L.L. Bean Customer Service Gets It Right on Second Try

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You know when you want something real bad, but it’s expensive so you try to talk yourself out of it? You think, “I shouldn’t spend the money,” but you keep thinking about it. Then, you finally bite the bullet, take Christmas money from your grandpa and other family members and put it toward that long thought about purchase? You order it online, it arrives at your door a week later and as it turns out...it is terrible.

The item: A lambswool, insulated winter duffle coat from L.L. Bean

The price: $229

The problem: The zipper 

Oh, where to begin. As explained above, I had been looking at this coat for a while. I wanted a nice wool coat that could be dressed up or down. I have a -30 degree North Face jacket, but it’s more appropriate for the ski slopes than walking around the city of Chicago. The L.L. Bean coat had come highly recommended – it is one of the company’s most popular products, and my boyfriend has a similar male L.L. Bean lambswool coat, which has kept him thoroughly warm and happy for years.

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The only downfall that I knew of before purchasing the coat was the zipper – numerous customer reviews on the L.L. Bean website had pointed out the flawed zipper. It can get stuck, unzip from the bottom unintentionally or not function at all. Well, shame on me for thinking my coat would be any different. The zipper rarely worked from day 1. After 5 or 6 tries, I could sometimes get it to zip. Other times I would resort to the toggle closures. And too often, the zipper would get stuck, not be able to unzip and I would have to pull it apart.

Add $45 to the Final Cost of the Coat

Finally, last week, I had it. I took it to a local tailor and had them install a whole new zipper on the coat. Now, normally I would have gone straight to L.L. Bean and demanded a new coat. But, after reading the reviews, I had zero confidence a replica of the same coat would come with a better-working zipper. One reviewer even advised not to bother with an exchange.

The new zipper cost me another $45. I totally understood the charge. As someone who sews herself, I was gladly paying someone else to replace a long zipper on a knee-length wool coat. I was not interested in taking the time to do it - nor do I think I could have done it as flawlessly as a tailor. My issue was the fact I had to pay for a new zipper at all – that despite all the great things about this coat, L.L. Bean was clearly not addressing this one major zipper flaw.

If L.L. Bean reads its customer reviews (which it most definitely should), the company would know this zipper is not of good quality. All signs point to sourcing and using a different zipper, say, one that works. It is a mystery to me why the company is continuing to use a defected product in their coats.

Customer Service Responds Appropriately on Second Try

Anyway, I inquired about the zipper issue with L.L. Bean. I had already written a customer review on the coat, detailing my issues with the zipper. But after I had the new zipper put in by a tailor, I wrote Customer Service directly. I told them that I decided to replace the zipper completely, paid nearly $50 to do so and thought L.L. Bean should issue me some sort of credit - be it a direct refund for the price of the replacement zipper or store credit. I distinctly told them I was not interested in a replacement coat. I would not be sending this already fixed coat back to L.L. Bean for them to send me the same coat, made with the same defected zipper.

The first response from customer service wasn’t what I was expecting. In fact, it was a bit astounding:

“This is one of our most popular coats and we normally do not have issues with the zipper. I personal[ly] have two different colors and wear them all the time without any issues.”

What? That is your response, L.L. Bean? I told them to try again. (They also offered me a replacement coat. And I once more reminded them this was not what I was looking for.)

Their second try was much better:

“I'm so sorry to hear about the frustration experience with our Lambswool Duffle Coat...We'll happily reimburse the $50 replacement zipper costs. Please call customer service...so that we may arrange for your credit.”

Better. Much Better.

Reputation Ruined

I still question why L.L. Bean is continuing to use a faulty zipper. Because the company said this specific coat is one of its most popular, my guess is L.L. Bean doesn’t plan to discontinue producing it. Will it sort things out with their zipper supplier before next season? Say, use another one – a quality one – altogether? Another question I have is if there are zipper issues across the entire L.L. Bean inventory.

A colleague (with supply chain expertise) told me a zipper is a very low cost component, yet one that still has very high impact. In this case, the impact was that the zipper’s poor quality led to the company losing a customer. My colleague also pointed out how it may be worth it for L.L. Bean to upgrade to a better zipper in its coats, especially when the coat costs nearly $250.

I recently went back to the L.L. Bean site to triple check other customer complaints regarding the zipper. Sure enough, a handful of customers had specifically called out the zipper as being a pesky little piece of pain. And the company wanted to tell me it does "not have issues with the zipper.” Not buying it.

You know what else I am most likely not buying? Any other L.L. Bean product.

Sure, the L.L. Bean’s customer service got it right with me on their second try (offering me a refund for the replacement zipper…well, once I snail mail them a copy of the receipt from my tailor). But, the whole experience has left a bad taste that will likely linger.

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