Delivering Great Customer Service: Book Review of The Nordstrom Way

The Nordstrom Way to Customer Service Excellence: The Handbook for Becoming the “Nordstrom” of Your Industry by Robert Spector and Patrick D. McCarthy (Wiley, 2012)

I enjoyed The Nordstrom Way, but not as much as I thought I would.

Author Robert Spector loves customer service and loves writing about it. In addition to the classic The Nordstrom Way: The Inside Story, which this title replaces, and his book The Mom & Pop Store, he is working on a book about He is also a speaker, trainer, and consultant, who has authored articles for the three big U.S. newspapers. The coauthor, Patrick D. McCarthy was Nordstrom’s top salesman for 15 years; Patrick now applies his experience of managing a 12,000 person customer list to consulting opportunities and presentations.

The Nordstrom Way emphasizes that sales is really a customer service function—guiding the customer to make the right purchase for them, while building a lasting relationship. It provides story after story of Nordstrom employees doing outlandish things to serve the customer. When you join Nordstrom, you’re told “Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service” and that Nordstrom only has one rule: “Use good judgment in all situations” (pg. 29). From that point forward employees are encouraged to act like they own their department and their store; employees are entrepreneurs. They do everything from generating their own lead lists to starting their own personal social media channels where they recommend products. As long as an employee’s decision is about helping the customer, Nordstrom will back them. This freedom, combined with the right talent, is what makes Nordstrom so special (pgs. 45, 57). Nordstrom even shares profit with employees to emphasize their faith and trust (pgs. 57, 106).

Everything at Nordstrom is about the sales floor: Buyers have to work on the floor first and their job is to serve the sales force. And managers are promoted from within (not hired from the outside), making it so that everyone is grounded in the culture that the founders believed in (pg. 48).

At Nordstrom, mentorship is key, product knowledge is emphasized, and recognition is part of the culture (pgs. 62, 72). The entire team—from sales to tailoring to janitorial—is made part of the recognition structure (pgs. 122, 127-128). Vendors are treated like customers and customers are treated like they are the center of the universe when they’re at Nordstrom’s (pgs. 191–193). For Nordstrom employees, it’s all about the relationship; being genuine is stressed (pg. 186). The Nordstrom Way makes you love the company. You’re left with the impression that Nordstrom employees are impressive: There is even a story of a sales person deciding to buy the size a customer needed at the store across the street and then selling it to the customer for less than it cost. But in the mind of Nordstrom’s, that’s just smart business because the outstanding service means the customer returning later to spend more money.

But there is a point in reading The Nordstrom Way that you start to ask: Where’s the vulnerability? No company is perfect, so where are the mistakes? I want to learn from the mistakes as much as the successes. Nonetheless, if you’re interested in retail or are in sales, you should read The Nordstrom Way. 4 stars.


(I read this book as part of Logos Bible Software’s “Read for Cash” program. The author and/or publisher in no way influenced my review. However, the links above are affiliate links, which means I will receive a very small amount if you click them and then make a purchase.)

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