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The Nordstrom Example versus Indian Customer Service

Beas Paul Chowdhury | January 30, 2022

Indian customer service levels are deplorable. It would bode well for Indian business to follow examples that epitomise higher services ideals. 

The Nordstrom Example versus Indian Customer Service

In 1901, a Swedish immigrant in the US opened a shoe store. With humble beginnings, Nordstrom is today a chain of luxury departmental stores, with a presence in Canada and Puerto Rico too.

The organisation is headquartered in Seattle, US, and it had registered a net profit of US$564 million in 2018. This feat ensured that for the 25th consecutive year, the company was listed in the Forbes 500 segment. It is one of the most successful retail businesses ever.

When one looks at this organisation’s success, there is one major highlight – Nordstrom’s legendary customer service. In fact, Nordstrom has become synonymous with the term ‘good customer service’.

There are several accounts of Nordstrom employees going out of their way to assist or to simply keep their customers happy.

It isn’t a stroke of good fortune or smart advertising that has made the company a byword for quality customer service. Rather, a sustained policy of training and upgrading its employees in the latest industry trends, behavioural patterns and professional etiquette that have resulted in phenomenal customer retention.

Key pillars that have led to its success

Nordstrom’s employees are fully empowered to take decisions they feel are appropriate under a given set of circumstances. The first thing that Nordstrom employees learn during training is to “use best judgment in all situations”.

The management respects and understands the fact that no one can understand customers better than the employees who actually interact with them. Good manners and etiquette become their second nature — attributes that are cultivated and not forced.

If you visit one of their stores and ask help in finding a product, chances are slim that their employee will point a finger in a particular direction and say, “Over there, ma’am.” He or she will rather say, “Let me show you where you can find it” and walk you to the exact shelf or counter where you can find what you are looking for. They are taught to walk your bagged purchase around the counter to you instead of just handing it across the counter. Rethinking “business as usual” has allowed Nordstrom to break away from the pack.

Of course, it is true that this company has not grown simply by virtue of good manners. They have aggressively invested in building systems and processes, they are big on targeting the millennials, and they are gradually turning into an omni-channel purchase platform where you can make purchases even through social media sites. Making the shopping experience unique at Nordstrom stores is their customer service that treats you like royalty without being vulgar or fake.

Indian businesses need major catching up

The scenario in India, in comparison, has a lot to catch up with. Most sales persons in India believe their job is limited to the products they sell. They do not know they are also expected to sell a service that will win their customers’ trust. Not too long ago, a relative visited a chain store owned by a popular Indian retail brand. He wanted to purchase some red rice. When he approached the salesperson at the particular section, he was told they would look it up for him. Meanwhile, he was asked to take a look around the store and return to the section after half an hour. This seemed fair to the shopper.

When the customer did return, there was a different salesperson at the counter who had absolutely no idea about what had happened half an hour ago. He promptly denied that the store had any stock of red rice. But the relative in question was not one to be deterred. He personally went over to the sections where rice and lentils were stocked and began scanning the lower shelves. To his relief, there were multiple 500 gram packets of this exotic rice. When he produced these packets in front of the sales person, the reaction was just an, “Oh”. No apologies were offered there was no attempt made to try and make up for the incompetence.

The Indian customer is used to such indifferent treatment. He or she has grown immune to such services; they have grown used to ‘the system’. Meanwhile, Warren Buffet, had famously said, “Delight the customer!” An age-old Sanskrit saying goes, “atithi devo bhava” — meaning “a visitor to one’s home is like God”. But whether this maxim is followed in its true spirit is anyone’s guess. This is possibly the reason why India receives relatively low international tourist arrivals. In fact, it is lower than the numbers registered in the tiny island nation of Singapore.

To place into perspective, there were an estimated 18 million international visitors to India, in 2019. In comparison, Singapore welcomed 19 million guests; their spending clocked a massive US$27 billion.

Customer service levels in India demand a serious rethink. For its economy to mature, building its services sector cannot be overlooked. More importantly, its youth must learn basic niceties and inculcate an attitude that leads to higher customer service levels. Businesses, on their part, must consider periodic investments in training their staff and making sure they are striving towards global standards.


Beas Paul Chowdhury

Beas is an educator and mother to an adorable daughter. She loves travelling, food, beautiful cozy spaces and a good story. Beas is the Deputy Director at Father Leblond School, located near Siliguri, West Bengal.

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