The psychology of using reciprocity in the workplace

Reciprocity – not exactly a word which rolls off the tongue, but one which is crucial in curating and delivering outstanding customer experience.

Put simply, reciprocity is an exchange between ourselves and another for a mutual benefit – a win/win for both sides. Reciprocity is different to negotiating in the sense that it doesn’t have to be tied to anyone gaining variables, traded against each other. I think to most, it has more in common with a ‘gesture of goodwill’ rather than a negotiation.

As an example, take reciprocity in the context of a supermarket. You see the delicious samples on a stand at the end of an aisle, with a warm and welcoming assistant inviting you to try. You take one, enjoy it, and the assistant is able to take the opportunity to build a reciprocal relationship with you.

It’s in our human nature to feel obliged to cooperate with others if they have shown willingness to support us.

One thing which is crucial to remember when trying to build reciprocity into your customer experience, is that it fundamentally only works if two factors are met:

  • The gesture you are offering is unexpected and taken as a genuine gesture of goodwill
  • The benefit given is meaningful, personalised in a way which meets your client’s needs

If a person doesn’t drink coffee, and you offer them a gift card to a coffee shop, this is unlikely to end in a reciprocal relationship. In the same way – if your client knows that you give out coffee shop gift cards to everyone, your ability to influence them or make a reciprocal relationship is limited.

 

Measuring results from simple gestures

In a psychological study considering the culture around tipping in America, it was observed that if the server signed the bottom of the bill, with a smiley face, tips largely remained as expected. If that same server gave a ‘gift’, by way of a sweet to the customer, the tips were slightly higher than expected.

And if the server provided the bill with a ‘gift’, took two steps away and turned back, saying something along the lines of ‘because it’s you guys, here’s an extra couple of sweets’, the tip increased significantly and, in some instances, was three times higher than anticipated.

When implemented correctly, reciprocity can help build memorable experiences and develop long-term relationships with clients and even staff. It plays into our human nature to collaborate and when executed well it can increase the quality of your client’s experience.