“I ordered a piece of furniture and I got a box of sticks.”
That was the first sentence I heard over the phone. It came from a woman speaking clearly and deliberately, a woman who seemed sure of herself, and of how words should be used.
This was early on at Levenger when this co-founder was still answering calls from customers. This caller set me back on my heels. “Well, I’m so sorry to hear that…” I sputtered, but my words seemed only to let the caller know she had been heard, and so she continued.
“I was so disgusted that I put the box into the closet and tried to forget about it. After a couple of weeks I decided to hire a carpenter to come put the sticks together. I paid him $100.” With that, she paused to see what I had to say for myself.
I knew she was talking about our popular Reader’s Table, which was made in Denmark of teak and cost $175. Although we prided ourselves on providing clear instructions, it was only fair to affix those notoriously understated words at the end of the product description: “Some assembly required.”
“Well,” I said. “I’m Steve Leveen, the president, and I’d like to pay you back for that $100 you paid the carpenter.”
“In that case,” the woman said crisply, “I’d like to buy another one. I’m giving this one to Katharine Hepburn; I’m her editor. The next one is for me.”
I used to share this story with our new customer service staff, the lesson being we should protect our customers. While just like all companies, we strive for sales, a single sale is such a small matter. Experience–what a single customer experiences–that’s what we must focus on.
Yet try as we might to get things right the first time, the real world often crashes into the inspiring experiences we seek to provide our customers. Shipments are delayed. Packages get lost. Birthdays are missed. Things arrive broken.
The good thing about a problem is that now we have our customer’s attention–a difficult thing to get. And now that we have their attention, let’s make the most of it and give them the kind of satisfying experience that makes them feel truly appreciated. As Maya Angelou famously said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people never forget how you made them feel.”
Our job, I used to preach, is to make our Dear Customers feel wanted, respected, and well satisfied. Often we accomplish this simply by asking the customer, “What can I do to make things right?” And then doing it.
Lori and I have been out of the day-to-day operations for several years now so it’s up to others to carry on this culture of caring. Fortunately, the Levenger team carries on this tradition even better than we founders did.
And this explains why, after thirty-five years, through many big technological waves, the little ship called Levenger continues to protect customers from the box of sticks and stones that life sometimes throws into our paths.
I keep thinking of how we started our family and our Levenger family at the same time (I was pregnant when that photo was taken).
We left careers to work remotely just as laptops were entering the market.
The personal computers & laptops allowed more people to work from home, as many are doing again now, due to the pandemic. The trend of home offices and home libraries in the late 80s/early 90s gave us the chance to meet the increasing demand for desks, desk chairs, lighting and furniture to store files and books. Our first vendors were mainly Danish and American. We soon saw most furniture factories move to Asia. We followed our vendors there, and expanded to pens, journals, and ultimately leather goods (many of these smaller items still sourced in Europe).
So as our business grew, we took our two sons with us to trade shows and factories worldwide. One developed such an interest, that he majored in Chinese history and Mandarin in college. The other studied in Australia and completed a Masters in computer science. Both helped pack boxes as youngsters, as we started our business on our dining table and rented a neighbor’s garage as our first warehouse. They both continued to establish their own careers, but remain active with Levenger.
So thirty five years later, we are so grateful for our customers who gave us feedback through the years. Being communicators, many shared their ideas or wishes for products to help them be more productive, organized or more comfortable when reading and writing. These letters, emails and calls set us on our mission to meet these needs. We found some products to recreate in antique shops, some in high design trade shows and others from our own creative product design teams. Still today our teams strive to create products with the best function, design and value in mind. Our guarantee and our desire to please each customer lives on as strong today as our first day.
I’m also forever indebted to the many people who shared our vision and mission, as employees (many who are now over twenty years with Levenger), suppliers, Board members, and friends. Thanks to each of you. May your reading, writing and creative endeavors bring you endless wonder and satisfaction.