1: Let’s travel back in time to the 1950s.  Imagine being in the middle of the hustle-and-bustle of the New York City wholesale shoe market.  A shoe representative has just shown off the company’s line to Nordstrom CEO Everett Nordstrom and a young Nordstrom buyer.  

The rep asks Everett for his reaction.  “Don’t talk to me,” says Everett, “Talk to my buyer.”

Yesterday, we looked at the Inverted Pyramid, the upside-down organizational chart described by Robert Spector and breAnne Reeves in The Nordstrom Way to Customer Experience Excellence: Creating a Values-Driven Service Culture.

2: “Empowerment” is a fancy business school word that has become trendy.  For Nordstrom, there’s nothing “trendy” about pushing decision-making to those closest to the customer.  

“Buyers and department managers (and vendors) regularly ask salespeople for their opinions on merchandise because salespeople are touching the product and seeing the reaction from a broad cross‐section of customers, many of whom they know well,” write Robert and breAnne.

“If you boil the Nordstrom system down to its essence, down to the one sentence that separates Nordstrom from most other companies, it is this: Nordstrom gives its people on the sales floor—the front line of the business—the freedom to make entrepreneurial decisions, and management backs them on those decisions,” the authors write.  “Everything else flows from that simple premise.”

This ethos is captured by Nordstrom’s one-sentence employee handbook: “Our One Rule: Use good judgment in all situations.” The retailer “empowers” its salespeople and managers by removing the rules that often get in the way of serving the customer.

“Nordstrom gives you the freedom to help the customer with everything.  No one tells you that there’s only one way to do your business.  Nordstrom lets you do whatever it takes to make the customer happy, as long as it’s legal.  They aren’t going to say ‘no’ to you if the end result is a happy customer,” comments one salesperson.

Menswear stylist Chris Sharma relays customer feedback to the buyers because “I always make sure I know what I have on the floor and what I need from the buyer.  If I don’t see anything that I want to sell, I always call the buyer and ask what’s coming in.  What’s available this month and next month?  Then I can communicate with my customers and tell them when I will have things coming in for them.”

3: Because Nordstrom salespeople know their opinions are valued, they show up for work each day engaged and on the lookout for suggestions and input from their customers.

“We want you to take the initiative,” reads the company’s literature, “and we’ll support your efforts to deliver exceptional service.  Selling something is the best service that we can provide.”

“We’ve never tried to solve a customer service challenge at headquarters or through training modules and policies,” says CEO Erik Nordstrom.  “We’ve always done it through empowerment—and that’s the only way we’re going to meet the challenge today.”

One Nordstrom associate approaches customer service “as if I’m running my own shop: Greet every customer with a smile.  Learn their names and keep in touch with them.  Go the extra mile.  A couple of times I have hand‐delivered alterations to a customer’s home.  They were really wowed by that.”

Another salesperson remarks, “It may say Nordstrom on the front of the building, but I want the customer, when she thinks of Nordstrom, to think of me.  I believe the department where I work is my franchise.”

This type of ownership is precisely what Nordstrom is aiming for.

“If everyone can feel like it’s their reputation, their name on the door, and that they are in an environment that values them, trusts them, hears them, and allows them to make a difference, then collectively we have a great chance of succeeding,” said former CEO Blake Nordstrom.

More tomorrow!


Reflection: Am I empowered in my job?  Do I intentionally look to empower others?

Action: Journal about it.

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