Since its inception as a humble shoe store in seattle in 1901, nordstrom has always been about creating customers for life. Ask anybody in the retail industry about the first thing they’d associate with nordstrom, and they’ll talk to you for hours about their impeccable customer service. Go on a two-day treasure hunt to find a customer’s lost diamond ring? Fly across the country to alter a customer’s wedding dress? Conduct a wedding? There’s a nordstrom customer service story for everything, from the grandest of gestures to the simplest of interactions. And every story ends with a happy customer.

A company with almost 75000 employees, nordstrom successfully inculcates a customer-first culture in every employee. It has raised the bar so high, businesses across every demographic measure the quality of their service against the 120-year-old brand. This is to such an extent that ‘the nordstrom way’ has become a metaphor to describe extraordinary customer service.

But how do you instill a customer-first philosophy in every single employee? How does a brand become the nordstrom of their particular field? That is exactly what robert spector and patrick mccarthy tell us in their book ‘the nordstrom way to customer service excellence’.

It’s difficult to tell if the nordstrom way talks about nordstrom or customer experience, but the two are tied so close to each other that it is almost impossible to reference one without the other.

The Nordstrom Way isn’t a book about great instances of customer service, nor is it a guide to running businesses. It is a handbook to create a corporate culture that encourages, motivates, and drives every stakeholder involved to deliver exceptional customer experience. Packed with anecdotes, references, tips, and a chapter dedicated entirely to applying Nordstrom’s philosophy in your business, the book is a definite read for any CX enthusiast.

The book itself is simple in its structure. It is divided into two sections: the nordstrom culture and the nordstrom experience.

The Nordstrom Culture: 

In this section, spector explains how nordstrom built a culture that celebrates both employees and customers. He talks about the kind of people nordstrom hires and how they’re trained, mentored, and empowered to provide the service the brand is now synonymous with. He explains how nordstrom created a culture that celebrates autonomy in employees, while still ensuring they’re part of a seamless team.

Nordstrom’s customer centric culture revolves around two major points: the employee handbook and the inverted pyramid.

The employee handbook given to new hires resembles a business card with a single line written on it: use good judgement in all situations. This simple six-word directive is the foundation upon which the nordstrom way is built. The brand gives its people on the sales floor the freedom to make entrepreneurial decisions and the management backs them on the decisions they make. Every anecdote in the book, from john w nordstrom selling his first pair of shoes, to an employee sending $2000 worth of shirts to sweden at the expense of the company are based on this simple maxim. Nordstrom recognizes that all customers are unique, and trusts its employees to interact with customers the way they deem fit. Employees are judged on performance as opposed to adherence to rules, and this autonomy empowers them to give customers an experience worth writing home about.

Spector’s quote on nordstrom’s unconventional employee handbook explains why they chose to do away with policies for customer facing teams.

“instead of relying on good judgement to do what’s best for the customer, we get caught up in rules, policies or procedures. Rules and policies are a company’s perspective on a situation. Good judgement is using the customer’s perspective.”

The second pillar of nordstrom’s company culture is their much acclaimed inverted pyramid. The inverted pillar is both a symbolic and literal way as to how the company does business. The customers sit atop the pyramid. Beneath them are the customer-facing teams followed by the managers and executives. In nordstrom, the most important employees are the ones closest to the customers, and they are constantly supported by the ones below them.

The Nordstrom Experience: 

After establishing the nordstrom culture, spector writes in detail about the nordstrom customer experience. From turning an hour-long wait outside a newly opened store into a party to fitting dressing rooms with individual thermostats so that customers can control the temperature, nordstrom ensures that the customer experience is exciting from the minute a customer walks into the store to the eventual purchase. Every touchpoint is personalized, with a dedicated salesperson helping the customer across departments. The reason they do so much is simple: nordstrom wants its customers to stay. And customers stay only if the experience merits it.

Even before people started talking about the importance of multichannel support, nordstrom had been quietly implementing it in their business. Armed with a complete view of the company inventory across stores, both salespersons and customers could find out where a certain item was, and how they could get it. From the good old phone call to more modern social media, customer service is managed efficiently across channels. However, the biggest thing that nordstrom has done that has improved the customer experience exponentially is to create a customer community where customers can post reviews with a single click, post feedback on the ‘conversation’ section, and even solicit fashion advice from a certain mysterious ‘ms. Nordstrom’.

“stay away from boasting about customer service. As we all know, our number one goal is to offer each customer great service but we’re certainly not perfect and we make mistakes. Let’s stay focussed on working to deliver great service instead of talking about it.”

In addition to talking about nordstrom’s culture and the importance it gives to customer experience, the book, in a third section contains training exercises, tips, and activities that empower businesses to replicate nordstrom’s practices. Not only does the section answer the fundamental doubts one might have, it also questions established norms in the industry.

The nordstrom way was an enlightening read that changed my perspective on customer service. It also taught me what a brand should do and refrain from doing when interacting with customers. Here are a few takeaways from the book

  • Offer the customer the best possible customer service, selection, quality, and value. Do whatever it takes to take care of the customer.
  • Hire motivated people who are nice. The first quality nordstrom looks for in hiring salespersons is niceness, followed by their motivation to learn. In their words, hire the smile, train the skill.
  • Appreciation promotes motivation. Recognition is powerful if it is authentic and specific, and it is one of nordstrom’s most important culture codes.
  • Empower entrepreneurs to own the customer experience. The company trains employees to treat the business like it’s their own, from the front lines to customer support.
  • Demand both individual achievement and unselfish teamwork. Before taking care of the customer, every member of your team should be expected to be ready, willing, and able to take care of each other first.
  • Make your business an inviting space, be it online or brick and mortar. Design your store and website keeping your customer in mind. If something hinders the customer, do away with it.
  • Prioritize multi-channel service. Make the customer experience simpler by breaking the barriers between physical stores, websites, and catalogs.
  • Customer communities are essential. Nothing shows customer engagement and endorsement like an active customer community.
  • Most importantly, remember that the sale is never over. Build long-term relationships and make customers for life.

I read this book over the weekend, and it was definitely worth staying in with the cat. Have you read the nordstrom way?

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