Rabail Abbas (December 25, 2013)
It’s been more than a century since America’s retail giant, Nordstrom, had been founded but the company’s customer service is still a thing of marvel for people. The mere watchword of the company becomes quite evident when Nordstrom himself says, “How people define customer service — that is where the battle will continue to be won and lost”. Nevertheless, there are several strategic imperatives that go into the store’s customer service management. Employee empowerment, incentivization of staff, encouragement of internal competition, planning of an inviting atmosphere and hiring good people are some of the major factors that give rise to that unrivalled service culture. Moreover, going against the tide, there are no scripted rules or regulations, rather a card with merely 75 words on it serves as the employee handbook, saying, “Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.”
With such a stalwart service culture in place, Nordstrom serves as the best practice for companies to emulate in terms of customer service. Elaborated below are some of its important aspects.
At Nordstrom, several subtleties and details go into creating a shopping experience that is convenient and pleasurable. The interior of the store imparts a homely feeling to the customers, where careful attention is paid to the suitability of layout, design, lighting, seating, wide aisles, larger fitting rooms, display fixtures, amenities, and merchandise. “We love Nordstrom because of how it makes us feel”, gushes a shopper.
Poor organization of stores can be nothing but frustrating for the shoppers. Being a student of store design and customer reaction, retired co-chairman John N. Nordstrom highlights the influence of in-store experience on customers, “When customers first come into the store, we’ve got about 15 seconds to get them excited about it.” “First, are they able to meander through the store without impediments, such as narrow aisles? When they’re walking down an aisle, and another customer is coming the other way, do they have enough room to pass? If the answer is ‘no,’ all of a sudden they’re distracted. Instead of looking at the nice sweater, they’ve got a stroller banging them in the ankles. When they think about our store, they don’t think of jostling and banging, they think of it as a pleasant experience. What’s that worth?”
Enabling easy circulation of store, both for assisting employees and customers, is extremely important. That is especially taken into account while designing Nordstrom’s layout, even with the elevators where space and waiting area around the elevators are extra wide for customers to easily steer strollers or wheelchairs.
Emphasizing the importance of aisles, John N. Nordstrom says, “If someone wants to walk all the way around the store, they’re not fighting through traffic, even on the busiest day. That’s important because, sometimes, that’s the only time we get that customer in the store.” Racetrack layout is a special characteristic of Nordstrom store. Moreover, fixture and even mannequins are placed in way that makes it easier for shoppers to navigate as well as go through stuff in a single view. The tables are low so that customers can have a view over them without having to reach higher and the merchandise too is highlighted in a way that makes the view extremely compelling.
Although Nordstrom bid farewell to its in-store live pianists about 2 years ago, yet it’s one of the things that was remarkable, not to mention unforgettable part of the whole ambiance. The unobtrusive piano music was the signature of the famous store, so much that when referring to ingenuity, influential public persons like Condoleeza Rice and Estee Lauder couldn’t help mentioning it.
Moreover, concierge desks, clean restrooms and in-store restaurants all add to the appeal of the shopping space. As David Lindsay, the vice president of store planning, said, “Everything we do is to enhance and romance the merchandise. The store is the backdrop with compelling merchandise taking center stage. Ultimately, because we are designing for a much longer time curve, we work to create a quality shopping environment—a special place that feels inviting, warm, and comfortable.”
It’s the powerful blend of recognition and elation that drives Nordstrom employees and keeps their spirits high. Managers at Nordstrom leave no stone unturned in making sure that their colleagues are appreciated for their efforts. “Recognition is so powerful, as long as it’s as authentic and specific as possible,” said Leslie Martin, manager of the Fashion Valley store in San Diego and a Nordstrom employee. “Whatever their level of the Inverted Pyramid, employees want to feel needed and valued. Recognition reinforces the areas that we want to continue to focus on all the time, like service.”
Recognition doesn’t always have to be complex but can be as simple as just telling people that they did well. “One of the greatest forms of recognition—because it means a lot to people—is just to walk up to them and thank them for a job well done. “When you tell them that a customer took the time to call or to write a letter about them, that means a lot. By recognizing those people, we reinforce the meaning of our Inverted Pyramid, by showing how important our frontline people are, because they are the ones who take care of the customer every single day,” said Martin.
Brent Harris, a former store manager, said that he always went about his job knowing the names and the faces of every one of his employees. “Being able to praise people is so important. It’s the simple, personal things you say about them. You walk up to a salesperson and you say, ‘I saw you had a 15 percent increase today. Good job!’ That’s powerful. You need to point out to others what makes that person a unique member of his or her department”, he said.
These are the stories of employees who go out of the way and beyond the call of duty to help customers, and serve as an example for other employees to follow. Moreover, the company makes sure that colleagues write an account of ‘heroic’ as witnessed by them and then spread that story all over the company. The employee in question is then recognized as Customer Service All-Stars along with his picture framed in the customer service area of the store. The aim of heroics is to motivate employees by making clear that outstanding customer service would be recognized, honored and rewarded.
Appreciative customer letters are regularly read and valued at the recognition meetings, where the efforts of top-performers are recognized. Moreover, whether positive or negative, customer feedback is never ignored.
Monthly recognition meeting is a prominent feature of the Nordstrom culture where outstanding performance, sale increase and promotional ideas are recognized and rewarded before their peers. “That recognition is better than a vacation in Hawaii. We put people in front of their peers and tell them that they are the kind of person we want others to emulate. We tell them we value and cherish their input to this company, and we wouldn’t be as successful without that individual. That’s strong stuff,” said Chairman Bruce Nordstrom.
When expanding, the reason why Nordstrom brings in its experienced Nordies is to let the culture of Nordstrom prevail at every offshoot of the company. This is the only thing that sets it apart from other companies, and who’s better to understand the culture of the company than the skilled Nordies. Experienced employees can better inspire new employees and thus keep the core standards prevailing throughout the stores. Although it might lead to uniformity of thought and lack of improvisation, yet only the employees who have worked long in the system can truly understand it. As Erik Nordstrom said, “There are lots of examples of people who have had great careers with this company. They started on the selling floor and grew with the company. They are the ones who are responsible for our reputation.”
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