This customer found service in the big box

When you think of a high level of customer service in a major retailer, the names that come to mind are Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, and even Saks Fifth Avenue. But it’s not the merchandise that sets them apart, it’s their people.

How about adding another name to that list of top notch retailers? The Home Depot. We recently purchased a home in Scottsdale, Ariz., for the winter and needed to do some renovations. We decided to purchase carpet, bathroom fixtures, ceiling fans and other household items. It was suggested we shop at The Home Depot. Over the years I had purchased some small items from that “big box” store and was satisfied with their quality and service.

When we ambled into the Home Depot in Scottsdale with our contractor and began our renovation journey, I did not know what to expect. As we entered we were greeted with hellos from a number of associates and immediately offered assistance. Our first stop was the flooring/carpet department. We sat down with a young man who was very efficient and pleasant. He certainly knew his business. Within a few minutes I knew we were going to have a positive experience. He completed all the paperwork in an efficient and professional manner and verified that the mill had the necessary yardage in stock and could meet our delivery requirements. He arranged for the installation and even though there were a few computer “glitches” he remained calm and focused. He reviewed all the paperwork with us to insure we understood the entire process.

We thought he was unique until we moved over to the major appliances and purchased a cooktop. Again we were greeted with a smile and the gentleman answered all of our questions and made sure we understood how each model worked and their benefits.

No matter what department we shopped in or even when we checked out, we were treated in the same manner, with respect and an offer of assistance. It appears that when they put on the orange apron and write their name in magic marker, they take a pledge to offer the highest level of service possible. I found that same level of service at their Grafton location when I shopped for ceiling fans. During the entire process, we were kept informed through email alerts that notified us when merchandise was available for pick-up at the store or when a delivery was scheduled. I had to know their secret so I went to the Internet to find out their formula for success. What I found was a leadership statement on their home page that lays out their customer service philosophy.

“At The Home Depot, dedication to serving our customer and providing the ultimate shopping experience is everyone’s priority. Maintaining this focus and commitment is a leadership team that believes our company values and commitment to great customer service will create value for all our stakeholders.”

It’s a simple statement, but one that sets the tone for all the employees. Let’s break down this credo to its main components:

  • Dedication to serving our customer. The focus is on the customer, meeting their needs, since they are the driver of the business.
  • Providing the ultimate shopping experience. Making every contact with the customer a positive experience is everyone’s priority.
  • A leadership team, not only at the corporate level, but at the store level. The store leadership team insures that the philosophy is executed at all points of customer contact.
  • Creating value for all the stakeholders, the employees, the vendors and the stockholders.

This is a simple philosophy that obviously works. Everyone we came in contact with demonstrated and lived this credo. This philosophy was demonstrated again and again by stock people, cashiers and supervisors. Once we went back to purchase a tool box and tools. The associate in that hardware section assisted me in selecting the proper set of tools and a tool box. At checkout one clasp did not function. The supervisor asked another employee to find one that did function properly. She checked the stock and returned with one that functioned. This was all done with a smile and a thank you for shopping at Home Depot.

A further examination of the web site reveals the origin of this superior level of customer service: the founders of the business, Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank. Their philosophy is simply stated. The customer has a bill of rights at The Home Depot, and this entitles the customer to the right assortment, quantities and price, along with trained associates on the sales floor who want to take care of customers. Their philosophy of customer service “whatever it takes” means cultivating a relationship with customers rather than merely completing a transaction.

Marcus stated it simply in their book “Built from Scratch,” “At the end of the day, we’re in the people business.”

As we approach the critical holiday shopping season, are you in the business of selling merchandise or are you in the people business? Remember people build relationships, not merchandise. You can buy the same product or service at many locations, but the person delivering the service is the differentiator.

Cary Silverstein, MBA, is the president and CEO of SMA LLC and The Negotiating Edge. He leads a group of consultants that provide services in the areas of strategic planning, negotiations and conflict resolution with offices in Fox Point. He can be reached at (414) 352-5140 or at

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