Though the economy appears to be improving, providing great value remains critical. A big part of that value proposition is customer service. Now more than ever, providing top-notch customer service is a must. One of the keys to creating service that customers talk about is innovation. In this issue of Success Strategies, I want to share some exceptional examples of customer service innovation from the past.

1901- The first Nordstrom’s opened as a shoe store. From the start they built a reputation for excellent customer service, which allowed them to quickly expand. For years Nordstrom’s provided new employees with a handbook on a single 5×8 card, that was brief and included the words “Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.” This “employee handbook” placed value and emphasis on the employees’ ability to make the right decisions rather than the managers, which helped employees to go the extra mile when meeting customers’ needs. They put the employee first.

1907- Amica Insurance started as a small auto insurance company by Adolph T. Vigneron, a businessman who foresaw the impact of the automobile (the Model-T began production in 1908). One core principle that he embedded in the company’s culture was to show customers the utmost respect by treating them with the best possible customer service. As the company has grown this principle has remained ingrained in the company’s culture. Things like checking in on each customer they haven’t heard from after a bad storm has made clients feel more like a valued family member. Because of the company’s excellent customer service, they have always depended on word of mouth advertising. The company’s growth has been based almost entirely on word of mouth. It wasn’t until 1998 that they first advertised.

1922– Edward D. Jones’ son “Ted” Jones created an “individual branch network” system to provide financial services that quickly spread through rural communities. This system involved small branches with only one broker in each office. It allowed Edward Jones to open branches in towns where opening up a large financial advisory firm would be unprofitable. It has also enabled these brokers to build close-knit relationships with clients in small intimate office settings.

1948– McDonald’s introduced the “Speedee Service System” which laid the foundation for modern fast food by streamlining food preparation and serving. In 1975 McDonald’s opened it’s first drive thru. McDonald’s has always been innovative in its efforts to get customers their food as fast as possible.

1967– Southwest Airlines is well-known for their efforts to promote communication among different groups of employees to offer better service to it’s customers. At the suggestion of an employee, the airline implemented a system that allowed employees to use color-coded signals when they needed help from other employees at the gates. This helped streamline the boarding process and it is an innovation that likely would not have happened without managers listening to employees. Southwest is also notable in that it is the first major airline to create a system of “ticketless travel” which allows you to swipe your credit card and get your ticket in a machine, as well as the first to create a website that allowed customers to learn more about Southwest’s services and routes.

Interesting history.

Lynn Daniel

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