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Goodbye Lands’ End, the Royalty of Customer Service 

Goodbye Lands’ End, the Royalty of Customer Service

Goodbye Lands’ End, the Royalty of Customer Service

Merger with Sears could force Lands’ End to abdicate its service philosophy

7/1/2002
By Donna Fluss
Customer Interface Magazine

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It was with a heavy heart that I read of Sears’acquisition of Lands’ End. Though both arewell known retailers, the two companies couldnot be more different in culture and brand.

Financial analysts view the merger as a logicalextension for both companies – it gives Lands’ Enda brick and mortar retail presence and Sears anestablished name in apparel and online sales.

As a CRM analyst I focus on the impact on customersand fear that we are witnessing the end ofLands’ End’s service-oriented culture, where the customerreally did come first. And, if my concerns arerealized, Sears will lose many devoted Lands’ Endcustomers and won’t achieve the financial objectivesthat motivated the acquisition in the first place.

Lands’ End’s business model has been sellingquality apparel and other soft goods through its callcenters and on the Web. Their success is due, in largepart, to the outstanding quality of service and supportthey provide during all aspects of the sales cycle.Lands’ End invests in training its agents and staffs itscontact centers so that callers receive high qualityand high touch service with a minimum of wait time.

Sears on the other hand, has a poor reputationin apparel and an even worse reputation for theservice customers receive in its stores. I concedethat Sears does an adequate job selling tools, appliancesand other hard goods, but just try to findsomeone to help you in any other part of the storeand it’s clear that Sears is sorely understaffed. Whensales help is located they are oftenunder-trained (or not trained atall), act as if they are overworkedand appear to want tobe anywhere else but Sears.I can appreciate the financialchallenges that haveforced Sears to cut serviceand quality in order to keepprofits up. But I fear that beingabsorbed into this cost cuttingculture, where service is expendable,will doom Lands’ End as abrand. Lands’ End customers areloyal for a reason; when thatreason disappears in the name of corporate profits,so will the customers.

This acquisition marries two retailers with diametricallyopposed cultures and marketingphilosophies and this is going to make for a verytough merger. Unless Sears upgrades its staffing,quality and service practices it’s going to lose business.Likewise, Lands’ End employees who areaccustomed and motivated to provide high qualityservice are not likely to tolerate being pushed toadopt cost savings standards that rush customersoff the phones to save a few dollars.

Maybe I’m underestimating venerable Sears,which has been around since 1893; they must bedoing something right to have survived where somany retailers have failed. Perhaps Sears intendsto adopt the Lands’ End service culture. PerhapsSears is going to add an adequate number of welltrainedand courteous sales personnel to its storesto market and sell its new Lands’ End product line.And perhaps, customer needs will be placed aheadof short-term profits. Nah, it’s not going to happen,but it would be nice.

Goodbye Lands’ End. It was my pleasure as ananalyst to watch, rate and appreciate your consistentlyexcellent service quality. I’m sorry to see yougo, but competitors like L.L. Bean, who have asimilar service philosophy, will be pleased to pickup your business.

Donna Fluss is the Principal of DMG Consulting LLC,specializing in CRM strategy and technology. She is arecognized leader in the areas of CRM and ContactCenters and a well-known, highly respected speakerand writer. Send questions and comments regardingthis article to CIrespond@advanstar.com.

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