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Culture
Creating a Culture of Service
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by HEATHER MILLIMAN

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Best practices from customer service retail leader Nordstrom to help guide any customer service operation

Shifting consumer expectations, digital deployment and social media are redefining customer service across all brand touchpoints today. The demand for next-level customer experience means that brands in customer-centric industries – like retail, financial and healthcare – are transforming entire product and service categories just to keep up. In short, consumers want everything faster, more accurate and targeted just for them. A standard transaction is no longer good enough; the new goal is to create an experience that is personalized, memorable and repeatable with customers in every interaction.

This shift translates into companies re-examining what a Culture of Service looks like for their organization, how it shows up in their employees and translates through to crucial customer takeaways, such as share of wallet, repeat business and brand advocacy. While each brand defines their own cultural cornerstones, generally speaking a Culture of Service is an approach that puts the customer first with every interaction, decision and goal. Driven by senior leadership, it’s an integral part of a company's core vision and values, filtering down through staff behaviors across all roles and responsibilities. 

In companies with a Culture of Service at their core, staff is empowered to serve the customers based on doing what’s right, right in the moment with staff members receiving sufficient training to be confident in their decision-making skills. Once an organization defines a clear commitment to service and what that means both internally and externally, employees will form an emotional connection to creating excellence in everything they do. These team members feel valued and committed, driving performance, job longevity and ultimately the collective bottom line. 

Know What You Stand For

One company that has long been the darling of the customer service world is Nordstrom. Founded in 1901, Nordstrom built its reputation not only on the quality of merchandise they sell, but the quality of service they provide. In fact, when John W. Nordstrom first founded the company, he believed so strongly in the power of staff empowerment and how it creates superior service that he made his first corporate rule “Use your good judgement in all situations.” To this day, that single sentence comprises the only directive in the employee handbook, using “good judgement” as the company’s North Star. 

A stunning 20 year run on numerous Top 100 Best Companies to Work For lists, Nordstrom is one of the highest paying retailers operating today and makes its mark by fostering a Culture of Service that has come to define everything the company stands for. Through their unique approach, Nordstrom represents a category defining example that can serve as a case study for building any customer service operation. Here, we’ve gathered together some of their best practices to inspire and inform. 

Nordstrom Rule #1: Use your good judgment in all situations

Employees at Nordstrom take a customer-centric approach to everything they do. Senior leadership recognizes that people can shop anywhere, so they need to create a way to stand out in the competitive field of retail – both brick and mortar and online – through implementing superior service at each touchpoint and along every step of the consumer journey.

Nordstrom Rule #2: Hire the Right People

Chairman from 1968 until 1995, Bruce Nordstrom famously said, “We can hire nice people and teach them to sell, but we can’t hire salespeople and teach them to be nice.” The company has set a standard of hiring people for their spark, not their skill. Placing a premium on human interaction, Nordstrom focuses on team training and empowerment every step of the way.

Nordstrom Rule #3: Treat Them Well

Nordstrom has built its reputation by aligning its business around its culture of service. Intentional focus is given to empowering employees though continual learning with each team member receiving an average of 37 hours of training. The company prides itself on opportunities for advancement, comprehensive benefits package, and perks including wellness programs, paid training, generous merchandise discounts, and schedule flexibility.

Nordstrom Rule #4: Coach and Celebrate

Executive Vice President Jim Nordstrom describes their coaching culture by saying, ‘‘People will work hard when they are given the freedom to do the job the way they think it should be done, when they treat customers the way they like to be treated. When you take away their incentive and start giving them rules, boom, you’ve killed their creativity.’’ Empowering teams is at the core of Nordstrom’s Culture of Service.

Nordstrom Rule #5: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

At Nordstrom, everyone – no matter their job title or tenure – is in the business of customer service. The company also fosters a Culture of Service internally, understanding that service standards apply to both external and internal audiences, seeking to go above and beyond with every interaction. By constantly looking for ways to improve service, Nordstrom stays ahead by staying vigilant.

To speak with one of our culture experts about developing a Culture of Service within your organization, contact us at info@adrenalineagency.com.



Adrenaline is an experience design agency that creates and implements end-to-end branded experiences through creative and environmental design. We enhance our clients’ customer experiences across digital and physical channels, from their branding and advertising to design and technology in their spaces. After transforming an organization’s brand, Adrenaline extends it across all touchpoints — from employees to the market to in-store environments. And, we focus on serving industries that sell human experiences including financial, healthcare, sports and entertainment.

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