I recently finished reading the book, The Nordstrom Way to Customer Experience Excellence: Creating a Values-Driven Service Culture. The book is a lot more compelling than that ridiculously long title. It includes a lot of inspirational stories, but I wanted to share the one rule found in the Nordstrom Employee Handbook along with a story that reflects the understanding of the rule through all departments.
The One Rule
Like most companies, Nordstrom requires every new employee to go through an orientation. At this orientation, Nordstrom hands out their Employee Handbook. Not very ground-breaking, right? Except the Employee Handbook isn't a book at all. It's basically a two-sided postcard: One side states the company goal which is to provide outstanding customer service. Here is the other side:
Use good judgment in all situations gives employees a lot of freedom which might make some managers (and HR) nervous. That's why Nordstrom puts so much effort into training new associates, regardless of their background, whom they can trust to care for their customers.
Every company wants this, but few drive the point home more often than Nordstrom. For example, a few minutes before the store opens, the store manager gathers all employees together and shares feedback, both good and bad, she received the day before. This feedback, along with stories about associates who went above and beyond, creates a culture of service and sets a high bar for what is expected from each new hire.
The Missing Diamond
I'm already familiar with the stories of Nordstrom employees providing levels of service that have become legendary such as the man who returned a tire to a Nordstrom store in Alaska. Or the woman who met a customer at the airport with a new set of ironed shirts because he failed to pack any on his rush to an interview.
But I had not heard of the customer who called Nordstrom in search of a diamond that she lost in the store. The diamond was part of her engagement ring set, and she was understandably distraught. A team of Nordstrom employees got down on their hands and knees attempting to retrace her steps through the store, but they could not locate the diamond.
Near closing time, one Nordstrom employee wondered if the diamond had been vacuumed up the night before. She called the manager over housekeeping who showed up after hours with a few more employees. Through the night, they emptied vacuum bags in search of the diamond. I imagine a dust-filled room with the bag's contents strewn about the floor. In one of the last bags, a housekeeper found the diamond.
It's one thing to hire for front-line employees obsessed with delivering exemplary service, but for those same values to permeate to staff working behind the scenes is remarkable.
As someone whose job at Puget Systems is to listen and collect feedback from customers, I appreciated the level of dedication and persistence Nordstrom goes to in order to care for their customers.
For the last five years, I've worked as the Customer Happiness Engineer. I get to hear a lot of customer experiences that inspire me along with a few that we could have handled better. Reading The Nordstrom Way has given me a few ideas on ways I can improve the service I provide our customers. One example is circling back to customers who provided an idea or feedback and sharing with them how we made a change or improved a process based on their idea.
My takeaway from the book is that providing service that sets your company apart must become part your company's DNA. You can train an employee on how to perform a task, but it is nearly impossible to train them to have empathy. Nordstrom's approach is to "hire the smile, train the skill."
The Nordstrom family started with this philosophy, and it remains the hallmark of the company today.