends. Sure it costs more now, but it pays in the long run. (tags: shopping philosophy attitude) […]

  34. j&w

    And the intentional search engine poisoning is vindictive

    Yup, very petty. First impressions count on blogs too.

  35. Eric

    How exactly was this poor customer service? Businesses charge for their services. That’s how things work. Measuring you is a service. If you buy something, it’s free. If you don’t they charge for it. Nothing wrong with that at all. You expected something for free, didn’t get it, and now you want to complain?

    This was nothing more then a poor business decision, not poor customer service. Poor customer service is treating you unfairly. If the store had a sign that said “Free Measurements”, and then you didn’t get one, then you could complain. You were not treated unfairly at all and there was no reason for you to expect a free measurement from them. Furthermore, I think it’s unfair of you to bad mouth this company just because they wouldn’t give you a freebie!

  36. PollyQ

    Hear, hear Eric!

    Perhaps too many people were coming in for free measurements and then renting tuxedos over the web, or buying them used from eBay. Why should they help you take your business elsewhere?

    Also, bear in mind that nothing’s free. Sure, Nordstrom’s has great service, but high prices to go with it.

  37. Rick Martin

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I hate how formal shops try to nickel and dime people. They try to make $5 with a measurement instead of a few hundred with the customer relationship.

  38. chris

    I think it’s disingenuous for people to act like every one of them would pump up a business who gave them something for free. Many cheapskates have a sense of entitlement when they deal with businesses. You see this any time you work with or serve people. Sure, free measurements is a sales opportunity if you look at it a certain way, but do you really expect business owners to fall over themselves to help out some guy who just wants to get something done. Imagine running a struggling business and people come in expecting free measurements as if it were some right of the customer.

  39. Ramit Sethi

    “Imagine a struggling business…”

    Maybe there’s a connection between the “struggling business” and their attitude towards customer service.

  40. Just A nut

    Honestly speaking, there are a few ways to go about this…

    1) If the shop simply does not measure for free, then there is no use for us to argue whether they should measure something that takes 30 seconds for free or not. Doctors can take 2 minutes to examine you and still charge you your left ball for it. Time is not a factor.

    2) At least, they should have been polite about it.

    3) Trust me. if they did measure for free, it would not result in Ramit telling his friends about this place! It just doesnt happen for this type of deed. Its almost like saying the gas station let me put air in my tires for free. The only thing it may have resulted is a potential customer, which is Ramit.

    Anyway, everyone has some bad customer service experience. I tried to return something in walmart and the lady said, u didnt buy it in this branch. :O

  41. Just A nut


    Would you have become angry if the conversation went like this:

    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 that will be $5”

  42. Ramit Sethi

    Sri, I disagree about #3. Stay tuned next week for an article I’ll write about a shop owner who did something so simple and meaningful that I’ll spread the word about her company to everyone who reads my site.

  43. dimes

    When I was on the eve of being proposed to, I went to a jewelry shop in the local mall to get my finger sized so he’d know what to shoot for. The guy said it would be $10.
    I suppose he could have been joking, or it could have been a barrier to entry for obnoxious teenage girls, but I was offended, and I would never buy jewelry from that outlet.

  44. Jeanne

    I just had an experience with a carpet cleaner. He doesn’t advertise, only gets customers through word of mouth. If you refer a customer, you get a check for 10% of that customer’s order and free movie tickets. He works hard to make every customer a referrer. It was refreshing.

  45. Matt

    A similar story I had recently:

    I wanted to get a roll of $1 coins for doing laundry (I’m Canadian). So I walk into a credit union and have this brief conversation with the teller:

    Me: Hi, could I buy a roll of $1 coins off you?
    Her: OK, what’s your account number?
    Me: I don’t have an account here.
    Her: Oh, there’ll be a service charge for that then.
    Me: You’re kidding, right?
    Her: No, providing change is a service we provide for our members.
    Me: Forget it then.

