A journalist published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, and more, Robert Spector became a business expert “overnight” when he was tapped to write a three-piece book series on the success of Seattle-based department store Nordstrom under the umbrella title “The Nordstrom Way.”
In addition to gleaning insights from three of the four generations of Nordstrom leadership, he’s chronicled the success of other Seattle business juggernauts including Amazon, Costco, and Starbucks in bestselling books like “Amazon.com: Get Big Fast” and “The Mom & Pop Store: True Stories From the Heart of America.”
He’s now a keynote speaker and teaches at Western Washington University, using the lessons learned from his discussions with the Nordstrom family, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and more to guide his lectures. He recently talked about why successful companies put their customers first and how businesses can grow with this in mind.
Convenience is key
No matter what aspect of your business you’re working on (whether it’s payment technologies, ecommerce offerings, or brick-and-mortar operations), Spector says it’s critical to make every point of contact as convenient for your customers as possible.
“You have to ask yourself if you’re really making things convenient for the customer, and it all starts from there,” Spector said. “From there, all of the other stuff, the logistics, can take care of themselves. You start with customer experience, and then reverse engineer from there.”
One way to create convenience is to ensure customers can have a seamless omnichannel experience with your business; no matter where or how they want to shop, you should be able to meet them where they are.
As Spector points out, Nordstrom offers various online and in-store shopping options to cater to each individual customer. While their large, shopping mall-based department stores are what many think of when they picture the company, their Nordstrom Rack and Nordstrom Local branches ensure curated shopping experiences for all.
“Nordstrom says they’re ‘channel agnostic;’ they don’t have a brick-and-mortar customer, they don’t have an online customer — they just have a customer,” said Spector, who’s currently writing an ebook about Nordstrom under the working title “The 120-Year-Old Startup: The Nordstrom Way to Survive and Thrive.” “These days, people like shopping online, but they also like going into the store to see something in-person and enjoy that shopping experience. To pigeonhole them as just one type of customer is really backwards thinking.”
Even Amazon, which was built online and has dominated the ecommerce marketplace, is now starting to offer even more brick-and-mortar shopping options.
Hire for customer service
A business is only as good as the people within it, and Spector notes that people usually are who they are when you meet them, and no amount of training is going to change that.
“It’s like being in a relationship,” Spector said. “And maybe you say, ‘When we get married, I’m going to change that guy.’ And how does that work? Well, it doesn’t work.”
Nordstrom, for example, does very little training for its employees when it comes to teaching them how to interact with customers and the other soft skills required in the retail industry. Instead, the company focuses on hiring people that prove they’re able to put the customer’s needs first in the hiring and interview process.
“One time I asked Bruce Nordstrom, ‘Who trains your sales people?’” Spector said, “and he said, ‘Their parents, or whoever gave them their set of values.’”
To replicate this model and build a company of people-first employees, Spector says it’s critical for hiring managers to ask the right questions during interviews that allow prospective employees to showcase their interests and talents.
“A lot of times an interviewer will ask, ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ Who really knows the answer to that?” Spector said. “I’d much rather ask, ‘What’s the best customer service experience you’ve had as a customer?’ and ‘What’s the best service you’ve given to someone else?’ That will tell me a lot more about an interviewee.”