In her recent Globe and Mail article Marina Strauss did her usual great job covering the impact, real and imagined, on Canadian retail as more U.S. operators prepare to enter the market.

Nordstrom’s legendary customer service was illustrated by the story of an associate who drove 200 kilometers to return a customer’s bag as she boarded a plane.  A spokeswoman confirmed the company’s employee handbook consists of just a single sheet of paper.  One side welcomes staff, the other says “Use your best judgment.”

As a native New Yorker and career retail operator/consultant, I can tell you that Americans have no monopoly on great service.  Just like everywhere else, when it works it really works.  And it seems that more and more it doesn’t.

Canadian retailers’ low customer service rankings are the symptoms – not the problems – and the reported “steps” they are taking aren’t the solutions, but they are revealing.  “Running more surveys”, “hiring mystery shoppers to monitor the performance of staff”, “trying to reshape hiring policies” and “relaxing return policies” are all investor and public relations sound bites.  Holt Renfrew is “training its commissioned sales staff to be adept at selling” and “encouraging our sales people to move through the store to meet more people, which creates a more welcoming environment.”

This is retail folks.  If you have to “train” and “encourage” your people to “meet” customers you’ve got the wrong people – in the boardroom and the break room.

I work with retailers big and small, on both sides of the border who share my belief in “People, Sales, Profits” and value their associates and customers as their most prized assets.  Store centric leadership is essential to develop operationally sound plans that connect the dots across all functions to elevate the retail experience – on both sides of the counter – to gain (maintain) market share and deliver sustainable growth in sales and profits.

There are great Canadian retailers who get it; Longo’s, MAC Cosmetics, Aritizia, lululemon, and there are U.S. brands that operate better in Canada; Staples, Costco, The Children’s Place.  It can be done.

Use your best judgement.