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L.L.Bean and Dale Carnegie

Reading Dom Burch in The Drum last week it hit me that his article on L.L.Bean sounded pretty familiar.

When I applied for a job with Buffer one of the entry criteria was having read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. I’m still re-reading the book. Not only is there so much in it I still have to learn, but there’s even more I want to put into practice. So where’s the link between Carnegie and L.L.Bean?

It’s all about the customer service.

It isn’t just the excellent guarantee that stands out– and which seems to a Brit much like John Lewis’ service and reputation. It’s also that L.L.Bean display an attitude towards customers that sets them apart. When they say “100% Satisfaction Guarantee” they mean it.

Dom gives a good description of L.L.Bean’s long history with customer service. I’d recommend heading over to the original article for a little food for thought.

And here are the three sections of Carnegie’s manual that feel inextricably linked to the L.L.Bean approach:

Principle 1
The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.

As Dom writes, L.L.Bean’s code states ‘A customer is not someone to argue or match wits with. Nobody ever won an argument with a customer.’

Yes, you might win the argument. But what have you won? Your customer is unhappy for a reason and no amount of telling them they’re wrong will improve things. Listen to them. Try to find common ground. Promise to reflect on what they’ve told you – see this for what it is: an opportunity to learn.

Principle 3
If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.

There’s such an emphasis out there on confidence, on not looking weak, on not giving ground. When we actually do admit our own fallibility it’s so much easier to relate to others and gain trust. We’ve all made mistakes and admitting to them only helps make us more human. When it comes to customer service it’s not fair to say that the customer is king (because there are still some difficult people out there). But we should always look examine our own behaviour and apologise before letting ego get in the way. Customers will remember being put first and they’ll reward you for it.

Principle 6
Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.

How many of us truly practice listening skills with any regularity? Sure, the words go in, but are we paying any attention? And attention is what it’s about when it comes to customer service. If nothing else, your customers just want to know that you care; they want to be acknowledged. As the L.L.Bean code states ‘A customer is the most important person ever in this company – in person or by mail […] A customer is not dependent on us, we are dependent on him.’

You may find yourself getting fresh insights and ways to improve by listening to the content of the complaints. Are they telling you something you hadn’t thought of before? Are they alerting you to a slip in standards that could prove problematic if you don’t act?

What does this approach mean for your business? You might have to charge more for your product and spend more on training, but you’ll end up with a product you’re proud of and the customer is happy with. For a lot of people, there’s little alternative to buying the cheaper option, but as you do start to have more choice, going with the product that provides better service and quality is inevitable. As Dom says:

“I’ve had to rethink my entire approach to bring frugal. Maybe, just maybe I’ve been wasting money and falling for false economies all my life. It’s a sobering thought. And one I’m only now counting the cost of.”

I’ve been re-reading the book, looking out for a mention of L.L.Bean in ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ but haven’t spotted one so far. The parallels seem too great to be a coincidence – does anyone know of any overlap?