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Monday, October 26, 2009

Two Great Corporate Cultures

Most recently I blew off some steam about a problem my wife and I had with Sears, Nordic Track and a third company whose name I don't even know. Since then, we visited our newly married daughter and new son-in-law in St. Louis this past weekend and they were sharing their frustration concerning their brand new, inoperative refrigerator that they had bought from-- guess where? Sears, of course. And the story was eerily similar.

All this got me to thinking about how it must be that Sears had dropped a refrigerator ball in St. Louis and a tread mill ball in Indianapolis for the same family in the same couple of weeks. And the answer came to me. Somehow, Sears has gotten its SERVICE CULTURE in this area all messed up. I understand that Nordic Track knows more about the machines than Sears does. But the company that SELLS you a product should stand behind it and not pawn it off on a third party delivery partner and then expect the customer to do all the legwork when the product doesn't work. And Nordic Track needs to work on its service reps' telephone skills!

I recommend that the folks in charge of customer service for Sears check out two of my favorite books on Customer Service Culture. These books feature two of my favorite companies-- Nordstrom and Southwest Airlines.

THE NORDSTROM WAY by Robert Spector and Patrick McCarthy is subtitled "A Handbook for Implementing Great Service in Your Organization". It begins with an exhortation by a Nordstrom Exec concerning culture: "You can't TEACH culture. You have to LIVE it. You have to EXPERIENCE it. You have to SHARE it. You have to SHOW it" (p. 3).

The book also shares one of my favorite business concepts-- Nordstrom's INVERTED organizational pyramid (p. 124). Suffice it to say that this organizational pyramid puts customers at the top, those who serve them next to the top and the Chairman and the Board at the bottom. Somehow Sears' handling of our tread mill purchase and my daughter's refrigerator purchase didn't make us feel like we were at the top of the Sears chart.

Finally, Chapter 7 is entitled "DUMP THE RULES" and quotes former co-Chairman James Nordstrom on rules: "The minute you come up with a rule, you give an employee a reason to say no to a customer. That's the reason we hate rules." I LOVE THIS!

Southwest Airlines has a great culture that, like Nordstrom, puts customers and employees first. There are two books about Southwest and I recommend them both. The founder, Herb Kelleher, wrote NUTS several years ago. It's a terrific read on culture. That was followed more recently with DO THE RIGHT THING by Kelleher's successor, Robert Parker.

Like Nordstrom, whose overriding rule is "Use good judgmnent in all situations," Southwest has one basic rule, emphasized on page 3 of the new book. "When in doubt, just do the right thing." Southwest tries to do this with their employees and their employees try to do it with the customers. The chapter on how the company treated employees and employees treated customers the week of 0911 is a textbook example of how this works and it might bring tears to your eyes.

Chapter 20 is entitled "Interview for Attitude." The Nordic Track employee I described as "less than empathetic" in my last entry was NOT interviewed for attitude OR somehow his employer RUINED his attitude. Either way, it's not good!

I recommend EVERYONE who cares about his/ her company's service start with these two books-- and don't stop there! Sears and Nordic Track-- you could use these books and more. You have great products and great track records but your culture is breaking down in this former customer's eyes!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sears and Nordic Track/ Process over People

It all started when my wife Rita bought me a Nordic Track tread mill at Sears in Castleton Square. That was Valentine's Day, 2002. Great product. It worked until we decided not to renew the service contract. That's when the frustration began. Two weeks ago (September 30), the tread mill expired.

After several calls to the Sears store, it was determined that we'd have to call Nordic Track. Frustrastion began to build when Sears' computer generated phone system gave us one choice-- the "Fitness Department" and it took several calls with lengthy waits to get anyone to pick up. Bad system to start. It got worse.

When we finally got a human, we were given a toll free number for Nordic Track, who is supposed to service the equipment. I hoped to get the original tread mill repaired. I was told by a less-than-empathetic Nordic Track person that it would cost $155 for a service call (since I was no longer under warranty); THAT THE SERVICE REP. WOULD GIVE ME A NUMBER AND I'D HAVE TO CALL IN THE PARTS ORDER MYSELF; and that it would be another $55 to come back and install whatever. I understood.

My wife and I decided to go back to Sears and get another tread mill, which we did on Saturday and Sunday, October 3 and 4. Sears agreed to deliver and install the tread mill on Thursday, October 8.

I found out on the 8th that Sears contracted yet a third company to deliver and install new Nordic Track equipment. When the delivery team arrived at the very end of the two hour window, they installed the tread mill but it was defective. Either that or the installers didn't know how to do it. The main guy called Sears, put me on the phone with them, then bolted, saying he was late for the next delivery. You guessed it. After he'd left, the Sears Service Rep. informed me I'd have to go through Nordic Track, left me a number and left me hanging.

We tried calling Sears to talk to our salesman but, again, no one in "Fitness" answered several calls. Checkmate! Rita, sensing my utter frustration, took over. Abandoning the effort to reach "Fitness", she asked for the Business Office . No answer. So she called back and asked for the Store Manager (it was 8:00 P.M.). She got a recording but left him a fairly caustic message.

Finally, today (October 14) the people that Sears contracts showed up with a new machine (not the same crew as before) and the tread mill is installed, one week after it was supposed to have been.

Rita's message to the Store Manager said, in part, "We have almost $1100 on our Sears charge with a faulty piece of equipment in our home. We've dealt with Sears, Nordic Track and whatever company you contract. We can't talk to anyone at Sears. I don't usually get angry. Stuff happens. But boy, am I irritated!"

Have you had it up to here with this type of service? If so, let me know about it by replying to this blog. It's time We the Customers fight back!

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