Customer service is changing, and so is Nordstrom

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In a much anticipated external appearance, Jamie Nordstrom told Shop.org Summit attendees this morning that the definition of customer service is changing. After describing the retailer’s 110-year rise from a humble shoe store into a revered department store chain, Nordstrom, president of Nordstrom Direct, was surprisingly candid about how the retailer is experimenting and evolving.

Nordstrom has the same goal every year: improve customer service. Digital retail hasn’t changed that goal at all. Why? Great customer service helps you sell more, no matter where your transactions come from. Customers value truly great customer service and experiences even more highly than great products. But creating wonderful customer experiences is something that’s changed with the rapid rise of digital commerce. Nordstrom offered some lessons that his team has learned along the way as it evolved its catalog business into a multichannel business with digital sales up more than 40% YTD.

Jamie Nordstrom, President, Nordstrom Direct

Provide great experiences both online and off. Customers are looking for the same inventory, sales and prices whether they’re looking at Nordstrom’s website or browsing in a store. They want interconnected experiences (buy online, pick up in store; iPad catalog browsing in stores, etc.) It doesn’t mean that customers are looking for the exact same experience no matter where they are. But it’s critical that retailers focus on enhancing customer experiences no matter where the customer is.

Stores are still important. Echoing Toys R Us’ Jerry Storch from yesterday’s keynote, Nordstrom emphasized that despite the rapid adoption of mobile, apps, digital wallets and social media, you can’t afford to grow lax about innovating in stores. Nordstrom is offering more personal stylists, with the goal of making customers feel taken care of. The company also has invested in in-store technology, hoping to eliminate cash registers in favor of mobile POS systems.

Staff is critical. One of Nordstrom’s major challenges was integrating the multichannel and store teams. But one question kept cropping up: “Who gets credit for the sale?” Nordstrom’s response? “The customer doesn’t care … so it doesn’t matter.” You can figure out the accounting later. The teams’ willingness to accept this speaks to the core values of the company. Nordstrom places a premium on empowering staff. The No. 1 rule is “Use good judgement,” allowing staff the freedom to explore the best solutions for customer problems.

Loyalty is king. Nordstrom highlighted Netflix and iTunes as examples of groups that do personalization really well. Customers value personalized recommendations, and it makes them more loyal. Loyalty, Nordtom stressed, it not about discounts, points or coupons. Social media is also a great place to engage with customers. It is an extension of your customer service.

Strategic partnerships help you grow and learn. Recently Nordstrom invested in HauteLook and Bonobos, as well as partnering with brands such as TopShop. Every partner brings a new perspective to the table, and you can learn from them.

Try lots of new things. Some strategies and ideas will work. Others won’t. If you don’t test new things, you’ll never innovate. Don’t panic if something doesn’t work — celebrate it!

In the Q-and-A portion of the session, Nordstrom stressed the importance of company culture during the integration process. Keeping the focus on the customer made it easier to set aside silos and work together on creating the best experiences possible, whether they’re in a store or on the web. It’s a valuable lesson in staying true to your company’s mission.

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