    Like your case, it would have taken only 10 seconds to do this transaction as tellers keep rolls of coins in their drawers. I could understand if I wanted to get 10 rolls of coins but I was merely asking for one.

    The greatest irony of this situation is that this credit union advertises relentlessly how they are not like the big banks because they don’t nickle and dime you to death.


  46. karisa donis

    i really liked one of ur dresses that i had tried on thursday it was a dark almost maroon red color do u still have tose in stalk

  47. I Will Teach You To Be Rich » Friday Entrepreneurs: Mimi Ting, Mingle

    […] couple weeks ago, I wrote about the poor customer service I received at a tux shop where I went to get measured. Today, I want to tell you about a GREAT […]

  48. Jenn

    I don’t agree with your “observation” if you can even call it that. I don’t like how you started off your story by saying the employee “snarled” at you and then you said you “politely asked.” It’s telling me that you’re turning the story in your favor. Right off the bat, it makes me not trust your story. In addition, you had a very arrogant view about your perfect visit. A business charging $5. for measurements is not unusual. You cannot expect to get free measurements at a specialty store versus a place such as Nordstrom. You should do better research. I have been to the store and they are VERY polite with a wide variety of dresses and matching tuxedos. Their business is FAR from a struggling. They have been around for 15 years and all over the bay. A measurement does NOT take “10 seconds? 20 seconds?” If you want it done RIGHT, it takes longer. This also shows me you did not do your research. This sounds like a rant of a person who wanted something free and didn’t get it because you said “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.” This sounds like a revenge task to me. I might have trusted you if you gave me an unbiased info, but you didn’t. A hint for your book: people don’t like hearing others being judgmental and unknowledable about their topic. If your method of getting rich is by trying to get free things, it sounds like you’ll end up in jail for eventually stealing. GOOD LUCK WITH THAT!

  49. Starving Artist

    I had a HORRIBLE customer service experience last night. My card was declined, which was unfortunate, but the way Wells Fargo handled it just sucked. I wrote about it on my blog.

  50. Daysi

    Hello Ramit. Well, I was reading your story and I’m with you! Nicoles has the WORST customer service!
    My sister is getting married on September, and she ordered the flower girls dresses from Nicoles on March. The owner told her the dresses would arrive mid July. Soooooo, come July, and my sister never received a call from them. So, my sister decited to calle the owner, and this is what the owner said,
    “Oh, I’m so sorry I haven’t called you! The dresses arrived here about 2 and a half weeks ago! I’ve been busy and haven’t had the chance to call you!”
    What the heck kind of service is that?!
    Imagine if my sister had not called?
    Then, when would she have called her?
    And I’m pretty sure you and I aren’t the only ones who share the same thought and opinions on Nicoles at Tanforan!

  51. eleonora

    i sooo do not agree, i was just there last weekend, and they have great survice! they opened a dressing room for me, brought me dresses that they thought i would like, completely cared and helped me.

  52. George

    I read this last night and just because of your article I went to Nicole’s in Tanforan just this afternoon. I’m glad I didn’t listen to you because I received great service. They measured me(which if you want it done right does not take 30 seconds), helped me find what I needed and even gave me a discount for the sake of kindness. the $5 charge is pretty standard for measurements if you’re not even buying, especially considering the fact that they are a mom and pop shop. What makes you think you’re measurements are worth time they could devote to making an actual sale anyway? I’m a little disappointed by your advice… but then again petty men who complain about the service from wome’s bridal stores probably shouldn’t be taken seriously…

  53. liz

    i hate nicoles. they dont even have anything nice there. and youre right. they are rude. the people who work there give me really bad looks every time i go in there.

  54. Bob

    Wow… people are really jumping all over Ramit! He wasn’t asking for a complete set of measurements, just a single measurement (chest). Yes, a complete set of measurements probably takes well more than 30 seconds, but just the chest? Please. And if they were having to chose between devoting time to “making an actual sale” and measuring Ramit, then of course it may have made sense for them to politely decline, but that doesn’t seem to be what happened.