Catching Up to Nordstrom—Deliver Member Delight


Nordstrom is famous for their return policy. They’ll accept an item that may not even be from their store. For this courtesy, they have gained a die-hard fan base.

Before Netflix was an idea, Nordstrom knew a thing or two about the value of personalized service. Since 1901, the company has been committed to providing a fabulous customer experience by empowering customers and the employees who serve them.

Fulfilling that goal included the early adaptation of integrated digital strategies. In the 1990s, Nordstrom was already investing in online solutions that would help their employees deliver better service. By 2014, Nordstrom had equipped sales staff with personal book software that allowed them to track individual customer’s online activity.

Today, when its competitors, Neiman Marcus and Barneys are bankrupt and many other retailers are struggling, Nordstrom is boldly reinventing its business model. The company plans to grow its online product selection to 20 times more than what is available in-store.

Keeping up with customers has kept Nordstrom up to speed with digital markets. The company is innovative, adaptive, and attentive to business trends. These qualities are not an end in themselves, they are the means to a deep understanding of customer preferences and habits–In other words, discovering what their shoppers value.

Identify Value

This customer-centric approach costs nothing to adopt and has the potential to maximize returns on investment. .orgSource Senior Consultant, Amy Williams, advises our clients that, “In the coming year, the focus MUST be on delivering value to members and nonmembers. If you aren’t sure what your constituents want to learn, see, or do, monitor comments online, review your website and email analytics, or distribute a short survey.”

Amy’s comments were made in the context of the uncertain economic picture for 2023. The current inflation coupled with possible recession means that budgets will be leaner. Fortunately, a value-oriented experience doesn’t depend solely on deep pockets. However, it does require ongoing commitment.

Consumers are fickle. Their preferences change quickly. Because associations are organized around a common purpose, there is a tendency to think of members as a monolith, and only secondarily as individuals. Great experiences don’t happen without reversing that perspective.

Yes, the group may all be dermatologists, but that doesn’t mean that every dermatologist’s favorite color is blue. Members’ loyalty must be won, over and over again, on an individual basis. However, if the blue scrubs are top sellers, you’ll need to learn why.

Respect the Data

To discover the reasons for blue scrubs stellar sales, you’ll need a solid tech stack coupled with robust analytics, empathy, communication skills, and a good dose of common sense. Data sits at the intersection of those digital and human qualifications.

If the blue scrubs are best sellers, you’ll need to discover why?

Associations are the envy of the nonprofit world for the treasure trove of data they collect and store. Other organizations pay researchers hefty sums to mine that gold. Frequently, the information they buy isn’t accurate or up to date. Members willingly share their demographics and preferences with their organizations. It’s up to us to watch, understand, respond to what they are saying, and to keep the data they provide timely and error-free.

This scrutiny can’t be a solitary activity. A single employee in the membership department, who reviews a dashboard once a month, is not going to create member delight. Everyone, from the receptionist to the CEO, needs to learn to love their data and to have a path to act on the knowledge it reveals.

Empower the Team

That path to action is often the missing link. Sharon Rice, .orgSource Managing Director of Business Strategy observes, “Most associations are still working off an analog model. They may digitally deliver products, but those offerings have more in common with physical items. In contrast with the way that data platform business models like Facebook, Amazon, and Google constantly evolve based on customer feedback, they are static. I think moving toward the goal of a portfolio that reflects changing consumer demand is the future of associations.”

Empowering your team to initiate new programs or tweak current services is probably the most challenging aspect of becoming that customer-centric association. You might need to realign responsibilities or even rethink your organizational structure. On the other hand, the solution could be as simple as making time at team meetings for people to discuss and brainstorm their data and giving employees greater agency to manage their departments.

Encouraging employees to be entrepreneurial is taking a page from Nordstrom’s playbook. Mary Porter, a Nordstrom’s Director of Human Resources, described the company’s view on employee initiative like this.

“Every Nordstrom employee (whether they work on the sales floor or in a support position) is focused on making people feel good, and our culture is centered on creating an environment where our people feel supported and empowered to do just that. We encourage our employees to work as though it’s their name on the door – to build their own business and do what they feel is right to build lasting relationships with their customers.”

Make It Easy

The American Board of Medical Specialties is an example of an association that redesigned a major initiative with the goal of improving life and work for members. At .orgCommunity’s recent Innovation Summit, Jennifer Michael, Chief Operating Officer, explained how the group retooled certification initiatives to develop new markets and make continuing education increasingly relevant and accessible for current members.

The organization’s mission is to serve the public and the medical profession by improving the quality of health care through setting professional standards for lifelong certification in partnership with member boards. ABMS works with 24 member boards that are separate entities.

Traveling to an examination center was disruptive.

Based on their data, the group realized that the ten-year recertification exam posed significant drawbacks for ABMS members. Traveling to an examination center was disruptive to their practices and family lives. The test sometimes included questions that weren’t relevant to their specialty areas. And, because the test score wasn’t supplemented by analytics, the experience did not offer a path to improved competency or learning.

The association wanted to create a more user-friendly process. Their goals were to provide ongoing CE, offer physicians feedback on strengths and weaknesses, and fit more seamlessly into their lifestyle, all at a lower cost.

“We hoped to emphasize learning to close the knowledge gaps,” Jennifer observed. “The product provides immediate detailed critiques and rationales. And there’s a dashboard that highlights individual areas for improvement and compares results to other participants.”

The platform already has 35,000 users. When ABMS surveyed the group, the product satisfaction level was 90 percent. The results signal success within their community, and ABMS is now investigating how to expand into a greater continuing education market.

Focus on Delight

Technology played a significant role in making ABMS’s certification process a member-friendly initiative. But the driver of this success story is the human skill to listen to the market and adapt, a talent that Nordstrom has been practicing for decades.

No matter what you do this year, whether your goals involve education, services, or products, let the focus be on delivering member delight. Whether disruption or smooth sailing is on your horizon, happy members are the prerequisite for ongoing success.

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