Since the brand’s first product, L.L.Bean (a Bazaarvoice client) has been committed to listening to their customers and delivering superior satisfaction. In his talk at our Social Commerce Summit, Senior Vice President and CMO Steve Fuller shared the brand’s history of customer-centricity – and one of the best examples we’ve seen of a company using social to achieve real, pre-existing company goals.

An outdoorsman, L. L. Bean designed a hunting boot in 1912, and sold 100 pairs. When 90 customers came back with leaks, Bean refunded their money, borrowed more money from investors, and made the boot better. This led to the company’s guarantee, still alive today: “Our products are guaranteed to give 100% satisfaction in every way.” Their customers determine what the guarantee policy means, using their own, subjective definition of “satisfaction.”

It’s hard to overstate how central customer satisfaction has been to the retailer since. In 1936, the brand let customers know that their feedback on products – favorable or unfavorable – was welcome and appreciated. Sixty-two years later in 2008, the company launched customer reviews, and now has over 300,000 reviews on site. “In 2010, we sent out over eight million outbound requests for feedback,” says Steve.  “It’s important to know what our customers are thinking.”

L.L.Bean uses social to do what they’ve been doing for decades even better – listening to and acting on customer feedback. Here are three lessons Steve shared from L.L.Bean’s use of social.

1. Visibility of feedback – internally and externally – matters

When L.L. Bean first got reviews, they felt this valuable feedback was stuck at the bottom of their organization. To really be customer-centric, the team thought, the entire organization needed to hear what their customers were saying. Now, the team distributes feedback reports across the company every Monday, summarizing ratings by category, trends, etc. They also do a “Winners and Losers” report every Thursday, with the top- and lowest-rated products of the week. If an item starts showing up consistently, it gets noticed.

To make feedback visible to as many shoppers as possible, L.L.Bean pushes customer words well beyond the brand site. “Our number one non-sale email had a customer-written headline: ‘Is it really wrong to love a doormat,’” Steve says. The retailer even uses reviews in-store. For example, they installed a large digital display panel in a wall of hiking shoes. When a customer brings a boot to the panel, the panel recognizes the boot by its RFID chip, and instantly displays reviews from real product owners.

2. The obvious answer is not always the right answer

Steve emphasized the importance of digging into customer feedback to find the underlying insights and trends – which aren’t always the obvious answer, he says.  When customers indicated their desire to see shipping costs earlier in the order process, L.L.Bean wanted to act on the feedback. They redesigned their online shopping bag in 2009, making these costs immediately visible.

But customers were still not satisfied with the change – complaints about high shipping costs nearly doubled, and abandonment went up. The retailer realized the original complaints weren’t really about the shopping bag, they were about the high cost of shipping. L.L.Bean now advertises free shipping on all orders, based on customer request.

3. Conversation is just a means to an end

“There’s value in these conversations, but if you’re not acting upon them, you’re missing it,” says Steve. “The real power is in the action that you take and the change that they can facilitate.” Every one- or two-star review on llbean.com is distributed to product managers daily. If the product has fewer than six poor reviews, the product manager must respond. Was there copy confusion? Are there signs of a potential product flaw? Would another product better meet the reviewer’s needs? Product managers take appropriate action based on the review, thank the customer for their feedback, and reinforce the satisfaction guarantee.

If the product has more than six negative reviews, the manager must consider removing the item from the product line. Is there redeeming value to the product, or something L.L.Bean could do to better describe it or improve it? If not, the retailer takes decisive action to stay committed to satisfaction: liquidating the product, donating it to charity, or in extreme cases (when the product is deemed unfit to wear the L.L.Bean brand), destroying it.

Social at L.L.Bean isn’t a shiny afterthought, tacked on to stay relevant and competitive. The company uses social to stay faithful to their guarantee – 100% customer satisfaction.

What promise does social help your brand keep?

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  • http://twitter.com/txTDM Tara DeMarco

    Hi Zief, interesting article. In this post I’m not talking about driving channel sales through social media, it’s more about how social helps L.L.Bean listen to and act on their customers’ feedback – a preexisting company goal.

    On sales, though – I think the article jumps to conclusions. The stat says that traffic referred to ecommerce sites through social sites makes up only 2% of orders. As many comments on the article note, it’s a big leap to conclude that social media therefore has little effect on purchases.

    The real value for social is in the conversations: connecting businesses to their customers, uncovering customer insights businesses can act on, connecting customers to each other to offer recommendations. Ian discussed this in his post today, I encourage you to check it out (see section: “Must we seek out reviews to be influenced by them?).
    http://blog.bazaarvoice.com/2011/04/29/bazaarbrief-must-we-seek-out-reviews-to-be-influenced-by-them/

    Thanks for reading!

  • http://twitter.com/txTDM Tara DeMarco

    Hi Adam, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Haven’t read Engage yet, but it keeps coming up on sites I read… I should suggest it to the BV book club.

    Thank you for reading!

  • Adam P. Coulter

    Excellent article. I am currently reading @BrianSolis’ Engage! (updated version) and this piece illustrates (brings to life) quite well the section (pg.102) establishing online identity and persona. It seems to me that L.L. Bean’s core values of 100% customer satisfaction and organizational openness informs everything the brand represents, and most importantly, does online.

    Thank you Tara, I enjoyed and learned from this article.
    @AdamPCoulter

  • http://twitter.com/txTDM Tara DeMarco

    Glad you liked the post, Mikey. Thanks for stopping by.

  • http://wildhairmedia.com Mikey Ames

    I really enjoyed this post. Thanks for putting the time and effort into it.

    I love seeing companies adapt and evolve to take advantage of the current trends.