How Nordstrom Made Its Brand Synonymous With Customer Service (and How You Can Too)

Nordstrom customer service | Shopify Retail

Ask anyone in the retail industry what the first words are that come to their mind when they think of Nordstrom, and they'll immediately tell you "customer service." 

Making your brand synonymous with a catch-all phrase that's too often simply thrown around in retail doesn't happen overnight. 

In fact, its taken the upscale fashion retailer 115 years of complete dedication to creating the finest shopping experience to build such a reputation.

There's even an entire book dedicated to distilling their unique formula, rightfully titled, "The Nordstrom Way to Customer Service Excellence," along with several articles in top tier business publications trying to do the same.  

So, why might you as a small business owner want to take a page from their book when it comes to customer service in your own stores?

Simple, not only will you build better relationships with customers that result in greater brand loyalty, repeat sales, and lower marketing costs, but you'll build a workplace which attracts talented people who will stand behind your brand.  

Sound intriguing enough? Let's dive in.

The Devil Is In The Details

Norstrom sales associate | Shopify Retail

Nordstrom's exceptional customer service comes primarily as a result of two main components, firstly their attention to detail when it comes to the customer experience and secondly, the level to which they empower their employees.

These two factors in tandem create an unstoppable customer service engine that continues to create stories that turn into legends, some of which I've included below.

But what is it about the way Nordstrom operates its stores that set it apart from all the other major retailers? 

Someone asked this question on Quora and got an impeccable response from a former employee Ambra Benjamin, who gives just enough of a hint towards the intricate thought put behind the moment a customer enters, to while they're shopping, to when they leave.

Here's a few of my favourite examples from Ambra's response:

  • A Norsdtrom salesperson rarely points. If you have a question about where something is located, they walk you there.
  • Salespeople are taught to walk your bagged purchased around the counter to you vs. just handing it across the counter.
  • Salespeople can offer to ring up your purchase without you ever having to stand in line. This particularly happens a lot in the shoe departments. 
  • Departments are generally trained to answer the phone on no more than the 2nd ring.

You can read the rest of her response here, but you get the idea.

How many times have you walked into a big department store and felt lost, helpless, unattended to, and frustrated with the long queues to checkout? If you're like most shoppers, you probably have a handful of horror stories.

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Yet those are exactly the traditional shopper "pain points" that Nordstrom goes out of its way to eliminate as you shop in their stores.

Rethinking "business as usual" allowed Nordstrom to break away from the pack, and it can also serve your small business. In particular, this should inspire you to take a closer look at the customer journey or experience when when it comes to your own store.

Ask yourself, "how might you..."

  • Help customers find what they're looking for faster? 
  • Help customers check out faster? 
  • Build a more personal relationship with each customer? 
  • Enable a unique and branded shopping experience?
  • Empower customers to spread positive word-of-mouth

Having a greater degree of empathy for your customers will enable you to see and solve problems that you previously might never have noticed before. 

Empower Employees To Use "Good Judgement" 

Nordstrom employees | Shopify Retail

One of the most wide-spread fact known about Nordstrom is the effectiveness of its Employee Handbook given to staff when they first join the company. It goes something like the following:

"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."

Today, the same handbook has an even more streamlined version of the company's "One Rule" to the following: 

"Use good judgement in all situations." 

Compare that to the handbooks of other companies that can run several manuals long and you come to realize just how much Nordstrom empowers its employees to use their "good judgement." 

What this results in are unheard of stories from the folklore of customer service, as well as employees who feel like they're more than just moving parts in a large faceless machine, but instead owners of something they care deeply about. 

Consider for example Nordstrom's elite "million-dollar club," consisting of the company's top performing employees which bring in more than $1 million in sales to the company. 

An article reveals that part of their individual recipe for success is the ability to create and make use of their client list, as they're empowered to build and cultivate personal relationships with customers and take care of them as they see fit, or in other words operate their "own" business within the larger company.

These employees personally notify customers of special events and sales through mail or email, and send handwritten thank-you notes to new customers.

A good question to ask yourself is, "when was the last time you empowered your staff to use their good judgement instead of relaying on you or a binder to make decisions?" 

Even if you answered "never," it's never too late to start thinking about how you might empower your employees and see how they perform differently. 

Stories Make All The Difference

Now for the fun part, here's a list of my favourite customer service stories to come out of Nordstrom to get you fired up about thinking differently about the way customers experience your store and how you manage your employees. 

1) The Search for the Lost Diamond Wedding Ring

"A woman in North Carolina recently lost the diamond from her wedding ring while trying on clothes at a Nordstrom store. A store security worker saw her crawling on the sales floor under the racks. He asked what was going on, then joined the search.

After they came up empty, the employee asked two building-services workers to join the search. They opened up the bags of the store's vacuum cleaners, where they found the shiny diamond."

Excerpted from this Seattle Times article.

You can also watch this video describing the incident: 


2) The Case of the "Rainy Boots"

"Do you know who’s legally responsible if a common carrier (UPS, DHL, FedEx) leaves your Nordstrom delivery in the rain and your $200 shoes are ruined? Well, the responsibly party might be you or it might be the trucking company, but it’s absolutely not Nordstrom. 

Yet, when this happened to me, not for an instant did my salesperson (the great Joanne Hassis at the King Of Prussia Nordstrom, by the way) consider saying “You need to file a claim with the trucking company.” She instead told me, without hesitation, the following:

“I’m so incredibly sorry that happened, and I’m bringing over a brand new pair of shoes–will you be home in forty-five minutes?”"

Excerpted from this Forbes' article

3) The Tires Story

"A man walked into the Fairbanks, Alaska, Nordstrom department store with two snow tires. He walked up to the counter, put the tires down and asked for his money back. The clerk, who'd been working there for two weeks, saw the price on the side of the tires, reached into the cash register and handed the man $145.

The customer wanted to return the tires. It did not matter that Nordstrom's did not sell tires and never sold tires. They sell upscale clothing.

The clerk accepted the return because that is what the customer wanted."

Excerpted from this Evan Carmichael article. 

Customer Service 2.0

Hopefully, those stories give you a taste of what's possible when you go the extra mile to evolve your relationships with customers from a mere transactional one, to something a little more personal. 

Though Nordstrom will have to continue evolving its in-store and online shopping experience to keep ranks with the Amazon, Zappos, and Apples of the world,  its tireless dedication to its customers puts it a unique position to continue growing, while other big-box retailers flounder

P.S. Liked this post? You'll love The Apple Store Guide to Insanely Great Customer Service and  and How Retailers Manipulate Sign, Smell, and Sound to Trigger Purchase Behavior in Consumers. 

P.P.S. Have a favorite personal customer service story? Share it with us in the comments below. 

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