Customer Service Lessons from Nordstrom

Photo: deanm1974

Pop quiz: What's one of the most talked about aspects of your business?

Answer: Customer service.

Unfortunately, customer service is often where we spend the least of our resources. The Internet is riddled with stories of pitiful customer service. Mistreated customers will often vent their frustrations in blog posts, comments, reviews, tweets, Facebook messages, forums, and in-person conversations. In an age where information moves incredibly fast, stopping a deluge of negative feedback can be nearly impossible. Yet, the beauty of excellent customer service is that customers react in a nearly identical way when they're impressed, and they will champion a better-than-average customer service interaction in the same ways listed above. They'll talk about their personal interactions, how the customer service was phenomenal, and how they'll be customers for life because of it (and refer their bridge club too!).

Nordstrom is a company that excels at customer service. Employees are famous for going out of their way to please customers, and Nordstrom spends a lot of resources on developing its employees. Interestingly enough, Nordstrom places the emphasis on employees, not policy.

The Famous Nordstrom Employee Handbook

The Nordstrom employee handbook is a thing of simplistic beauty. The "book" was a single card, with only 75 words on it:

Welcome to Nordstrom

We're glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.

Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.

While the "handbook" has been updated in recent years, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that Nordstrom trusts its employees to make the right judgment without bogging them down with procedures and policy. Nordstrom was named a top 100 company to work for in 2009 by Fortune.

Customer Service Today

There is a lot at stake for businesses with their customer service these days. Yet more often than not, customer service is often the last place we invest our hard-earned dollars. It's much easier and cheaper to outsource support to call centers, and it's much easier for the employee to refer to a set of policies and procedures that a corporation has made. (How often have we heard the phrase "I'm sorry, I don't make the policy..."?)

Yet, some companies still believe that customer service is the whole ballgame. Zappos is an excellent example of a company that knows that customer service is going to win them more business than advertising. The Zappos Family Core Values are listed on their site, and at the very top is this:

1. Deliver WOW Through Service

And Zappos does just that. A quick search shows plenty of interesting and amazing stories of customer service from Zappos employees. (Zappos even made our previous article on examples of great customer service.) One of the main reasons that Zappos's customer service is so great is because Zappos allows its employees to use their judgment on refunds and other customer-service issues. Businesses often feel the need to expand policies as they grow. What's the number one fear of businesses, small to large? A lawsuit. Lawsuits are a constant fear, but the reality is that you'll never be protected from lawsuits. If massive organizations like Wal-Mart and McDonald's are getting sued and losing with the best legal counsel possible, then any business is vulnerable. But when it comes down to it, you're going to have to trust your employees, lawsuit or not. If you have employees whose judgment you don't trust, then why did you hire them? Put your trust in them, and they'll work hard for the company's best interests.

What About Small Business?

If your small business is comprised of just you and the family cat, then you have nothing to lose by offering amazing customer service. Think about the competition: They (most likely) have better margins, infrastructure, and distribution. Yet one thing they can't compete with is your level of customer service. You can gain customers for life by making a commitment to excellent customer service. People will talk about you. Advertising isn't a fraction as effective as a personal recommendation from a friend.

If you can empower your employees to take care of their customers, then you ensure that your employees will take care of your customers. Take a page (the only one!) from the Nordstrom employee handbook, and start empowering your employees to make the right decision.

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