Please Don't Make Me Sell: Back Scratching, The Art of Reciprocity

Order Reprints

In this column, we continue the Please Don’t Make Me Sell series. The goal of this series is to provide your front line people, who do the service reviews, with tools and tactics to use when presenting to your guests. Selling doesn’t have to be hard and stressful. When done right, it can increase sales and build customer satisfaction.

This month, we’ll look at reciprocity.

“Reciprocity in social psychology refers to responding to a positive action with another positive action, rewarding kind actions,” according to Wikipedia. “As a social construct, reciprocity means that in response to friendly actions, people are frequently much nicer and much more cooperative than predicted by the self-interest model; conversely, in response to hostile actions they are frequently much more nasty and even brutal.”

In simple terms, you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours. It is hard-wired into human nature. We don’t even notice it most of the time, but take a moment to look for it right now. Start with charity, and it seems obvious. Match the gift with the charity. For example, a small imitation poppy, small tootsie roll or a small roll of mints. Did you get American Legion, Knights of Columbus and Lions Club? Do you receive mail with coins taped in a windowed envelope or return address labels? These are all based on the concept of reciprocity.

You might have noticed I used the word small three times. The taped coin can be a penny — size doesn’t seem to matter. Just the gesture is key. Timing is important as technically the gift should come first to trigger a positive action from the recipient. Otherwise, you seem to be buying what should feel like a gift.

Triggering the reciprocity response doesn’t even have to involve a gift. Gestures and words can do it, too. Door opening, smiles and sincere questions and offers of help can do it, also. Sincerity is critical to this tool. Sincerity gives this whole concept its power. It’s all about them, not you.

Now, you are in a great business to make it work for you. From the warm, professional greeting, to the offering of gifts, to the way you conduct the service review provides you with a rich environment of opportunity. Timing is critical here, too. Most sales take place at the review. Front loading your gifts will get the biggest results. Afterward, the reciprocity is all for the return visit. The front loaded (before review) gifts include beverages, bathrooms, trash bags, pet snacks and kid’s stuff.

During the review, make sure you’re highlighting things you might have done for free during the inspection. Providing good information is looked upon as a gift. Empathy counts, too. “How were your wipers working when it rained last?” is effective as a sales tool because it shows you care — empathy. Explaining your top-off policy here versus goodbye can trigger reciprocity, too.

Reciprocity. Hey, I have an idea, I’d like to give you something free. Contact me, and I’ll send it right out. 


DAVID PRANGE is currently assistant to the chairman at Next Generation Mfg. He can be reached at 630.699.6813 or:


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May 2018

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