Service with a bit of Baggage

After so many years of working for Apple and particularly after the last two years when I was working with the Apple Retail stores, I’ve become a service snob. I’m quick to judge, easy to annoy, and hard to impress. Apple raised the bar and it’s rare I see companies clear it.

I tell you that so you understand the impact of the results I found when working with three different bag manufactures as they worked to replace their damaged bags. The short story is that while all lived up to their promises, I was simply blown away by L. L. Bean’s service.

So you know, I didn’t mean to set up a competition or even set out to test the companies. It just happened that I had three bags that needed replacing by three different companies at about the same time. L.L. Bean had just sold me a small, under-seat bag and it’s wheels developed a big flat spot in the first ten minutes of use. So, they were replacing a new bag. Brenthaven has a lifetime guarantee on their bags which was good since my six year old backpack had finally torn. I have a STM messenger bag who’s leather had split some years ago but I had never replaced it because I like it so much. The bottom line is that each company was doing about the same thing but they handled the task with varying degrees of skill.


STM Messenger BagI’ve had my STM messenger bag for several years and just love it. It’s a greenish canvas exterior with a padded orange interior and a pull-out attache case inside. It has leather both around the pad on the permanently attached shoulder strap swell as a leather strap to keep the unit closed. It’s a truly useful bag with a bit of style… though it’s certainly been called my “murse.” Unfortunately, anything leather is falling apart. The edges of the shoulder strap are coming apart and the padding is falling out. Also, the enclosure strap is split making it impossible to keep it closed. Any yet I use it most days.

I finally decided to contact them to see what options they could offer. I reached out via their webpage on the 29th of Nov (black friday) and included photos of the issues and a note asking if they had options to fix the bag. Other than an automated reply, I didn’t hear from them until Dec 9th when I got an email asking that I send them photos of the bag so they could identify it and review the issue. After a couple of rounds of emails over the next couple of days, they asked if this was a 13″ or 15″ bag… and that they only had the 13 inch bags left. I responded on the 10th that mine was a 15 but I had downsized my laptop and could use the 13 inch bag. I didn’t get a response until the 16th when they said “Perfect! I will get the 13″ bag out to  you tomorrow!” On the 18th, I got a shipping notice saying it should be here by the 24th.

I’m not at all complaining about a 17 day interaction and 25 day process considering I asked how I could get it fixed and they decided to simply replace it with a new bag… all without proof of purchase. That is slow but solid service which exceeded my expectations since I was assuming I would be paying to have it fixed.

Total timeframe: Nov 29th-Dec 24th. I give you a C+ and it would have been higher if things were faster.


I’ve used a Brenthaven backpack for so long that I don’t even remember when I got mine. Certainly before the STM unit making it six or more years old. I remember I got mine via Apple and they cost around $100 to $150 at the time. It’s a black bag with LOTS of room in several pockets. It has GREAT shoulder straps and perfect zippers. It also has a nice padded insert for a 15 inch laptop. Really perfect for a computer user on the go.

Brenthaven black backpack with tear

that is a heck of a seam failure

This year I gave it up and my son started using it as he went off to high school… which means it was almost instantly overloaded with an iPad and lots of books. In November, a seam split at the top of the bag. It still worked well but there was an open hole above the main compartment. So, I reached out to Brenthaven to see if it was still covered under warrantee. I reached out to them via their web-based zendesk help system on the same day as the STM request; November 29th (still Black Friday). As with the other request, I included photos and asked if they had ideas on how to repair the unit. Within two hours, they got back to me with an email giving me two options:

  1. They would replace it with a bag up to the same value as long as I payed the $20 shipping/handling, or
  2. get it repaired locally (if I could find someone to do it) and they would give me a 50% off credit to use later

Interestingly, the email mentioned that if we chose #1, they would appreciate it if we could find a local donation center that could use the bag so that there was no impact to the local landfill. Nice touch. About 10am, we emailed them our decision to chose option one and found a new backpack that retails for about $110. At 7am on the following Monday, they sent me the instructions on how to place the order which we did. It shipped on Tuesday and we had it on Saturday.

