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!