The panel at last week’s Lippincott “Experience Innovation” event was packed with more talent than a Dancing with the Stars finale: reps from Google, UNIQLO and Kiehl’s answered questions from senior Lippincott partner James Wright about creating a truly unique experience for the consumer.
The night’s most interesting story, however, came from Tim Riley, director of online experience for star-of-the-moment eyewear company Warby Parker.
The most obvious secrets to the company’s success are its decision to design its own products in-house (thus escaping licensing fees) and to avoid the overhead costs involved in maintaining physical stores by beginning as a strict e-commerce venture. But how did it become such a hot commodity among consumers in less than four years?
Co-founder Neil Blumenthal says it was originally all about the price differentiator, but the customer experience played a big role in the company’s development.
To hear Riley tell it, Warby’s first big selling point was its “home trial program”, in which customers could choose several pairs of glasses, wear them to determine which fit best, and return the others. A “twenty thousand person wait list” soon sprang up because customers wanted to review the products in person by taking a trip to the company’s office.
At the time, that “office” was co-founder Dave Gilboa‘s Philadelphia apartment, and the display room was his kitchen table.
The spontaneous setup endeared the brand to customers because they got to meet the people behind it in person, so Warby continued the practice after moving into a real-life office in New York. The team carved out a small piece of the office as a showroom, but the sheer amount of foot traffic from all those bespectacled wait listers didn’t go over too well with the other tenants in Manhattan’s iconic Puck building, who tried unsuccessfully to get the company evicted.
Warby is now a more traditional brand with a delivery service and a physical store in Manhattan’s SoHo, and the store’s interior is a big part of the experience—it’s designed to look like a library complete with “book” shelves and ladders.
But according to Riley, the most important part of designing the customer experience was creating a unique POS (point of sale) system. The setup lets customers enter their prescription info online, charges them when the product arrives rather than when it’s purchased, and gives sales reps a complete history of each in-store shopper’s relationship with the brand whether they’ve ever set foot in the brick and mortar location or not.
Its purpose, Riley says, is to “allow salespeople to be one-on-one with the buyer” and therefore maintain some of the personal touches that defined the original face-to-face Warby Parker experience. In the future, the system will even send each in-person customer who doesn’t buy any eyewear a picture of him or herself trying the glasses on for reference when placing a later order.
With a well-told origin story and one-of-a-kind service model, we can see why the company got so much media attention.
Do we have any compelling stories about clients that have created outstanding customer experiences?