Buyer beware?

Everyone hated the traveling salesman.

That’s because he came to town, said whatever it took to make the sale, and then left.

In 1900, Sears saw a market opportunity. Their catalog had more variety, sure, but what it really offered was a guarantee. Tens of thousands of people even bought a house from the Sears catalog. They become the twentieth century’s biggest retailer because the company understood the lifetime value of trust—difficult to earn, but worth it.

The internet is going through the same schism right now.

Some folks are happy to sell you something right now, then bye, see ya (or not), because every website is in essence from out of town. With so much pressure on clickthrough rates and yield, it’s not surprising that companies are saying whatever they need to in order to close a sale. Big promises, very little care or support.

At the same time, some successful organizations have taken a completely different path. They’re so focused on maximizing the lifetime value for the customer (and themselves) that they work overtime to tell their customers the truth. It’s not for everyone and it might not be for you. Truth works because it earns trust.

Dropbox, software that I’ve recommended here before, is going through an identity crisis. They’ll need to decide if they want to invest in what it takes to be trusted. I’ve wasted many hours over the last few months trying to work my way through some significant bugs (workflow and data loss) with them, and each of the many customer service people I’ve worked with have pushed me to do more testing, and they’ve clearly stated that my problem is unique. This ‘bluff, stall and get used to it’ strategy is the sort of thing one might expect from a traveling salesman. Yesterday they finally let me know that in fact it’s a known issue, that it affects many people with hardware and software like mine, and I’m stuck with it. I can’t easily rip it out, and I can’t happily work with it either.

If they had told me 4 months ago, they would have had a chance at earning my trust as I built a workaround with them. Instead, they’ve lost a sneezer and a referrer, as well as the benefit of the doubt.

When you tell the buyer to beware, you’ve also told him or her to not bother to trust you.