Customer service

By Rick Watson
Posted 7/29/18

A few years ago, one of the buttons came off of a polo shirt that I’d had for years. I asked Jilda if she could sew one back on. She didn’t have a matching button but she’d bought the shirt …

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Customer service


A few years ago, one of the buttons came off of a polo shirt that I’d had for years. I asked Jilda if she could sew one back on. She didn’t have a matching button but she’d bought the shirt from an L.L. Bean catalog. She called their support line and asked for a replacement button. A few days later, a new shirt arrived in the mail. Jilda called and told the lady we hadn’t expected a new shirt. The woman said that L.L Bean stands behind what they sell. 

I love it when people say what they do and then do what they say. Jilda and I try to buy from companies that have the same philosophy.  Although they aren’t always the cheapest option, we’ve learned that it pays in the long run. That lesson was reinforced this past week.

A few years ago, Jilda bought me a watch for Christmas. It was simple with a leather band. She chose it from L.L. Bean’s Christmas catalog. I fell in love with my new timepiece the instant I opened it.

A few weeks ago, I put it on my arm and hit the road. Glancing at my watch a while later, it read 11:32. An early morning fog was hanging low on the Warrior river so I knew there was no way it was already 11:32. I reflexively shook my arm. For some reason, I do that even though shaking has never brought a watch with a dead battery back to life. I looked at the second hand hopefully, but it didn’t budge. 

Once home, I pulled out my watch kit. Jilda has about 20 watches she’s bought through the years and at any given time one of them needs a new battery. 

Opening the back of the L.L. Bean watch, I flipped out the old battery with my thumbnail. Taking a small probe, I gently pulled back a keeper pin to seat the new battery. But, when I tried to put the pin back in place, it popped off.  Popping pins are rarely a good thing.  Even with the new battery in place, the watch would not tick.

I’d kept the original box in my dresser drawer and when I opened it a slip of paper fell from inside. The directions said that when the battery needs replacing to return it to L.L. Bean. For $8, their craftsmen would replace the battery and return the watch. I wished I’d remembered that before trying it myself.

Packing the watch up, I sent it back with a note saying if the cost was more, let me know and I’d pay the difference. 

A few days later, I got a call from L.L. Bean. The watch repairman said they received the watch but one of the pins inside was broken. He asked me if I’d tried to replace the battery. I could have fibbed, but fibbing rarely turns out well so I “fessed up.”

He said the broken pin made the watch unrepairable. He could hear the disappointment in my voice. I told him it was a Christmas gift from my wife. I told him to mail it back to me and I’d keep it in my souvenir box.

I could hear him clicking through our file on his computer. He said, “You and your wife have been customers for a long time. I tell you what I’m going to do, I’m going to replace this watch.” He didn’t pass the buck or put me on hold to ask permission from a supervisor. He made the decision to treat an old customer right even though the fault was clearly mine.  

Some companies say they stand behind their products, but L.L. Bean put action behind their words. 

Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book Life Goes On is available on You can contact him via email at