Stein On ... Satisfaction should carry a guarantee

Leon Leonwood Bean, the founder of LL Bean, famously said of his customers: "We are not doing a favour by serving them ... they are doing us a favour by giving us the opportunity to do so."

This statement typifies his belief that the customer is the purpose of our work, not an interruption of it. This belief today drives LL Bean to offer its customers a 100 per cent guarantee - return anything purchased from it at any time if it doesn't give 100 per cent satisfaction.

That guarantee provides customers with superb confidence when they purchase. Many garden centre customers lack knowledge and, as a result, confidence. We can increase confidence by offering good advice and information, but also by offering a comprehensive plant guarantee. I know many garden centres do offer a guarantee and promote it well, but many shy away fearing a flood of plant returns. Indeed, I recently ran a seminar promoting the virtues of plant guarantees at which many participants voiced their dissent.

But why be so negative? If a customer returns a hardy plant it's a fantastic opportunity to teach them how to look after plants and to offer superb customer service by replacing it. Yes, there is a cost in doing so, but the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. You keep the customer, they rave about you to their friends and they come back for more. If you don't replace the plant, you run the risk of losing a customer and - here's a sobering thought - it costs you five times more to get a new customer than it does to keep an existing one.

Do you fear the guarantee would be abused? Then offer exchange or credit notes. Add conditions to the guarantee if you wish, but a diluted guarantee can dilute customer's confidence in your plants. What if you went bold and offered a complete satisfaction guarantee? It would give you a unique selling point and, even if a few customers abuse the offer, I expect most would view the process of keeping receipts and returning a plant as too much hassle. Many retailers keep records of who returns what and why, and a customer with a regular return pattern can be identified and their behaviour addressed with a polite: "Would you like more help selecting or advice caring for your plants?" I advocate the bold approach. Complete satisfaction guaranteed.

Neville Stein is managing partner of the Ovation Business Consultancy.

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