The front line can become the hero of somebody’s day in a minute— if they have been freed to do the right thing. Beloved companies give the people interacting directly with customers the ability to apologize and respond immediately when irregularities occur. In our everyday life—as we shop at the grocery store, stay in a hotel, or pick up our dry cleaning—service failures will occur. It takes so little to bring someone back around. A little bit of thinking ahead can put you and the front line in the position to recover from customer disappointment.
Saying sorry well in most cases should not require a committee, consortium, or legal review. Most apologies should occur spontaneously, the moment the company knows a problem occurred. And the person who first hears the news should be in a position to respond appropriately.
Both Lands’ End’s and L.L. Bean’s guarantees free their frontline people to do the right thing.
They are trusted to take action, using their own best judgment, to deliver a response warranted by the situation. There is no debating their ability to deliver a genuine apology and offer customer recovery for something that doesn’t measure up.
In 1988 it was decided that the cover of the Lands’ End catalog would be dedicated to the purpose of admitting to customers that, like them, people who make clothing have good days and bad days. Human hands cut the cloth. Raw materials grow inconsistently. People, not machines, sew the garments or stitch the shoes and luggage. It was a proactive olive branch admitting in advance that sometimes mistakes happen, but that if you bought from Lands’ End, we would always take care of you if you received something not up to our usual standards. It reinforced our unconditional guarantee to give customers peace of mind that when those uncommon missteps occurred, we’d make it right for them on their terms. The final words in this message were:
An electric knife cuts the fabric, but a human hand usually guides the knife. Sewing machine operators are also very human, and like each of us, they have good days and bad days. . . . We make progress, but still don’t achieve perfection because of the imperfect nature of the beast. Things do occasionally get out to you that shouldn’t, which is why we back everything with one unqualified guarantee: Guaranteed. Period.®
That message humanized Lands’ End. Our explanation and the security blanket of the guarantee bonded us closer with customers. And it gave the front line what they needed to rescue customers when the company faltered from time to time.