The ECCO Shoes Service Mindset

Last week, I visited the US headquarters of ECCO Shoes. Before speaking with the ECCO team, I sat down with Dave Quel, President of ECCO USA, to learn more about the company’s Service Mindset initiative.  

The Ecco Shoes Service Mindset

Ryan Estis: Tell me more about the ECCO business model and challenges you’ve faced.

Dave Quel: We are one of very few shoe manufacturers who owns their entire production process — from leather to factories to finished products to retail stores. We’re the 5th-largest producer of leather in the world. We own the factories, which is highly unusual in today’s business. We have more than 21,000 employees globally, and we own the entire value chain. It’s something special that we’re proud of. We’re manufacturers first and we’re experts at production.

Because of our manufacturing capabilities, the focus has been on that part of the value chain. When making decisions that were right for manufacturing shoes, those decisions didn’t always serve the needs of the customer.

When did you realize you needed to make a change?

The straw that broke the camel’s back came when I was in New York, and one of our big department store customers told me a story about a recent order. He had ordered shoes six months earlier, and when he contacted our customer service, all he got back was an email saying that the shoes weren’t available, and they would be ready in a year. Right there, I knew that I had to do something about it.

Tell me about the Service Mindset initiative.

Our leadership team coined the phrase Customer Mindset (which we later updated to Service Mindset), and we committed to bring the idea to life in a grassroots way. We would start to talk about it and preach it, and hopefully our people would follow. We knew that change had to start with us.

First, we asked ourselves: Who are our customers? We defined the customer in terms of who we serve, whether it’s internal customers, retail stores, or end consumers.

Then, we started holding each other accountable. We knew that we couldn’t accommodate every customer request — some aren’t right for the business — but when we made a decision, we tried to do it with the customer in mind. We elevated the status of our customers.

What is the foundation of the Service Mindset?

We can never make every customer happy, but we’re going to be fair partners who treat people with respect. I’ve found myself repeating two words: responsiveness and respect.

  • Responsiveness: When I traveled with my sales team, I recognized that we weren’t always responsive to each other internally. Our systems weren’t set up to enable us to give each other quick, accurate information. So we’ve worked a lot on the back end to improve that.
  • Respect: We will have respect for each other, creating a collaborative environment. And most importantly, we will have respect for the people who are buying our shoes.

What’s the right process for rolling out a company-wide initiative like this?

Changing the culture of a company doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a journey. But culture changes when we commit to it, practice it, and stick with it at every level of the organization. When you continue to talk about it and hold each other accountable, gradually over time the organization shifts. Success for us would be if we can embed the service mindset in each other, and hold each other accountable to it.

What’s the role of leadership in driving company-wide change?

It’s walking the walk, setting the parameters, and explaining exactly what this means for all of the different people and functions in the company. We will set the playing field and lead by example.

As a leader of a complex, growing company, what’s your best leadership advice?

I’ve found that I do the best work when I’m in an environment where I feel empowered — when I’m given the latitude to make a mistake, learn from it, and go out and try new things. And that’s exactly what we try to do at ECCO USA.

(Prior to my engagement last week, I was gifted a pair of ECCO shoes. They are hands down the lightest, most comfortable dress shoes I have ever owned.)

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