At my company’s annual General Manager meeting a few weeks ago, our keynote speaker was Seattle and retailing icon, Pete Nordstrom, the CEO of Nordstrom Department Store. Our company president invited him to spend some time talking to us about the importance of customer service and to share some stories about their successful history.
Being a former department store retailer myself and having attended many similar company meetings while I was with The Bon Marche’/Macy’s, I was in very familiar territory as he told story after story about Nordstrom and the retail business.
However, what I found most interesting during his conversation with us was how they went through the process of discovering why their famous customer service rankings were slipping each year even while their sales associates continued to do the same amazing customer service activities.
He explained that after a lot of trial and error along with a lot of research, they ultimately learned that the definition of customer service/expectation had changed. Their customers no longer considered the way Nordstrom was providing great customer service was as exceptional as they used to. This changed expectation was causing their service survey scores to slip lower and lower each year.
What the heck was going on?
Well, it was because of another Seattle retail icon, Amazon.
The employee empowerment, personal attention, and humbleness Nordstrom associates were famous for providing their customers was no longer enough. In addition, they learned that the added extra steps in the way their associates approach customers and how they close sales by pushing Nordstrom credit cards, donating to a charity, etc., were not helping with their customers perception and expectation of exceptional customer service. All these things added to the amount of time and frustration to a customer during what should be a simple sales transaction.
The new expectation set by Amazon has become one of speedy and efficient service. Customers now expect to be able to quickly find an item, any item, online while sitting in their living room, click a button and expect it to be delivered within one or two days. And even get regular notifications as to where the item is at any given time as it’s being shipped.
As a result of their findings, Nordstrom made a number of fundamental changes to the way their sales associates provide customer service and as a result, their scores are improving.
Welcome to the new expected level of exceptional customer service.
How does this apply to HR?
HR needs to keep abreast of current expectations. What defined good CS just a few years ago has changed.
Similarly to people’s expectation to speedy and efficient service when they are shopping, these same people, as employees, have an equally high level of expectation for quick & efficient, accurate, and cheerful service from HR.
Quick and Efficient – This means we must respond to our emails from the employees we serve within 24 hours, return their phone calls the same day (yes the same day), and respond to their texts within a couple hours. Probably a tall order for most of us but it must be a priority.
Accurate – We must also ensure that our advice and recommendations are appropriate to the situation and the needs of the business. We must build a high level of confidence with our employees and leadership that we are competent professionals.
Cheerful – Yes seriously (haha). Being cheerful means being pleasant, friendly, and positive. I know that can be difficult with all the “stuff” that we deal with all day long but, again, to be taken seriously as an effective professional, our approachability and demeanor are critically important. We want our employees and leadership to feel comfortable approaching us for strategic advice, employee relations concerns, etc.
As an HR Professional and your HR Department, if you want to be taken seriously within your organization and become a valuable business partner, you’ll need to make the extra effort to provide this new expectation of quick & efficient, accurate, and cheerful service.
If you’re thinking there’s no way I/we can do this, then you won’t and you’ll forever be stuck in the annex along with Toby of The Office whining about not having that elusive “seat at the table”.
If, on the other hand, you are thinking yeah we can and need to do this, and you’re willing to put in the hard work that it will take to make it part of the daily workflow and routine, you’ll earn the respect of your employees and leadership and have a much better chance of earning that seat.
I believe that, because HR serves the organization’s employees and leadership, it is imperative that the members of the HR Team provide exceptional customer service to those employees and leaders.
Regrettably, I don’t think this is common in most HR Departments.
Those of us who are working on developing HR 2.0, however, are making sure that exceptional customer service is the mission and culture of our HR Department.