Happy Customers, Happy Employees, Happy Brand

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Dan Pallotta wrote a noteworthy entry, titled “A Logo Is Not a Brand,” which examines the importance of one’s brand beyond the logo, ads, and celebrity sponsors. As part of his piece, Pallotta refers to the implications customer service can have on a brand, for better or worse: “If the clerk at your checkout counter is admiring her nails and talking on her cell phone, she’s your brand, whether she’s wearing one of the nice new logo caps you bought or not.” 

It’s no surprise that customer-facing roles relate directly to patrons’ experience and subsequent feelings about an organization. Typically, those with mediocre service remain unmentioned, and companies with the best and worst reviews can be sure they’re being talked about. At the top, two companies come to mind that excel at all aspects of the consumer experience: Zappos and Nordstrom. Although these two entities use varying tactics to maintain exceptional customer relations, their philosophies are quite similar:  strong customer satisfaction is key, trusting your employees is essential, and structured company policies are for the birds. 

As depicted in a 2005 BusinessWeek article, it is apparent that Zappos recognizes the positive effects that result from creating a culture of customer centricity and taking care of its employees. Customers enjoy free shipping and repeat customers are rewarded for their loyalty by receiving free overnight or second-day delivery.

Zappos achieves outstanding satisfaction ratings by ingraining the concept of customer devotion companywide. Every new hire, from warehouse worker to HR manager, begins his or her employment with customer service training. Even CEO, Tony Hsieh, can be seen in the call center over the holiday surge. Zappos’ extensive employee training initiatives may be pricey, but the direct and indirect benefits justify the costs; customers are happy and the Zappos brand receives positive word-of-mouth endorsements.

Employees enjoy a few perks as well, including 100% company-paid health insurance premiums and free lunch every day.

You know your customer service has reached a premium level status when CEOs of other large retailers are striving to be like you. Former Wal-Mart Chairman and CEO David D. Glass states, “Outstanding customer service and Nordstrom are synonymous. Their standards of excellence are what we all shoot for.”

The department store’s keys to success are described in the 2005 book “The Nordstrom Way to Customer Service Excellence: A Handbook for Implementing Great Service in Your Organization.” In the book, Nordstrom discusses its view on talent acquisition, which includes hiring personable people that enjoy working with others and fulfilling clients’ needs. Once hired, Nordstrom ensures employees feel valued, trusted, and respected. The company gives employees freedom to use their discretion with any situation to achieve Nordstrom’s primary goal of outstanding customer service. Even Nordstrom’s employee handbook signifies their philosophy. Printed on a notecard, the 75-word policy manual states that there is only one rule: Use best judgment in all situations.

Given the aforementioned cases, it’s clear that customer centricity coupled with employee empowerment can fuel a company’s success for years to come. It all begins with hiring the right people, trusting their abilities to meet your number one goal, and communicating how much you value their impact to your brand, and your bottomline.