Total Timeframe: Nov 29th – Dec 7th. Eight days from contact to delivery… I’d call that great service and give them an A- for their fast turnaround on a busy holiday with no proof of purchase.

L.L. Bean

There are really two Bean stories to tell. First is the new-bag purchase story and then the story of the replacement bag. Those of you who follow me on twitter or Facebook already know this second story, but it deserves repeating because of how well Bean handled the process. First the purchase:

I had been using a no-name roller bag for my work trips for some time and the wheels were in sad shape but couldn’t be replaced. So, Katie and I decided to take advantage of L.L. Bean’s holiday sale and a coupon to buy a new bag. We had looked for a couple of days and tried to see one in person at one of their stores but we never got an image other than their online photos. I decided to use their website to chat with one of their folks to see if the wheels were replaceable. They weren’t but the agent reminded me of their belief in customer satisfaction meaning I could return it at any time if I wasn’t satisfied. Normally I wouldn’t buy a bag without holding it and feeling the quality but we knew Bean’s would take it back. So, on Dec 1st, I placed an order for a $130 roller bag that that was on sale and ended up costing me $112 including shipping to my house. It shipped on the 2nd and arrived on the 4th. It still felt expensive but I knew Bean would back it up if something went wrong. When I got it, I was quite pleased with the build quality and materials. I’d give the purchase process an A for the online portion and a C+ for the store experience. Together I’d give it a B which would have been higher if the stores had an actual selection of products. (here’s a hint: don’t offer them in-store if your inventory consists of six bags… total).

After receiving the bag, I was looking forward to my next work overnight trip which was the next week. I got up on the morning of Dec 10th and headed to O’Hare about 6am and parked in the remote lot as I always do. Now, anyone who was around knows that we have had a bit more snow and cold than we normally do in early December, so there was snow and salt all over the parking lot. Even still, I didn’t think anything of putting my new bag down to roll it the 100 yards to the tram. It’s made by L.L. Bean and they have a video on their site about how tough their testing is. Yet, as I crossed the street, something, probably salt, jammed a wheel. By the time I got across, the damage was done. The solid wheel had a large flat spot on it which made a terrible clunking sound once I finally got the wheel turning again. At this point I’m no more than a dozen feet from my car in the cold pre-dawn morning pulling a bag that let everyone waiting for the tram know I was there with it’s constant thump-thump-thump.

So, I did what any pre-coffee, frustrated traveler does… I turned to vent on twitter. At 7am from the tram, I posted this tweet:

Dang it! My new @LLBean bag got a flat wheel in the first 100 yards of use! I didn’t even get inside ORD before the loud thumping began. #fb

at 7:04, @LLBeanService sent this reply:

@mike_miley I’ll be happy to help! Please follow me and DM your order info or email Thanks! ^ch

I didn’t even notice that reply for 15 minutes. I saw it after I got into the terminal and was waiting in the TSA Pre Check line where I sent a snarky comment about missing the “no-salt” warning. After security, I found my gate and sent a DM with my order number and a request to replace the wheel. They couldn’t replace the wheel but offered to replace the entire bag at no cost, no shipping, no return shipping. I, of course, agreed and before my plane boarded at 7:30, they had the replacement ordered and said it would arrive Thursday. My trip was short: departing Tuesday morning and returning Wednesday night, so this would work out fine. The cherry on all of this was that the bag was waiting for me when I got home Wednesday.

That was one heck of a timeline: The wheel broke just before 7am, they contacted me based on my tweet by 7:04, they had a replacement ordered before I boarded my flight at O’Hare at 7:30, and the bag was waiting for me when I got home the next evening. That’s 36 hours from complaining on twitter to having the replacement in hand.. all without having to fill out a form or call a call center.

Total Timeframe; November 10th – 11th (36 hours). A+ L.L. Bean. I’ll never doubt your commitment again.


Company Websites:

  • L.L. Bean –
  • Brenthaven –
  • STM –

Photo Credit

A big boot in front of a store

Photo by Leonora Enking (wallygrom) on Flickr

The cover photo of the L.L. Bean boot provided by Leonora Enking (wallygrom) via Flickr under a creative commons license.


(Thanks to Brenthaven for linking to this post )

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