Improving Customer Service: A Role Model If You’re Already Good


You may be the leader in your industry, already well known for delivering top customer service. You may be experiencing the meaning of the truism, “It’s lonely at the top.” When your company looks around for a role model, for inspiration to go even further, to whom can it turn? One solution is to look to the leaders of other industries, to analyze their philosophy and assay what it is that has made them successful.

One such industry leader is Nordstrom, the company that grown from one downtown Seattle shoe store into a nationwide fashion specialty chain with renowned services, generous size ranges, and an outstanding selection of apparel, shoes, and accessories for the entire family.

According to its website, the company’s philosophy has remained unchanged for more than 100 years since its establishment by John W. Nordstrom in 1901: offer the customer the best possible service, selection, quality and value. Maybe that’s why Nordstrom has been the subject of intense interest by others in the retail industry and beyond.

In fact, authors Robert Spector and Patrick McCarthy have written a national bestseller entitled, The Nordstrom Way: The Inside Story of America’s #1 Customer Service Company (New York: Wiley & Sons, 1995). McCarthy enjoyed a successful career as one of Nordstrom’s outstanding salespersons. Consider this series of summary statements from Spector and McCarthy’s book, followed in each case by comments. Perhaps you will be pleasantly surprised.

  • Nordstrom’s best people will do virtually everything possible to ensure that a shopper leaves the store a satisfied customer. This is what great customer service means. Remember what Zig Ziglar says: “It’s your attitude more than your aptitude that determines your altitude.” Of course, this attitude of “Whatever it takes” applies to your internal customers just as much as to your external clients.
  • Motivated employees perform “heroics”–acts of outstanding customer service, which are part of the Nordstrom technique. Encourage people to report the heroics they witness their coworkers do. These heroics can come in all shapes and sizes: from going out of your way to locate a product, to making unheard-of deliveries, to responding kindly and delivering satisfaction when a customer is extremely upset–whatever it takes for our client to say, “Wow! They beat my expectations, and my expectations were already high!”
  • Employees are instructed to always make a decision that favors the customer before the company. They are never criticized for doing too much for a customer; they are criticized for doing too little. Your performance is always measured by what you can or cannot deliver to your customers. Like Nordstrom, you must regard their needs ahead of your own interests.
  • Nordstrom would rather hire nice people and teach them to sell, than hire salespeople and teach them to be nice. Nordstrom, it is said, “hires the smile and trains the skill.” I’ve heard an almost identical statement from my company’s managers discussing their hiring practices. Especially is this true in the customer-facing departments, like sales, customer service, and shipping.
  • If you treat customers like royalty and let them know that you will take care of them, they usually come back to you. It’s always easier and more economical to retain a customer than it is to find a new one. Invest time and attention on the customers you have already to ensure that they will be loyal to you even when a competitor undercuts your price. They will know it’s an apples to passion fruit comparison.
  • When customers enter a department, salespeople always make sure they are acknowledged. They are relaxed and unhurried in order to help the customer feel the same way. Here you sometimes have to learn to walk a fine line. Yet the principle holds true that if your employees seem frantic, the customer will pick up that same attitude. They must learn to exude a calm confidence, even when their extremely busy or pressed to meet a tough deadline.
  • Keeping current good workers with the company is just as important as attracting new ones. What is the average tenure of your employees? Six months? Four years? Twelve years, or more? Just listen to what people again and again say at their retirement party: At our company, they say, “I’ve worked here for X number of years, and I want to tell you new people: This is a great company to work for. I’ve always felt like I was treated as family here at the company.”
  • The underlying Nordstrom culture and philosophy is not difficult to pass on to the next generation because it’s simple: Give great customer service. “Customer Focus” has to be one of the core values of your company; you can’t just give it lip-service. It must be foundational to what you are and do.

Search out leaders in other industries and discover their customer service philosophy. You will find inspiration for yourself and your employees to deliver top service and products, resulting in excellent customer retention, lengthened employee tenure, and an improved bottom line.

Leave a Reply