Betsy Sanders is a well-known businessperson…who you probably haven’t heard of. That is unless you attended her webinar sponsored by the Amador County Chamber of Commerce on June 11 about customer service during and after this public health emergency.
Sanders is a world-recognized expert in customer service. In the 1970s, she and her husband moved to Washington state from West Germany so he could get his collegiate degree. She got a job at the Bellevue Nordstrom store and took a liking to Nordstrom’s legendary customer service.
Sanders quickly rose through the ranks to become the company’s first female store manager and then their first female vice president. She moved to Costa Mesa in 1978 to build up Nordstrom stores in three southern California regions and helped the luxury department store chain become a billion-dollar business.
After Sanders left Nordstrom in 1990, she moved with her family to Sutter Creek, where she’s lived since. As she raised her family, she decided to work from home and put her customer service knowledge to work for other businesses.
Part of that work was joining about 20 corporate boards, including Walmart and Anthem, Inc. Though she stepped down from those boards in 2004 due to health issues, she’s continued to serve as a business consultant and is a sought-after speaker for business groups and companies around the globe.
What’s more, in 1995 she wrote the book Fabled Service, which has sold over a half-million copies. Despite the fact the book is 25 years old, it’s still the number 199 selling book in the business sales category on Amazon.
Sanders also works with various chambers of commerce, and though I wasn’t able to attend the webinar on June 11, I followed up with her to ask about what Amador County businesses should do to best serve their customers in these interesting times.
Your People Come First
Though Sanders’s work falls into the category of business consulting, Sanders says she does more than that. Specifically, her specialties fall into four areas: Leadership, strategy, systems, and people development. Her customer service experiences at Nordstrom inform her as she advises business leaders.
After living in a small town for decades, Sanders said small businesses are the hardest to run and the best places to work. “It’s just very, very difficult to compete, it seems, in people’s minds on a salary and benefits basis or an hourly and benefits basis,” she added.
So how do you stand out, especially now? Sanders says the basic tenets of business haven’t changed. Her advice to employers is simple: “You have to take care of your people to take care of your customers.”
As the world works to control the spread of COVID-19, she noted that people complaining about health requirements are “the noisy few.” Owners that make a hospitable place for people who work there and people who do business with them are those who deserve to stay in business. After all, she said, “you’re welcoming strangers all the time, and you’re offering what you have to offer, and you’ve made it the best you can.”
Sanders puts her money where her principles are. “I choose to go where people take care of their customers,” she said. Taste Restaurant and Wine Bar, Rosebud’s Café, and Jackson Cleaners are three businesses Sanders singled out as businesses she frequents because they “value and celebrate their people.”
Living with a Pandemic
Though Sanders has had a home office on a separate floor of her home for years, she has still been affected by the public health emergency. For example, she has an assistant who works at her home, so Sanders has had to make some changes to how she works with her assistant.
When Sanders goes out to shop in Amador County and in the Sacramento area, she’s become more aware of others’ personal space. She also understands the importance of eyes and eye contact. Since touching is strongly discouraged right now, Sanders said that she makes sure “my eyes are expressing a smile.”
Sanders has also taken stock of what she already has. “I’ve relearned my value in life,” she said, “and you don’t stop doing what you love.” Today, Sanders’s primary method of communicating is through social media because, she said, “the connections never stop.” She also noted that “I have more time to give,” so she’s also holding live webinars such as the one for the Amador County Chamber.
As part of understanding who she is and what she offers, Sanders stressed that she approaches each client with the mentality of a teacher and a mentor. “I’m not coaching from the sidelines and having you report back,” she said, “but I go along the path with you.” As a result, she added, “I’m learning as I’m teaching.”
What to Remember
If you think you need to change your systems to survive, Sanders has one question as you look at each part of your business: “Does this serve you, or is it a roadblock?”
Don’t get discouraged, Sanders said, because life is meant to be enjoyed. “If we can get to the point where you see yourself and you’re excited,” she added, then you know what you’re doing is worthwhile.
And every day, Sanders concluded, there’s one thing all business owners should keep in mind: “The bottom line only comes from running a good business fairly and well.”
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