Servant Leadership Workplace-Nordstrom

Servant Leadership and Customer Service at Nordstrom

Great customer service and servant leadership are often found together.

Indeed, it seems that in business, customer service says to servant leadership,“Where you go, I will go.”

Take the case of luxury retailer Nordstrom.

Many consider Nordstrom to have a strong culture of servant leadership. By some accounts, Nordstrom originated the “inverted pyramid” approach to management, a hallmark of servant leadership in the workplace.*

Nordstrom is renowned for its customer service. Tales about Nordstrom customer service abound.

“Perhaps the most famous one — which the national press frequently cites — is the tale of the salesperson who gladly took back a set of automobile tires and gave the customer a refund. Nordstrom has never sold tires, but the story is true. In 1975, Nordstrom acquired three stores in Alaska from the Northern Commercial Company, which did sell tires. So, when the customer — who had purchased the tires from Northern Commercial — brought them back to Nordstrom, the return was accepted.” **

Servant leadership and customer service: the logic is compelling.

Servant leadership is grounded in a deep desire to serve others.*** When that desire is fulfilled within the workplace, the benefits reach all whom the business serves – customers most definitely included.

Indeed, this expression sums it up nicely:

“If you take care of your people, your people will take care of your customers and your business will take care of itself.”

What do you think? Do you see a connection between servant leadership and customer service? Got any stories to share?

As always, we appreciate your views. Thanks!

And be sure to download our latest ebook, Servant Leadership in the Workplace: A Brief Introduction. It’s free!


* For more on the inverted pyramid, check out this one: “Inverted Pyramid at The Home Depot”

Being a great place to work is another hallmark of servant leadership in the workplace. Nordstrom is a Fortune magazine “100 Best Places to Work For” Hall of Fame member. Marking Nordstrom’s 20th year on the list in 2017, Fortune writes:

“There’s only one rule employees need to follow while working at this fashion specialty retailer: ‘Use good judgment.’ People at the retail mainstay say they are ‘empowered’ to ‘run their own business’ and feel ‘trusted and respected.’ Nordstrom is ‘the most supportive company that I have ever worked for,’ says one employee.”

** Robert Spector & Patrick McCarthy, The Nordstrom Way: The Inside Story of America’s #1 Customer Service Company (New York: Wiley 1995) 26. There are many versions of this story – and to be fair, some questions about its accuracy.

*** “What Makes Servant Leadership Special?”

**** The quote is attributed to Marriott Corporation founder J.W. Marriott and, in different forms, to others including Virgin Group founder, Richard Branson.