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When Does Customer Service Excellence Become ‘legendary?’

Legendary service.

Many organizations use this phrase to describe and promote their service. But how many have really earned the right to claim customer service excellence?

If you give good service, that’s not legendary. If you go out of your way for someone, that’s not legendary either. But if you provide service unsurpassed in your field, that can be legendary service. Customer service excellence sets a company apart.

Many years ago I lived in the northeastern United States: cold winters, lots of snow, great skiing. I bought a pair of silk long underpants by mail order from a company called L.L. Bean. The silk was smooth and comfortable, the underpants nice and warm. The product quality spoke to customer service excellence.

Then I moved, and moved again, and again. I found myself 20 years later unpacking boxes of clothing in Singapore. There were the old silk underpants.

They were not much use to me now, living near the equator. And even less attractive because they had holes in the knees and were fraying at the ends.

I almost threw them away, then remembered that L.L. Bean features a “lifetime guarantee.”

I put the underpants in a plain, brown envelope and inserted a simple handwritten note: “Please replace these.”

I didn’t have the company’s full address. I had not ordered clothing from them for years. On the outside of the envelope I wrote: L.L. Bean, Customer Service, Maine, USA.

At the post office I felt foolish mailing back such a ragged piece of clothing. It didn’t seem right to send old underpants all the way around the world by airmail. So for a dollar I sent them the slow way, by sea fully anticipating that customer service excellence had its limits.

Time passed and I forgot all about it, thinking customer service excellence had a time limit. Life quickly filled with new sports, new clothing, and new underpants.

Two months later an envelope arrived from L.L. Bean. Inside was a money order for one dollar. No explanation, just a dollar. I figured they evaluated the old clothing and calculated its leftover value! I laughed and forgot about it.

Another month passed and a bigger envelope arrived. Inside was a brand new pair of silk long underpants. Same size and color as the old ones, but brand new!

In time, new catalogs arrived from L.L. Bean and I bought some new clothes. I always feel safe buying from them. I know from experience their “lifetime guarantee” is real and they take customer service excellence seriously.

Months later I was in the United States and called to place a holiday order for some relatives. Chatting with the L.L. Bean telephone representative, I told her the story of returning my old underpants.

“One thing still confuses me,” I confessed. “What was the one dollar money order for?”

Laughing, she replied, “Before replacing your underpants, we refunded your postage!”

Twenty-year-old underpants, gladly replaced, including refund of the postage. That’s extraordinary. That’s truly amazing. That is Legendary Service. L.L. Bean understands what customer service excellence is all about.

Key learning point for customer service excellence

Using the words “legendary service” is not enough to make it real. You must expand, imagine, innovate – and take real legendary action to prove customer service excellence.

Action steps for customer service excellence

A legend is a story people talk about with admiration and praise, recounting some great deed done in the service of others. What great deed can you do for customers that is admirable, praise-worthy and truly unsurpassed? Customer service excellence is a title that’s earned, not self-endowed.

Read more articles from Ron Kaufman

Copyright, Ron Kaufman. Used with permission. Ron Kaufman is the world’s leading educator and motivator for upgrading customer service and uplifting service culture. He is author of the bestselling “UP! Your Service” books and founder of UP! Your Service. To enjoy more customer service training and service culture articles, visit

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