At Your Customer Service: Lessons from The Nordstrom Way

With this post, continues its regular column in which it reviews, explicates and excerpts books that we think will resonate with people in the business of publishing and media.  

The concept of customer service has come to the forefront for businesses hoping to assert themselves in a growing digital marketplace where a customer has access to whatever they want, whenever they want. Jeff Bezos said customer service plays a major role in Amazon’s success, and curation/bookseller recommendations have often been cited as bookstores’ strength. One company that has a reputation for their customer service is Nordstrom—you know, that high-end department store often flanked at the mall by a coffee shop or a pretzel stand. The culture of this Fortune 500 company has warranted a book by Robert Spector with Patrick McCarthy, now on its second edition, titled The Nordstrom Way to Customer Service Excellence (Wiley, 2nd ed., published March 2012). Proclaiming to be “the handbook for becoming the ‘Nordstrom’ of your industry,” one can’t help wondering what it means to be a ‘Nordstrom’ of publishing, or distribution, bookselling, agenting, etc. —or whether that is even something to aspire.

Much of The Nordstrom Way details the company’s emphasis on customer service, from the chain’s family-owned/operated history to countless anecdotes about salespeople going above and beyond in their duties. Take, for instance, the group of employees that rifled through vacuum cleaner bags to find a customer’s lost wedding ring, or the team of salespeople who made a house call to make sure that a customer was dressed in time for an event after a shipping snafu lost her dress in the mail.

Almost all of these “heroics,” as Nordstrom calls them, can be traced back to an inverted triangle organization of priorities, with salespeople at the top and executives at the bottom. Through this business structure, sales associates on the floor are empowered like entrepreneurs, given tools like well-stocked stores, digital customer profiles, and thank-you notes to keep track of and service individual customers in the interest of long term relationships.

High-tech inventory and replenishment systems are some of the most important tools with which Nordstrom equips its employees:

All full-line stores have Wi-Fi connectivity, which provides the foundation for many customer-facing tools, such as mobile point-of-sales devices (Mobile POS), which make it easier and more efficient to locate items and check prices for customers, whether in their individual store or within the Nordstrom inventory system…

To become even more efficient, Nordstrom employees are using a variety of other portable electronic devices, such as smartphones, laptops, handhelds, and media tablets. These tools contribute to making the store a gateway to the entire retail supply chain rather than the final destination. (p. 157-158)

When it comes to social media, Nordstrom extends its idea of salespeople as entrepreneurs by encouraging salespeople to interact with customers directly through social media accounts, rather than relying on a company-wide account.

Perhaps the most salient portion of The Nordstrom Way, especially in this recently updated version, is the section discussing how their customer service philosophy operates in a multichannel world. In fact, the book points out the problem with Barnes & Noble treating their website as separate from their brick-and-mortar stores with separate inventories, in comparison to Nordstrom’s single view of inventory in which stores also operate as online fulfillment centers in addition to distribution hubs. This helps expand Nordstrom’s inventory, both online and in-store, by allowing customers easy access to stock from multiple locations. Nordstrom also expanded its internet presence in the online retail space by acquiring fashion flash sale site HauteLook Inc.

Regardless of industry, The Nordstrom Way does offer insights into customer service possibilities and long term goals in building customer relations. Whether being applied to booksellers or sales reps, what “The Publishing Way” will be remains to be seen.

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3 Trackbacks

  1. […] their culture is their number one competitive advantage.  Another firm that springs to mind is Nordstrom and their intensive service training programs for all associates, full or […]

  2. […] their culture is their number one competitive advantage.  Another firm that springs to mind is Nordstrom and their intensive service training programs for all associates, full or […]

  3. […] their culture is their number one competitive advantage.  Another firm that springs to mind is Nordstrom and their intensive service training programs for all associates, full or […]

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