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?

Shel Israel Webinar

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

    H Zef, nterestng artcle. In ths post I’m not talkng about drvng channel sales through socal meda, t’s more about how socal helps L.L.Bean lsten to and act on ther customers’ feedback – a preexstng company goal.

    On sales, though – I thnk the artcle jumps to conclusons. The stat says that traffc referred to ecommerce stes through socal stes makes up only 2% of orders. As many comments on the artcle note, t’s a bg leap to conclude that socal meda therefore has lttle effect on purchases.

    The real value for socal s n the conversatons: connectng busnesses to ther customers, uncoverng customer nsghts busnesses can act on, connectng customers to each other to offer recommendatons. Ian dscussed ths n hs post today, I encourage you to check t out (see secton: “Must we seek out revews to be nfluenced by them?).
    http://blog.bazaarvoce.com/2011/04/29/bazaarbref-must-we-seek-out-revews-to-be-nfluenced-by-them/

    Thanks for readng!

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

    H Adam, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Haven’t read Engage yet, but t keeps comng up on stes I read… I should suggest t to the BV book club.

    Thank you for readng!

  • Adam P. Coulter

    Excellent artcle. I am currently readng @BranSols’ Engage! (updated verson) and ths pece llustrates (brngs to lfe) qute well the secton (pg.102) establshng onlne dentty and persona. It seems to me that L.L. Bean’s core values of 100% customer satsfacton and organzatonal openness nforms everythng the brand represents, and most mportantly, does onlne.

    Thank you Tara, I enjoyed and learned from ths artcle.
    @AdamPCoulter

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

    Glad you lked the post, Mkey. Thanks for stoppng by.

  • http://wildhairmedia.com Mikey Ames

    I really enjoyed ths post. Thanks for puttng the tme and effort nto t.

    I love seeng companes adapt and evolve to take advantage of the current trends.