The 4 Essentials of Legendary Customer Service

What you can learn from a brand with a reputation for always going above and beyond

Written by Carol Toller

Attention, Canadian business operators: the customer service bar has just been raised. As Seattle-based department store chain Nordstrom embarks on its Canadian expansion—it opened its second location in March, in Ottawa—retail experts say businesses here could learn a lot from its gobsmackingly extraordinary service.

“Nordstrom just goes above and beyond in a way that customers never forget,” says Robert Kozinets, who heads the global retail management specialization at the Schulich School of Business.

In the March 2015 issue of Canadian Business, Carol Toller explored what makes the 114-year-old, family-run company so beloved of shoppers. Here are four customer-service lessons for businesses of all sizes from one of America’s most popular retail brands:

Empower your employees

All Nordstrom workers, from cleaning staff to floor associates, are given an unusual degree of latitude to make their own calls about how to handle problems. New hires are presented with a card that outlines the only rule they’re told they must follow: “Use good judgment in all situations.”

Karen McKibbin, president of Nordstrom Canada, says the policy gives employees complete freedom to take care of the customer. “We say, if you’re going to make a mistake, let’s make sure you make it in the customer’s favour.”

Don’t be afraid of technology

Helpful floor staff are even more popular with customers when they’re equipped with mobile checkout devices that make standing in line to pay for a purchase unnecessary. Nordstrom invests big money in high-tech customer-service enhancements—sales associates also have iPads capable of tracking chain-wide inventory, making it possible to find the last pair of size six Jimmy Choos, wherever it’s in stock.

Go where the shoppers are

Nordstrom blurs the lines between the virtual world and its bricks-and-mortar stores, making it easier for customers to shop while they’re posting pics of their new baby or the burrito they just ate. Consumers can buy items they see on Pinterest and Instagram with just a couple of taps on their phones, via apps such as Like2Buy. When they visit Nordstrom locations, they’ll see items that proved popular on Pinterest prominently displayed, sometimes with a distinctive red Pinterest tag.

The savvy digital strategy helps the retailer attract more shoppers—especially younger ones, who may stick with the chain as they get older and wealthier.

Stay humble

Publicly, the company rarely discusses its commitment to pleasing customers, apart from suggesting it still has a lot to learn. “Please don’t think that we think we’re experts,” says McKibbin. “It’s something we work really hard at every day.”


What do you do to keep clients happy? Share your customer service tips and tricks using the comments section below.

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