From its humble roots in 1901 as a small shoe store, upscale fashion retailer Nordstrom, Inc. is opening stores while other retail companies are shuttering locations and closing down. Despite a lackluster economy, the company's secret for success is simple: superlative customer service. Nordstrom's customer service is predicated on the philosophy that customer service is not a strategy, it is a culture and a way of life.
The legend of Nordstrom's customer service begins with an inverted pyramid. The customer reigns at the top of the pyramind, followed by those on the customer front every day: sales and sales support people. On the next level are company managers, and on the bottom are the executive team and board of directors. This model embodies the conviction that the customer and those closest to the customer are critical to the company's success equation. In order to maintain the model, the company places tremendous emphasis on its salespeople, which starts with hiring good people, training them well and giving them the autonomy to make decisions immediately. Empowered employees, Nordstrom management believes, can serve, solve and satisfy customers right on the spot as opposed to other retailers that require cumbersome and time-consuming procedures to deal with customer needs, such as returns and product issues.
Despite its empowered employees, Nordstrom's customer service quality is maintained through strict guidelines and customer service standards. The hiring process is rigorous, and new hire training is arduous. In fact, during initial interviews, prospective hires are asked to define customer service. Realizing that it can be tough to stay smiling with difficult customers, the company keeps employees enthusiastic and motivated with a steady stream of inspiration videos from top management, frequent department meetings, role plays depicting various customer/employee scenarios and mentoring by top salespeople to less experienced ones. Nordstrom's keys to maintaining employee empowerment and customer satisfaction are to provide growth opportunities, allow job freedom, enable a sense of belonging and instill a sense of self-worth in each employee.
Ensuring an excellent customer experience is the goal of Nordstrom's customer service and the reason why it places so much emphasis on training, supporting and recognizing employees. There is another piece to the customer experience, and that is place. Whether in-store, on the phone or online, Nordstrom is committed to making sure all customers are not only satisfied, but that they have had a uniquely pleasurable experience. Customers who call Nordstrom's customer service centers actually get a real person and not an automated, push-button set of choices. When employees are paged in the stores, only their names are spoken to prevent an annoying auditory experience for customers. Some stores have piano players to add to the pleasant ambiance, and the company's website is designed with usability as a top priority.
Despite a modest 3.2 percent increase in revenue last year, sales still surpass that of its competitors, a fact that is surely because of Nordstrom's customer service excellence. With growth during tough economic times as true testimony for success, Nordstrom's is indeed a legend in its own time.
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