Kristi of L.L. Bean Saves the Day!

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***Excerpted from the QBQ! companion book: Flipping the Switch

My friend, Michael DeVito, had a problem. For months, he and some friends had been planning a weekend hiking trip to the Adirondacks. The Wednesday evening before they were to go, Michael was in Chicago on business when he suddenly realized he had forgotten one very important detail: boots. The Adirondacks in March promised to be cold and wet. Michael had meant to order some new hiking boots but hadn’t gotten to it, so here he was, two days before the trip, with no boots. And he was out of town.

So from his hotel room he called L. L. Bean’s 800 number. “I don’t have a catalog with me,” he told the customer service representative who answered, “but I need a pair of boots I meant to order awhile ago. I saw them in the catalog, so I know you have them.”

The woman laughed and said, “We have more boots than I can count, sir. Let’s see if we can narrow it down a bit!” Her name was Kristi, and Michael sensed he was in good hands.

The call turned into a friendly conversation as Michael told Kristi about the trip. Together they concluded he probably wanted “cold weather” boots, which whittled the options down to a more manageable dozen or so. Michael then described every detail he could remember from the catalog, and between the two of them they pinpointed three possibilities. They were almost there. Then Kristi asked, “When did you want them?”

“To be honest with you,” Michael said, somewhat embarrassed, “I need them by Friday. The trip is this weekend.”

“Hmm,” she said. “I can’t get these out till tomorrow. So our normal two-day shipping won’t work. And we still don’t know for sure which boots you need.”

Michael was starting to lose hope.

Then Kristi saved the day. “Here’s what I’ll do,

Michael,” she said. “Tomorrow I’ll overnight you a pair of each of the three likely candidates in your size. You’ll get them Friday. Try them all on, pick out the pair you want, and then ship the others back. I’ll include a return shipment ticket, all filled out so you can just call the number to request a pickup. Meanwhile, give me your credit card number. I won’t charge anything to it until you call me Monday to tell me which ones you took on your trip. How does that sound?”

Long pause.

“Michael, are you there? Would that be all right with you?”

After a few moments of stunned silence, Michael finally responded with, “Wow!”

As Michael told me this story, I could see in his eyes that he had experienced something more than just a company that had met his needs or a person who had gone beyond all expectations. He was sharing something he could still feel—and would never forget. When I finally asked him how the camping trip went, he laughed and said, “I don’t remember. I spent the whole weekend raving to twelve guys about L. L. Bean!”

A company can’t buy that kind of advertising! And it all came from one person choosing to go beyond what was expected by doing something she did not have to do. That’s outstanding service, and it makes all the difference.

What is the #1 lesson you take from our L.L. Bean story? Do you have a story like this to share? Comment below!

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18 Responses

  1. John –

    I LOVE this story! it gets to the heart of what it means for a company to differentiate themselves from their competitors. As I work with my current company on defining and operationalizing the Customer Experience I find that many Senior Leaders cringe at the thought of empowering our frontline Service Associates to do the very thing that Kristi did at L.L. Bean. They have this misperception that our Associates will ‘give away the store’ and/or establish a precedence. Do you have any thoughts around breaking down this barrier?


    1. Brian, thanks. You have a TRUST problem there, and it won’t be resolved till management starts ask the right questions (QBQ! book) AND they begin to engage in the things outstanding organizations do! (Outstanding! book). So, buy them all some books! Thanks so much!

  2. Consistency in customer service is hard to duplicate. Only by having everyone you work for engaged and serving the customer will you get an experience for the customer that reinforces the company position on service. That way you don’t have one experience be exceptional and the next experience less than satisfying.

  3. Believe it or not I also had a great service experience. I bought a pair of their world-famous duck boots. (The ones with the rubber covering halfway up.) Instructions came with it that said the boots are over-sized to accommodate thick socks since they are not lined. So I bought some thick socks and then used them twice to shovel some snow. I was very disappointed since both time my feet were frozen. So I sent them an email complaining about my nearly-frostbitten toes. Fifteen minutes later I had a reply from a LL Bean Customer Service rep. She said that the boots were not snow boots and as such were not designed for cold weather. However since I was not happy she sent me a shipping label and advised they will take the boots back at no charge and issue a total refund. I was so impressed at the speed of their response and the “the customer is always right” attitude that I kept the boots and use them all the time except for snow. I also wrote back to LL Bean to tell them how much I was impressed by their customer service. I have since told this story to dozens of people.

  4. EXCELLENT testimony! We regularly buy from L.L. Bean, and my wife and I have enjoyed their products over the years. This testimony encourages me to check out their boots for my overnight hikes in the Smokies. Thanks for sharing.

  5. LL Bean, in my experience, has (maybe always had) a bunch of Kristi’s. I’ve commented here before about the kind of service they provide today as well as 20+ years ago. Well Done, Kristi!

  6. I’ve been a fan of LL Bean for many years. I love to visit their store in Freeport, Maine. The customer service and personal accountability is outstanding.

    I sent a copy of this blog to customer service at LL Bean.

    I am also a longtime fan of QBQ!, although personal accountability seems to be disappearing in our society. It is comforting knowing John and his team are doing their part.

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