1: Focus.  Focus.  Focus.

This week we’ve been exploring “The Nordstrom Way,” a single-minded focus on the customer and providing outstanding service every day, one customer at a time.

Who is responsible for making this happen?  Nordstrom’s salespeople and other associates.  “Nordstrom consistently reinforces this dual message: (1) every single decision the company makes is for the benefit of customers; and (2) Nordstrom employees are crucial to that experience,” write Robert Spector and breAnne Reeves in The Nordstrom Way to Customer Experience Excellence: Creating a Values-Driven Service Culture.

“At Nordstrom, as long as you make the customer happy, no one has a problem with you.  If you make the customer unhappy, everybody has a problem with you,” the authors note.

Step one: Hire people who are already driven to provide top-notch customer experiences.  Step two: Empower these associates to do whatever is necessary to make the customer happy.  Step three?  Create a workplace culture that accepts nothing less.

“People will rise or fall to the expectations that the organization puts on them.  If everyone in the department is chewing gum or is on the phone chatting with friends, the new hire will follow that behavior instead of engaging with the customer,” write Robert and breAnne.  “But if that new hire joins a high‐performance, high‐expectations culture, he [or she] will either emulate that behavior and become a part of that culture or realize that this job is not for him and leave.”

2: Nordstrom does not offer extensive training programs.  When asked who trains Nordstrom salespeople, former chairman Bruce Nordstrom answered: “Their parents.” Or others who taught them how to show up in life.

What Nordstrom does emphasize is a clear description of the Nordstrom culture: “being family; trusting each other’s integrity and ability; taking the initiative (with management’s support); setting and accomplishing personal goals; taking ownership; being open, honest, and respectful in communication; being a good neighbor; showing courtesy to everyone (customers and coworkers alike); and having fun.”

Nordstrom employee handbook is one sentence “Our One Rule: Use good judgment in all situations.”

“It’s hard to do this without a training manual,” said Erik.  “We get this across by telling stories and recognizing people a lot.  In the morning before our stores open, the store manager recognizes people who did a good job the day before.  They’ll read a letter from a customer where we’ve made a difference in their lives.  These stories bring into reality the words that define this culture.”

Nordstrom is a sales organization of motivated, empowered associates with an entrepreneurial spirit to give excellent customer service.  Each new salesperson teams up with an experienced team member for a full day of observation and practice.  Together, they work through a checklist of selling concepts and role‐playing scenarios.  Eventually, the new hire learns “the foundation of relationship selling, how to develop expert fashion knowledge, and how to confidently engage with the customer,” Robert and breAnne write.  “That is how a customer‐service, sales‐oriented culture is perpetuated and sustained.”

The result?  When associates “have a deep connection with work and colleagues, when they feel that they are making a meaningful contribution, and when they are afforded opportunities to learn and advance, then their companies enjoy superior productivity and increased profitability,” write Robert and breAnne.

The message Nordstrom communicates over and over?  Be on the lookout for the opportunity to create a special moment for customers and cultivate long‐term relationships.  “The most important thing I’ve learned is how much every single interaction with the customer counts no matter how big or small the sale is,” said a salesperson.

3: In time, the new salespeople are encouraged to develop their own unique style, to find their niche, their personal way of taking care of business.  Because, ultimately, success at Nordstrom comes down to what works for each individual.  “Salespeople are given the freedom to create their own individual businesses, to be a franchise within a franchise.  The best Nordstrom sales associates will do virtually everything they can to make sure a shopper leaves the store a satisfied customer.”

More tomorrow.


Reflection: What tools and stories does my organization have to reinforce our workplace culture?

Action: Work with my team to identify ten powerful stories we can share as part of onboarding.

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