Tuesday June 4, 2013

Hard Edges- Offending the Majority, to Thwart the Outlier?

Raving Fans, by Ken Blanchard is one of my favorite business books of all time. I first read the book almost 10 years ago, and have used it as a customer experience primer in the businesses I’ve started, over and over again.

One rarely-mentioned passage in particular, really struck a chord with me and informs my consulting to this day.

In the book, the two main characters visit a legendary department store (might as well be Nordstroms). While touring the store, the main character in the story comments flippantly on a changing room sign that says, “Bring as many items in to try on as you’d like. No limit.”

“Man, my wife would love that, she always finds the ’3 item limit’ annoying, but aren’t they just asking for shoplifters?”

The CEO of the store chain overheard and responded, “One customer out of a thousand steals something in a dressing room…do we offend the other 999 customers? The crook will simply find another way to steal. No one ever seems to compute the cost of offending so many customers to slow down one crook. Dressing room limits are a blatant example of abusing customers”.

One of the first things I look for when I’m consulting, are hard edges. Hard edges are those policies or procedures companies put in place, that employees are asked to abide by regardless of circumstance.

Most of the time, hard edges are put in place shortly after a company experiences an unexpected loss. “This can never happen again” is common language that precedes the creation of hard edges.

And more often than not, the math is no different than that fictional department store. A new requirement, boundary, limitation or inconvenience for 99.9% of your customers, thanks to the bad behavior of 1.

Nordstrom has an interesting approach to policies and procedures. Their employee handbook fits on a 5×8 card and contains 75 words:

Welcome to Nordstrom
We’re glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.
Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.
Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.

Nordstrom’s customer experience and resulting success are legendary of course. But what would it look like for you to restyle your business to be more customer-centric?

I’ll leave you with a few questions I’ve found helpful:

  • Do you have any rules or restrictions that are based on mistrust or fear? Do the numbers actually support that fear?
  • Do you have any policies that pit your employee against your customer- Do your employees ever have to choose between obeying the rules and satisfying the (reasonable/honest) customer?
  • Do you have procedures in place that were put there to save money or time for the company, but ultimately create more inconvenience or hassle for your customer?

How have you made your business more customer centric? Was there a payoff? What were the short term consequences?


Chris Nordyke is an integrated marketer and strategy consultant. He works with owners and senior business leaders to transform and grow service companies via a unique holistic approach that drives referral business and client retention. Click here to schedule a complimentary consult with Chris.


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