Culture Club: When Your (Nordstrom) Slip Shows


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Every day you’re open for business – and even when you’re not –  is “showtime” for a firm’s culture. So what happens when something slips, and that great customer service culture on which you pride yourself is not-so-hot?

As a kid from Portland, I grew up with Nordstrom, the Seattle headquartered department store. In fact I still remember my mom taking me to get fitted for back-to-school shoes at Nordstrom Best, the local retailer that Nordstroms acquired.

Nordstroms (Oregon locals add an “s” to the name) is legendary for customer service, and typically ranks highly in that area along with firm’s such as Four Seasons, Southwest Airlines and Federal Express. Nordstroms even has lore like the money refunded for a tire purchase to illustrate the lengths in which they go to provide great service to customers.

The Nordstrom’s culture is one where they take care of their customers; take care, that is, until they don’t. And all it takes is one mediocre experience.

With a now nine year-old son, I’ve gotten to know the Nordstrom’s kids shoe department well these past 8 years. I’ve shopped them out of habit and loyalty, not so much out of convenience or price.

So when the folks at the Crocs kiosk in the San Francisco Centre referred me to Nordstrom in the same mall (“Try the kids department; they carry our merchandise in a broader range of sizes and can help you”) on our Sunday quest for a new pair of knock-around shoes I thought it would be a one stop easy pick-up.

The boys department, though, doesn’t carry Crocs past (men’s) size 3, but the sales person assured us, “The men’s department carries Crocs and they can help you.”

As we entered the department a sales person greeted us and I told him that the folks from the boys department had sent us down to looks at some size 4 Crocs.

We don’t carry Crocs,”  he responded.

The boys shoes folks sent us down because they thought you carried Crocs,” I restated, perhaps thinking we had a hearing issue.

We don’t carry Crocs,” he responded.

There was no “let me re-check” or “I’m sorry that you got sent to the wrong place” or even, a “let me call around“- something that happen with legendary service. Just a terse “We don’t carry Crocs.”

And just like that, Nordstrom lost a customer.

We went back to the Crocs kiosk where they were glad to dig through their basement inventory room to find the size to fit my son. I thought back to our earlier visit to the local Brooks Brother’s store earlier that afternoon when the sales person had pulled up my name at point of purchase terminal and extended a preferred customer discount to me without me asking.

Culture is organizations is what defines you. When it’s great, it’s endears repeat business and customer loyalty.

And when it slips, you lose a customer like me who won’t be coming back.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.


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