Required Reading: Evolving The Nordstrom Way to Customer Experience Excellence

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Nordstrom has long been synonymous with customer-centricity. In The Nordstrom Way to Customer Experience Excellence, the fourth of his titles spotlighting the Seattle-based retailer, author Robert Spector focuses on the principles that have earned Nordstrom the envy of customer service organizations in all industries. Associate Editor Oren Smilansky spoke with Spector to learn how values can dictate longevity.

CRM magazine: How does this book differ from the previous Nordstrom Way books? 

Robert Spector: The idea for the book was Breanne O. Reeves’s, and she designed the cover as well. Technically it’s not a reissue of the book. I consider it the fourth in a series of books entitled The Nordstrom Way. It looks at values rather than practices. 

How would you define the “Nordstrom Way”? 

The Nordstrom Way is really very simple: It’s having a company built on values. You attract people that adhere to those values, and you teach and coach according to those values. That’s it. 

The book is divided into nine sections, each focusing on one of the values you have alluded to. Is there one value that has been instrumental?

The first one is trust. They trust the people they’ve hired. In addition to the usual information you get when you start with a company—the 401(k) plan, etc.—there is a 5x7 card that everyone [at Nordstrom] gets. One side of the card says, “Welcome to Nordstrom, we’re glad to have you with the company, you’ll do great,” etc. When you turn the card over, it says, “We have only one rule: Use good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.”

And are there others? 

Adaptation and innovation. Nordstrom is 116 years old, and has survived two world wars, the Great Depression, various recessions—and it’s in the fashion business, which is constantly changing. So it is all about adapting to change and finding ways to innovate. When people think of Nordstrom, they think of what it calls its full-line stores—anchors and shopping malls. Those stores represent only half of Nordstrom’s business. The rest of it comes from Nordstrom Rack and Nordstrom online. Nordstrom is a true omnichannel retailer. The stores are digitized and part of the omnichannel experience. Nordstrom says that it’s channel-agnostic; it doesn’t have a channel strategy, it has a customer strategy 

What has Nordstrom done to innovate recently? 

It opened up a store in West Hollywood called Nordstrom Local. The typical Nordstrom store is 150,000 to 250,000 square feet. Nordstrom Local is 3,000 square feet and contains no merchandize, but there’s a stylist there. It’s digitized so stylists can help you find anything at Nordstrom.com, and they can have some of those items brought over to the store. Tailors are there, in case you wanted to bring something over to be altered. You can get a manicure; you can have beer and wine. So is this the store of the future? The store with no merchandize? No, it’s a test, but Nordstrom will be getting a lot of feedback on whether it works or doesn’t. 

What are some other companies that have succeeded in the Nordstrom Way? 

I live in the Seattle area, which I consider the customer service capital of the United States, certainly in terms of retail. We have Nordstrom, Amazon, Starbucks, Costco, and REI, and what all of those companies share is that they’re customer-focused. Their article of faith is that if they take care of the customer, that takes care of everything else, in whatever form [customer care takes]. Costco is very different from Nordstrom; it has all these endless aisles of stuff piled high. It isn’t the fanciest place in the world, yet it is a positive customer service experience for what a Costco customer expects. Same thing with Starbucks and REI. If we take care of our people, our people will take care of our customers—that’s the way you do it. 

Will there be another book about Nordstrom, say, five years down the line? 

I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. When I wrote the original book in 1995, I never envisioned that I’d still be writing and speaking about it more than two decades later. Nordstrom is looking to go private. If it does, you’re going to continually see an evolution not only in assortment and variety, but in ways to take care of the customer—ways that seem futuristic now but will be reality in three to five years.

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