Lifetime guarantee

18 months ago I got a fancy work bag as a gift.  Within a year, the little ring holding the strap to the bag broke; a few months later the second one broke.

I finally made my way to their store in Soho in New York’s West Village to see if they’d fix or replace it.  Sure, they said.  It would take about a month to repair, and would cost me $150…to replace two little metal O-rings.

If you’re from the US you probably remember, way back when, when LL Bean was famous for taking back ANYTHING and always being willing to repair it or replace it.  This was long before the web or Facebook or social media yet, despite a lot more friction around messages spreading, that story spread – like the one about the guy who had 30-year LL Bean duck boots that finally gave out, he sent them in to LL Bean, and a brand new pair arrived, no questions asked.

This contrast got me thinking about what we see when a customer takes the time and the effort to bring back something that didn’t work or disappointed her.  Sure you could think her as a cost to be minimized.  You could make sure that the clerk she speaks to doesn’t have the authority to make a call to do something to help her, and you could definitely write a policy that’s going to minimize unwanted returns from people trying to scam you.

Or you could see her as someone who cares enough about your product to come back, someone who’s ready and willing to be wowed or disappointed right at that moment, someone who may as well be holding up a sign that says, “THIS IS YOUR BIG CHANCE: turn me into an evangelist for your extraordinary service!”

So of course you show that person the door…?

I don’t care much about the bag.  But it did get me thinking about the rare opportunities we have to really keep our promises.   It’s hard to imagine, even for folks in the nonprofit space, cases where a “lifetime moneyback guarantee” wouldn’t win you legions of loyal fans who will shout your story from the rooftops.

It’s not just the right thing to do, it also will pay off handsomely in the end.

2 thoughts on “Lifetime guarantee

  1. Many years ago I had a college age daughter who was bound for her junior year abroad in Scotland. She bought a pair of boots from Nordstrom’s, a moderately high-end department store that actually started its life as a shoe store in Seattle.

    The boots fell apart almost immediately, but because she didn’t have any others or the money to replace them she wore them anyway. When she got back to the States a year later she took the boots in and explained the situation, fully expecting to be shown the door. (“Of course they’re worn out you obviously wore them for months.”) Instead, without further ado, the clerk told her to go pick out a new pair for herself, free.

    Is Nordstrom being a sucker here? Not in this particular case, obviously, but in general? All I can say is, no one in my family from that day to this would dream of buying good shoes from anyone else. I always look there first when contemplating buying a suit, a dress to wear to a wedding….they’ve made thousands of dollars from us alone with this policy. Long term thinking vs. short term thinking.

  2. Disclaimer: I work at L.L.Bean. The satisfaction guarantee hasn’t changed – still take anything back, for any reason, if the customer is not 100% satisfied.

    I have worked at a few different companies and when I joined LLBean a few years back I was wowed by the consistency of the internal and external messages. Never seen a company walk the walk like that. The 100% satisfaction guarantee is part of what L.L.Bean is to the core. It costs a pretty penny to offer that to customers, but we hope it creates customers for life. When times are tough and cost-cutting conversations come up, the Guarantee, Free Shipping, our phone reps (Maine residents, no automated service) and a few others just aren’t up for discussion. It’s fun to work for a company that is so consistent in its values.

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