Part 1: The Importance of Mission and Values
Threads 4 Thought is a sustainable apparel company, founded by a couple who decided to create change by starting a clothing brand in their senior year of college.
At first, they only created graphic t-shirts highlighting issues/causes they cared about from sustainable materials.
Now, they’ve grown to be a beacon of light in an apparel industry that has a very dirty underbelly. Their polyester is made from recycled plastic bottles. Their cotton is organically grown (conventional cotton is one of the dirtiest crops on the planet).
In other words, Threads 4 Thought is the kind of clothing company where I want to buy all of my clothes (alongside Patagonia and others taking a responsible approach).
Part 2: First Time Customers
With my fiance and I moving to Portland, OR, it was the perfect time to make my first purchase. I needed a few heavier flannel shirts for the fall/winter and Threads was having a sale.
Since it was my first purchase, I looked up their sizing charts. I dutifully took my own measurements with a tape measure and found that I lined up with their Medium on the men’s chart. This seemed odd, as I usually wear a small, and sales items were not allowed to be returned. I took a risk anyways and placed my order.
I received the shirts. My hesitation in ordering medium was well-founded – the shirts were too big. I immediate placed another order for a small shirt to make sure it would fit. It arrived. It fit perfectly, despite the fact that the sizing chart said that it shouldn’t.
I was in a pickle. I had two shirts that didn’t fit and couldn’t be returned. But the sizing chart was quite simply wrong… What to do?
Part 3: The Customer Service Experience
I called Threads 4 Thought to see how they might be able to help. My goal: exchange the mediums for smalls.
After explaining my situation, the customer service rep asked me to hold. She came back on the phone (clearly having spoken to someone with authority) and said: “I’m sorry, but these items were final sale. There’s nothing we can do.”
I calmly asked the rep whether they had size small in stock for the shirts I wanted replaced. She said they did. So I played my final card: “If I send these shirts back, will you still be able to sell them? I believe in the work you do – I want to be your customer. I’m going to order the small shirts regardless, but I don’t want these two shirts to go to waste. I’m not going to wear them. Will you accept them back?”
“Please hold…” the operator said. “Sure,” I replied, knowing she was going back to the person with authority.
“Sir, are you there? As a one time customer courtesy, we will offer you store credit if you return the shirts with a postmark date of today.”
“Great, I’ll mail them now.”
Moral of the story: Focus on Building Customer Loyalty
$32. That’s how much store credit I will receive. I have to wait until the return arrives at the Threads 4 Thought warehouse to receive the credit so that I can use it to reorder the small shirts.
It’s a better outcome than being stuck with two shirts I have to give away or try to sell on eBay. But is it the ideal outcome for Threads 4 Thought?
There is a different scenario that would have helped us both achieve our goals… It would have gone like this:
"Sir, I’m so glad to hear that you decided to become a Threads 4 Thought customer. We believe in sustainable apparel, just like you, and we’d love to have you become a customer for life. Our sales are a great time for us to attract new customers like you, and we know sizing can be difficult when you’re making your first purchase.
As a first time customer courtesy, we would love to send you size small shirts so that you can wear them all fall. We just ask that you return the mediums today. Is that ok?"
The key here is this: the customer service rep has to have authority. Their guiding light in solving customer problems should be this: if it will cost less than $50, solve the customer problem immediately, and in a way that builds loyalty.
A lifetime customer is more important than $50 of revenue. In fact, I would bet that the lifetime value of a customer for a great company like Threads 4 Thought is more like $500 or more. And that number would only increase by focusing on customer relationships first.
I’ll always be a Threads 4 Thought customer because they are one of very few apparel companies sourcing sustainable, responsible materials. Our values are aligned. But that won’t be enough of an advantage forever – eventually there will be many competitors with the same value proposition.
When you have a chance to win a lifetime customer… do whatever it takes to build a raving fan in that customer. Not only will her lifetime value skyrocket, but her influence on all of her friends will produce an exponential return.
Is there really any other option?
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