Reciprocity (and How to Meaningfully Affect Customer Behavior)

It’s much easier for your customers and users to do nothing than it is to do something (damn you inertia!!!). This is a short guide on how I meanginfully affected customer behavoir (response rates) with the prinicle of reciprocity.

In my previous startup we were poised to make a dramatic change to our product and pricing. We needed to get early feedback from current customers and validate our ideas so we tapped our customer email list of a few thousand and sent out one of those dreaded surveys.

How we went about asking our customers to take the survey though made all the difference in the world (120% difference to be precise).

Enter The Principle of Reciprocity

Reciprocity is powerful. In short, if you do something nice for someone they’ll likely feel inclined to return the favor. Sounds simple, right? But how do you increase the likelyhood that they actually will?

The Experiment

Taking this principle into account, we wanted to send customers a coupon for 25% off our products (the favor) and in return, ask that they complete a survey on our new direction (our request). In addition we used other persuasion techniques like labeling and social proof in our email to grease the wheels.

To test the effectiveness of the reciprocity principle we then A/B tested our email campaign. Here’s the play by play:

First Email

Second Email

The Results

In just 24 hours, our test group (in which we detached the favor and request by sending separate emails) generated over 120% more responses. What’s more interesting, the test group’s feedback was generally more favorable overall (more positive responses and with constructive feedback). And can you guess who used the coupon more? Our test group, but only by a little.

To Summarize In 3 Quick Tips:

  1. Offer a simple reward to your customers but don’t ask for anything in return.
  2. In a separate communication, you can now ask for reciprocation.
  3. Be sure to use other persuasion techniques like labeling and social proof in your communication1.

By detaching the reward (our 25% off coupon) from the request (to take our survey) people felt less like they were being bribed and more like they were returning a favor. That feeling or perception made a huge difference in the rate and quality of our responses. You can read more about the reciprocity principle and other great persuasion techniques in Robert Cialdini’s book, Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive.

1Labeling, social proof and other techniques aren’t misleading or manipulative if you really mean it - “You’re an awesome customer who we know provides valuable feedback.”