When companies pay attention to their customers, and offer an experience on the customers’ terms, the customers pay them back. Over and over and over.
When Leon Leonwood Bean began making and selling boots in Freeport, Maine back in 1912, some customers would bring the boots back to Leon, if something wasn’t quite right. Leon always gladly accepted the returned boots, fixed them, improved them, replaced them, or gave the customers their money back.
Whatever the customer felt was fair. No questions asked.
While the business grew to become a 1.5 billion dollar outfitter with customers around the world, LL Bean has never wavered from its focus on the customer, and more specifically, the practice of doing things the way the customer wants; providing the experience that the customers asks for.
Three strategic decisions in LL Bean's history show why doing what's right by the customer, is also good for business:
1. The no-questions-asked return policy.
It's the hallmark that made LL Bean, well, LL Bean. If the customer's not happy with what they bought, refund, replace it, or fix it. Don’t hassle the customer. Make their lives easier.
2. More retail stores.
From 1915 until around 2000, LL Bean had only one retail store. Around that time, many companies began to close their brick and mortar operations to save on costs, and migrated to more on-line business. LL Bean began to do just the opposite – they opened more retail stores in the US, as well as Japan and China.
Loyal LL Bean customers loved to visit the famous retail store in Freeport, Maine. So Bean made their customers’ lives easier by bringing the retail store to the customer. They opened stores in geographic locations there were high concentrations of loyal catalog shoppers. So again, LL Bean made things better for the customers, by bringing the beloved Bean retail experience right into its customers' backyards.
3. And now, Free Shipping.
On March 25, LL Bean announced year-round, no-strings-attached free shipping. According to the Portland Press Herald, and David Fuller of LL Bean, "In research after research, the customers said, 'This is how we want to shop.'”
"Three-quarters of consumers say that they will abandon their purchase when they can't get free shipping," according to industry analyst comScore, Inc.
LL Bean responded to the customers by giving them free shipping. Of course, the financial side of Bean has its motive: an upside potential 75% more orders.
Throughout its history, LL Bean has consistently responded to its customers' desires, even if it mean doing things that were, well, the opposite of what other retailers were doing. Listening to the customer has clearly been a key to LL Bean's growth in revenue and customers over the years.
Why don’t more companies listen to their customers, and act on what they hear?