Ottawa-based Lee Valley
sets a customer service benchmark
Written by Shirley Lichti for The Record,
September 30, 1998
Customer service has been a buzzword throughout
the 90's. Yet for all the talk about customer satisfaction, has
anything really changed? Ask yourself, "When was the last time I
got really good service?"
While the topic is hot, too many companies
only pay lip service to customer satisfaction. Few have actually
implemented policies or programs that meet, let alone exceed, the
needs and wants of their customers.
Customer satisfaction can be tremendously
complex. A simple foundation for customer service is to adopt an
attitude that says, "We are in business to take care of the customer."
Success comes from learning to see service from your customer's
viewpoint, recognizing that satisfaction is based on everything
your company is and does.
Listen to the Customer
Headquartered in Ottawa, Lee Valley Tools is a family-owned business
that has been meeting the needs of woodworkers and gardeners for
over 20 years through their mail-order catalogues and retail outlets.
Their reputation is based on three principles: customer satisfaction,
integrity, and treating the customer like a friend.
Key to Lee Valley's success is its willingness
to listen to customers. Many good suggestions have come from customers
over the years. Lee Valley not only listens, they also pay royalties
to a number of customers for products made using designs received
Beyond Customer Expectations
Merely meeting customer expectations is no longer enough in today's
competitive environment. To deliver outstanding customer service
you have to anticipate your customers' needs and exceed their expectations.
After last winter's ice storm, Lee Valley prepared a special booklet
on how to prune ice-damaged trees. They automatically mailed it
to all customers who lived in affected areas. For customers outside
these areas, the pamphlet was made available on request.
The booklet received a very positive response
from customers who were given expert advice on how to deal with
their trees. In fact, the information was so useful that the Ministry
of Natural Resources, City of Ottawa, Ottawa Hydro, and many municipalities
asked for permission to copy and distribute it as well.
My husband regularly orders from Lee Valley
Tools and has been very happy with both their products and customer
service. Recently he received a letter from them which went so far
beyond his expectations he is still talking about it.
Apparently the company had been able to
lower the price on a product he had ordered some months earlier.
It seems they have a policy to ensure customers benefit from price
reductions, so they sent him a cheque refunding the difference between
the old and new price. In all likelihood he would never have noticed
the new lower price had Lee Valley not pointed it out. Although
the cheque was only for $5.75, this goodwill gesture went a long
way in creating customer satisfaction and loyalty.
No Hassle Returns
Many companies could increase customer satisfaction dramatically
simply by examining their return policies. Good policies should
be designed to make life easier for the customer, not the company.
Lee Valley has a generous policy that guarantees any product may
be returned within three months at no cost to the customer. Even
the parcel post costs are refunded.
Because the company aims to treat customers
as friends, it doesn't question them if there is a problem with
merchandise. A stainless steel insulated cup my husband purchased
developed a crack near the handle. When we called Lee Valley, they
immediately offered to send out a new one - no questions asked.
Good Corporate Citizen
Many companies attract new clients via referrals from existing satisfied
customers. Lee Valley is no exception. They will happily send a
catalogue out to anyone you feel might be interested in their products.
If and when this person buys something, a $5.00 donation is made
to the United Way. In 1997 Lee Valley donated $34,000 through a
combination of their referral program and calendar sales.
While some people might question the link
between customer referrals and corporate charitable acts, it makes
good sense. Customers who are highly satisfied may tell their friends
about a company. But when they know their referrals can help a non-profit
agency, they are more likely to do so. The program has many benefits:
the customer feels good, the United Way raises more money, and Lee
Valley gets high quality referrals.
It used to be that companies only worried
about keeping pace with competitors in their own industries. Today
competition comes from both inside and outside the industry. One
company's excellence in customer service helps raise the bar by
which consumers judge all organizations. Customers now tend to use
their most satisfying experience as their benchmark. So when you
think about customer service, start by asking, "Are we in business
to take care of the customer?"
Do any local retail companies regularly
exceed your expectations? If so, why not consider nominating them
for the K-W Sales & Ad Club's Retailer of the Year competition?
Winners will be announced in February. Contact Kim McDonnell at
Total World Travel in Cambridge at 650-4640 for more details.