Just over 100 years ago, Leon Leonwood Bean began what we today know as L.L.Bean, a company with one of the most well-respected reputations for outstanding customer service. But how does a company exist for over 100 years and maintain this stellar reputation, especially when it began with an utter failure of its first product? The answer is in its commitment to its customers, plain and simple.
When Mr. Bean began his business, he sold a single product: a rubber and leather hybrid hunting boot. He felt his product was so innovative that he guaranteed his customers that they would be completely satisfied with it. Unfortunately, about 90% of that first product failed out in the real world. But, when faced with the financial hardship of refunding so many purchases, Mr. Bean made the only obvious choice and stood behind his guarantee to refund each and every one of those customers. Doubling down on his commitment to both his business and his customers, he borrowed money to reinvest in bettering his product. And due to his honesty and accountability when his first attempt failed, customers returned for L.L.Bean’s products rather than running from the brand.
Over the last 100+ years, L.L.Bean has expanded to a company that does over $1.5 billion in annual sales but maintains the same steadfast commitment to its customers’ satisfaction. If a customer is ever unsatisfied with an L.L.Bean product, they can return it, no questions asked. The 100% Satisfaction Guarantee has no loopholes. If you have a shirt for 40 years that finally wears out, like one customer did, and you tell L.L.Bean that you are unsatisfied, they will offer a store credit or reimburse the original form of payment. The power of the L.L.Bean guarantee is that the company leaves the interpretation of what it means for each and every customer to be wholly satisfied completely up to each and every customer.
Beyond the financial leap of faith L.L.Bean makes on each and every transaction, L.L.Bean also has the challenge of staffing people capable of consistently delivering this extremely high level of customer service. Each customer service representative has to be able to hold the Satisfaction Guarantee above any and all personal opinions of the fairness of any refund. Representatives must never inject any emotion or judgement on any transaction beyond being utterly polite and accommodating. Every representative must go out of their way to make each refund the best for each customer. In every case, the representative must be wholly on the side of the customer, not L.L.Bean as they are there to serve L.L.Bean’s customers, plainly and simply.
Thus, L.L.Bean carefully vets who they place into their customer service department. They look for people who are cheerful and can separate their private feelings from their professional interactions. They know that it takes a special person to be able to embody Mr. Bean’s level of commitment to his customers day in and day out, but they find them, treat then with the same level of respect their customers enjoy, and they retain these employees for decades.
A company like L.L.Bean and its success in business, in customer satisfaction, and in employee retention shows us that we cannot go wrong when we fully commit our companies to being the very best. By starting with a rock solid commitment to our customers, we too can build a legacy.