Given the sorry state of customer service today, several new companies are eliminating high-pressure sales practices and creating tools that shift the burden of satisfaction over to the buyer. The best way to prevent buyer's remorse, the thinking goes, is to let customers control the sales process to the point where they create their own contentment. Is this more open, deliberate style of selling making people happier? Here are few new businesses that believe that pleasing customers is a two-way street.
Warby Parker is built on an insight that eyeglasses are a distressed purchase. The eye chart is the easy part, but the vanity test is where the stress begins. Think about it: You stand in front of a mirror in the presence of a salesperson while choosing an expensive object that will be perched square on your nose for years to come. It's a Seinfeld skit played out at the mall.
But Warby Parker is kind of like Lenscrafters meets Netflix. Simply upload your photo to their website and you can virtually try on every style of frame. Still can't decide? The company will mail samples to you. Started by Wharton students Neil Blumenthal, Andy Hunt, Jeffrey Raider and David Gilboa, the company strives to make every aspect of the experience is relaxed and unhurried. Instead of pressuring you, they're betting you'll be a more satisfied customer if you get to make a buying decision in your own sweet time.
Warby seems to get that purchase funnels are now petri dishes. Try as marketers may, customers can't be leaf-blown into a pile of profit without some blowback. Instead, CRM is more like a pleasant waiting room at a spa, where time, tools and information are lavished on thankful customers. In an era when sales forces are judged on metrics such as maximizing revenue and shortening the sales cycle, this philosophy may seem counterintuitive. But in the 'slow sales' model the margin is built into the relationship. Since Warby Parker charges about $95 for a pair of glasses, the company's profitability (presumably) falls with the length of time it takes to convert a sale—but only unless other costs, such as customer returns, complaints, and most importantly, churn, are reduced. Despite these obstacles, Warby Parker has been profitable from its first year.
WeGoLook.com asks its customers to bear an even greater load. Let's say there's a designer purse on eBay for $20, but you're afraid that deal might be too good to be true. Rather than rely on the seller to ensure the authenticity and quality of the product, you pay WeGoLook.com $49 to provide independent confirmation that the item meets all the seller's claims. The website employs 7,000 inspectors who can travel anywhere in the U.S. to inspect any item ranging from a pair of shoes to a rental vacation house. The sales process pauses to become an audit, while the responsibility for ensuring product integrity shifts from seller to buyer. Savvy Internet shoppers everywhere can rejoice.
At SquareTrade.com, you can purchase warranties for consumer electronics and appliances at a 40 percent discount over the retailer's option. Instead of fixed plans, you are given a quote based on your strategy for protecting your purchase. And even if your gadget breaks off warranty, turn to iFixit and join their 'global repair community' of people who 'crowd fix' consumer electronics with support and instruction from others.
Elsewhere, the "Kaplan Commitment" program ensures students make an informed decision before paying for school. Kaplan allows students to enroll in classes for over a month and determine if courses are the right fit and meet their needs before making any financial commitment. Students feel less pressure and Kaplan has more stability and predictability in its student base.
The 'slow sales' movement is betting there are intelligent, deliberate customers that prefer 'do-it-your self' service. Granted, getting them to cash register may take longer. But this croc pot technique empowers your customers to contemplate, choose, and commit. The technique is designed to alleviate the extra costs of post-purchase dissonance from returns, customer service time, negative feedback, and customer churn.
The lifetime value of a customer is then defined not by how much he or she buys, but how strongly he or she attaches to and defends a brand choice. And for the Web savvy shopper, this more perfect alignment of information means the responsibility is now yours to be satisfied. As the Warby Parker brand experience demonstrates, if you treat your customer with patience and hand over to them the reigns of the sales process, they'll often take care of the rest.