As part of our series of myth-busters about exceptional customers experiences (both good and bad), we are asking customer experts from around the world to talk about things that stood out for them. In this instalment, Lenny Heymann, Director at UBM talks about the fashion retailer and the snow tire.

Ever heard the one about the man that walks into a Nordstrom shop with a tire under his arm? An assistant comes up to him and asks if he can help him with anything. “This tire does not fit my car,” the man answers. “I would like a refund.” The assistant looks at the tire and says, “Sir, we unfortunately do not sell tires, but if you step this way we will issue you a refund.” Fact or fiction? The story has become legendary as an example of brilliant customer service. 

But is it just too good to be true? Actually it isn’t. OK so a few details that make the story a little less extraordinary are usually missed out…but the exemplary customer service cannot be faulted. The real story as recounted by Brenna Sussman of the Nordstrom press room is as follows.

One day in 1974 a man did walk into the new Nordstrom store in Fairbanks, Alaska, with a tire under his arm. What is not usually known is that the Nordstrom store had only recently taken over the space formally occupied by the B.F.Goodrich tire shop. The customer, obviously confused to find himself in Nordstrom store rather than a tire shop, was greeted by a salesperson who asked if he could help. The customer explained that he had purchased the tire at the B.F. Goodrich shop but that as it didn’t fit his car, he wanted to return it. The employee asked how much he had paid for the tire and having been informed that it had cost about $25, he opened the cash register and gave the customer a full refund.

It is a great story and a brilliant example of the magic of staff empowerment. The salesman did not have to go and ask a manager, or ask the client to fill in paperwork and wait for approval. If he had the story would probably not still be making the rounds. What makes the story legend is simply the fact that faced with a quite bizarre situation, a salesman in a small shop in Alaska had the power to solve the customer’s problem immediately – no questions asked. The result is that 43 years later people are still talking about it.

Lenny Heymann is a Director at UBM