In 1887, 16-year-old John W. Nordstrom left Sweden and arrived at Ellis Island with $5 and a few English words.
Several years later, he and a friend, Carl F. Wallin, opened the Wallin & Nordstrom shoe store in Seattle with $13,000 they earned from the Alaska Yukon Gold Rush.
What began as a shoe retailer, Nordstrom Inc is now a publicly traded company selling clothing, accessories, handbags, jewelry, cosmetics and fragrances. Today, there are more than 365 stores operating in 40 U.S. states, Puerto Rico and Canada. Three brothers and one cousin—all fourth-generation Nordstroms—sit on the board of directors.
Not only has the store made Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list every year since 1998, but it also ranked as the country’s favorite premium fashion retailer for the sixth year running in Market Force Information’s annual study.
So what’s the company’s secret?
According to The Nordstrom Way to Customer Experience Excellence: Creating a Values-Driven Service Culture, a book written by Robert Spector and Breanne Reeves, Nordstrom has one main goal: “To provide outstanding service every day, one customer at a time.”
Explains co-president and director Blake Nordstrom, “By improving on all of the little things in front of you, you will achieve your goal of providing outstanding service every day, one customer or client or patient at a time, The Nordstrom Way.”
In an attempt to explain “The Nordstrom Way,” Spector and Reeves share several values that Nordstrom has adhered to through four generations of family leadership. These values include:
Consistently Connect with Customers
Nordstrom employees must “treat each customer as a whole person, as an individual, so that you learn their likes and dislikes.” In addition, it is vital to create a relationship that comes from the heart, so customers feel like they are working with friends each day. This creates a strong connection that translates into happy customers and brand ambassadors. Because humans are social beings, connecting with customers is essential to every business.
Respect All Customers
According to Spector and Reeves, “Every aspect of the Nordstrom experience starts and stops with the customer. When it comes to exploring new ways of improving its services and results, Nordstrom asks itself one simple, but profound question: What would the customer want?”
Nordstrom adapts the wants and needs of its customers to guarantee the Nordstrom system benefits the customer because the customer drives the business. “Selling clothes isn’t what we do,” said a retired Nordstrom executive, quoted in the book. “It’s filling all of people’s needs and making them feel better emotionally.”
Always be Humble
When some business owners become successful, they tend to become egotistical. However, Nordstrom makes a conscious effort to never discuss their impressive success or how great their customer service actually is. And this mentality keeps the entire organization focused on continuously striving for improvement—which benefits customers in the end.
Focus on Practicing Empowerment
“Throughout our organization, our people are empowered to use their energy and their entrepreneurial spirit to take care of the customer,” explains Blake Nordstrom.
Nordstrom’s empowerment culture is embedded in its Inverted Pyramid. In this organizational structure, customers are at the very top. Under them are salespeople, department managers, store managers, executives, and the entire Board of Directors.
To create the Inverted Pyramid, Nordstrom took the traditional corporate pyramid and turned it completely upside down, so that the customers (the most important individuals) are at the very top, with the sales and support staff (the next most important) situated closest to the customers.
“There’s a lot of meaning to the Inverted Pyramid because it reflects all of our values,” says Erik Nordstrom, co-president and director. “The Inverted Pyramid guides our leadership style, which is about support—and not command and control.”
So what is the Nordstrom Way? Simply put, it’s an obsession with every single customer and the customer’s complete shopping experience.
Bruce Nordstrom, former chairman and CEO, explains it this way: “Every day in every store in every region, hopefully, something positive is happening that will reinforce our strong reputation and make things better for our employees, our customers, and all of our communities.”
He adds, ‘‘Our commitment is 100 percent to customer service. We are not committed to financial markets. We are not committed to real estate markets. We are not committed to a certain amount of profit. We are only committed to customer service. If we make a profit, that’s great. But customer service is always first. If I’m a salesperson on the floor, and I know that the people who own this place are extremely committed to customer service, then I am free to find new ways to provide great customer service. I know that I will not be criticized for taking care of a customer. I will only be criticized if I do not take care of a customer.’’
Start working for yourself and implement your own winning customer service strategy!