Want Customers to Buy More Often? Take Away Their Freedom

Business.com / Sales / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Customers want the freedom to choose and they want more of everything. Why "customer freedom" is the biggest sales killer of all.

Freedom is a very bad thing...

At least when it comes to customer decision making.

We usually associate freedom with things like values, liberty, and sacrifice. We believe freedom to be a very good thing. And in most cases, we're right...until we come to customer decision making.

If you've been around the block you know what I'm talking about. You've heard the demands - "I want more value for less money."

It seems customers want unlimited options for each product you sell. They want more discounts, more features, and more incentives with their order.

So, many businesses bend over backward to accommodate. They give customers the "freedom" to decide what features they'll include, how they'll sell it, what they'll stand for. It's as if they're letting their customers run the show.

Here's the bad news.

Related Article: Under Promise, Over Deliver: The Must-Do's of Customer Retention

Customers, As a Whole, Want More of Everything

They want the freedom to choose, to decide what they want. They want more features, more options and they want you, the business owner, to accommodate...until they get what they want.

Studies have shown that "more" doesn't necessarily keep customers around in the long run. Remember the famous jam study? The one where scientists set up a booth of Wilkin & Sons jams? They wanted to see how quantity affects decision making. So every few hours, they'd switch things up. At first they offered a selection of 24 different jams to customers. Later, they'd switch things up again, only offering six jams.

Here's where it gets interesting:

  • 30 percent of the people who saw the small assortment of jams bought something.
  • And those who saw the 24 varieties of jam? Only 3 percent decided to buy.

That Jam Study Is an Anomaly, Isn't It?

"That's not really a thing." Naysayers exclaim. But research studies say otherwise. Sheena Lyengar conducted a study where employees were asked to choose a retirement fund from more than 650 plans.

Know what she found? You guessed it, the more funds and plans employees had to choose from, the less likely they were to actually pick something. But this is old news.

We already know offering too much creates paralysis and indecision. It's something that's been recounted over and over, and over and over across various industries and disciplines. As we've seen, there's a whole lot of information about decisions, and offering too much. But many of these articles fail to answer an important question.

How do you get customers to stick around if too much is... well... bad?

Present a Solution, Then Take Away Their Freedom

"Hey wait minute. What do you mean you 'take away their freedom?'"

Customers have problems. But, these days, they're flooded with solutions. Overloaded with options and decisions. Bombarded with information. It's too much.

Taking away their freedom means limiting their choices, or options. It doesn't mean we use force to get our way with customers and it certainly doesn't mean we take away their capacity to choose.

It means we give them less, whether that's done with things like timing, options, design, quantity, etc. in order for us to give them more.

Here's what "taking away freedom" looks like.

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1. No Is the Default

In his book, Getting Real, Basecamp founder Jason Fried talks about starting with No.

"Make each feature work hard to be implemented. Make each feature prove itself and show that it's a survivor. It's like "Fight Club." You should only consider features if they're willing to stand on the porch for three days waiting to be let in."

Using No as the default protects the majority of your customers from the demands of a few. Starting with No means your product is less likely to morph into something ugly and unhelpful. When a No becomes a yes, it's a change that's fought for, that's genuinely needed. Once the need and desire are there, your team has the clarity it needs to go all in.

2. Give Customers Less

The saying "less is more" feels pretty unoriginal, but it definitely applies here. BMW and Volkswagen, like most manufacturers, allow customers to customize the vehicle of their choice.

Complete freedom, until you look a look a little closer. Take a look at VW's "Build your own" tool.

VW Build Your OwnAt every step you're offered a set of options to choose from. Their options steer you towards the choices that work for them.VW Build Your Own - Choose Your Color

You can choose between beige or black leather, but they're not offering cloth. You can pick any color, so long as it's one of these.

VW Build Your Own - Choose Your InteriorWhat they're offering looks great, but it's incredibly limited. They're only giving you 

these 

options, for 

this 

car. A custom experience with an assembly line approach.

As a shopper, they've restricted customer's freedom. You can't buy a lime green Touareg from VW. But customers don't care. It cultivates customer tastes, gives them manufacturing predictability and most importantly, serves the customer. There aren't hundreds of colors to choose from, just nine. Two kinds of interior to choose from, as long as its leather.

3. Control Timing to Give More

Look closely on Amazon's product pages and you'll see two sections.

  • Frequently bought together and
  • Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought.

Amazon uses these sections to control the timing with new product introductions. They take the subtle route instead of spamming you with new products all at once via email or their home page. Some customers may want to see everything at once, but few can handle it. Amazon limits customer freedom, by choosing when and where they introduce new products.

So When Do You Give Customers More Freedom?

When they've met the criteria you need. Customers need more freedom as their sophistication grows. More knowledge about your topic and your subject matter means they're better able to handle that freedom. Ninth graders can handle Algebra, most second graders can't. That's the same sort of distinction you'll need to make with your business.

Taking Away Freedom Sounds Wrong

It sounds harsh and unfair, yet as we've seen, this is exactly what customers need us to do. The more freedom we give, the more we expect customers to handle, the harder it is for them to make good decisions.

"This is going to backfire. If customers want something and you're not willing to provide it, they'll simply go somewhere else. Long term it'll be the end of your business."

A common objection. But, that's fear talking. It's simply not the case. Doctors have specialties. Lawyers have specialties. Coaches have specialties. You can too. With the right approach and a kind attitude, you can restrict freedom helpfully without it blowing up in your face.

Related Article: Customer Delight: The New Standard in Customer Service

Absolute Freedom Is a Very Bad Thing

Unrestrained, uncontrolled freedom makes stability difficult. Sure, customers may want more of everything, but they need you to protect and care for them. That's impossible to do if you avoid placing limits on their freedom. Use structured freedom well and you'll find that customers respond to you, consistently.

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