The persuasive power of returning the favour

Ever send out a round of surveys to your customers and get anemic results? Give it another try – but this time, automatically credit each customer a small ($5) amount. Odds are your customers will feel obliged to reciprocate for the gift and be much more responsive.

Harvard Business Review – Seize the Persuasive Moment after “Thank You”

You are more likely to invite a neighbor to the party you’re hosting this weekend if they have previously invited you to one of theirs. You can be persuaded to leave the waiter a bigger tip if he places a piece of candy on the table along with your check. Fundraisers can increase the chances that you will make a contribution if they accompany their request itself with a small gift.

The principle is reciprocation: the psychological phenomenon in which we feel drawn to repay what another has provided for us first. An obvious idea, but understanding its nuances can enhance your ability to build stronger networks, create more trusting relationships, encourage long term collaboration and become more influential over others.

What is particularly fascinating about the way reciprocation works is the order of the exchange. Unlike a traditional “if you help me then I will help you” transaction, reciprocation requires us to take the lead and be the first to give in the hope that the recipient will play by the rule and respond accordingly. This isn’t as naïve as it sounds; numerous studies have in fact shown that if we give first, those we invest in will very often live up to their obligations — often even more than when we demand the initial move.

A series of studies conducted by my Yes! co-authors Robert Cialdini and Noah Goldstein show how this played out in a business setting, looking, for example, at how hotels asked customers to reuse their linens. The study showed that when guests were informed that the hotel had already made a donation to an environmental organization, those guests were 45% more likely to reuse their towels and linens. This was compared to a standard approach in which guests were told that the hotel would make a donation only if they reused their towels first. Compared to this standard incentive-based message, the”give-first” strategy resulted in a more desirable change in guests’ behavior, more environmentally protective outcomes, and increased cost savings for the hotel.

The same holds for other situations that require an element of persuasion. In another series of studies, researchers sought to persuade business executives to complete health and safety questionnaires about their organisation. They found that the inclusion of a $5 gift doubled the response rate compared to the promise of a reward of $50. Not only did the gift trump the reward in terms of response, success came at a tenth of the price.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *