May 10, 2011

Eucalyptus, a Camera, and Customer Service

Seems like lately everybody's talking about the importance of excellent customer service. Whether you're selling online as Joe and I are, at shows and fairs, or in brick and mortar shops, building a loyal customer base is essential.

If you're wondering what customer service has to do with eucalyptus and a camera, I'll tell you two stories. Both are true. I know because I was there.

Not long ago I decided that the geriatric boughs of dried eucalyptus that for years have graced an antique jug in our dining room had lost their zip. So off I trotted to the florist shop with hope in my heart and money in my pocket.

I love flowers! For me there's nothing quite like walking into a flower shop and filling my lungs with that first breath of cool fragrant air. It just makes me want to buy everything in sight.

Not that day.

The shop owner was at first too occupied with writing on her order pad to notice me. Then, in answer to my inquiry, she led me to the cool room where a few sprigs of eucalyptus peeked out from a corner. As I stepped closer to look at them, I heard the door swoosh shut behind me. The owner had gone without a word, leaving me alone, closed up in that chilly glass vault. When I managed to open the heavy door, I stomped out of that shop as fast as ... well as fast as I could stomp.

The other story.
Years ago Joe and I purchased a simple camera from the legendary Maine outfitter L.L. Bean in Freeport.

That little Olympus worked its heart out for us and preserved hundreds and hundreds of our most cherished memories. After about ten years of reliable service, it one day refused to take any more photos.

Thinking it needed only a slight adjustment, we took it to the L.L. Bean outlet in Ellsworth. No, the clerk said, she didn't think such an old camera was worth the cost of sending it away for repairs.
  • LLB: When did you buy it? 
  • Joe: Years ago.
  • LLB: How much did you pay for it? 
  • Joe: About $150.
  • LLB: Do you have the receipt? 
  • Joe: Probably not.
  • LLB: That's okay. We trust you.
After patiently looking through all the L.L. Bean catalogs, the clerk discovered that they no longer carried that model. Would we like a refund based on a similarly equipped Nikon in the current catalog? Would $175 cash be all right?

Where else on this earth could we purchase a camera, use it for ten years, completely wear it out, return it sans receipt and walk away $25 to the good?

Customer loyalty. To L.L. Bean it was worth more than the refund Joe and I came home with that day.

Now I'll give you a peek at some of the denizens of my closet.

I haven't taken a tally, but I'm guessing that at least 70% of my wardrobe, and an equal percentage of Joe's, carries that familiar, beloved label. In fact, I don't remember the last time I got dressed without donning something purchased from L.L. Bean.

Oh, and you may be wondering what happened to our ancient, bedraggled eucalyptus. I removed it from the jug, bathed it gently in cool water, dried it with care, and returned it to its rightful place in our dining room. And there it remains today, as fragrant as any flower shop might hope to be.

Customer service. It matters. Indeed it does.
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  1. What a wonderful post, Mollie! And how heartwarming to know that there are still businesses out there like L.L.Bean who know that the way to build customer loyalty is to provide excellent customer service. I'd never heard of L.L.Bean until I read this, but I'm sure going to look out for them next time I'm in the USA!

  2. GREAT POST!!!! You are a fantastic writer

  3. Thank you Erika and Bethany! I'm so glad you like it.

    Erika, here's a link ~

  4. I have had similiar excellent customer service experiences from LL Bean, they are fantastic. And, I have dry, dusty bittersweet strewn through all my home, I was thinking of replacing it, but maybe I will be better off just offering it some TLC and freshening it up a bit :) Thanks for sharing, and I agree, you are as talented a writer as you are jewelry maker and photographer! Nicely done!

  5. Fantastic post! Great to know there is still a business out there that cares!

  6. Really well-written, interesting and WONDERFUL title!! It's scary sometimes with customer service - the difference it makes and the fact that it seems so arbitrary at times...

  7. You have a fantastic way of telling a story my friend. :)

  8. You should have sneezed on the store owner when you left the florist shop!!!

  9. That is an amazing story about LLBean (my DH is a huge fan)!