An Unexpected Gift

21st August 16

Success! You have some loyal customers and you have changed your relationship status.

We know that around five positive experiences are required to offset a negative one and in any relationship, there are bound to be ups and downs. In a personal relationship, it may only take a number of small kind acts, like holding the door open or an unexpected kindness to create a positive emotional bank account – as Stephen Covey refers to creating relationships.

Why should it be any different for a relationship between a retailer and a customer? It’s not that easy to create a positive emotional balance with customers. Many retailers believe they create positive experiences by offering loyalty schemes (wallets and purses are becoming stuffed full of extra cards), free gifts for purchasing increased volumes or money off vouchers to spend on your next shop. Savvy shoppers see through this and know they are aimed at “sweetening the deal” and or tying customers into repeat visits rather than solely for the customers’ benefit. The game changer is the “unexpected gift” or personal touch that turns a transaction into a positive experience. Online retailers send out unexpected gifts when delivering orders. It’s always great to receive a free sample or trial size product and, if it’s targeted correctly, it can really enhance the positive experience.

I recently ordered a new cage for my daughters’ two rabbits – an online purchase of some significance. It was delivered on time, it looked good and the box also contained a bag of rabbit food. I must admit, I was quite impressed. I mentioned it to a number of other people and, for the next few days, we used it to feed the rabbits – who also seemed impressed. We changed to this brand! Obviously this does not work every time, however the potential for increasing sales may well not be the only real tangible benefit from this exercise – the behavioural response of the customer may well be enough by itself.

So far I haven’t mentioned any psychological reasoning to support the benefits of “unexpected gift giving” but there are numerous areas of research that give is an insight into why it could make a significant difference to our relationships.

The emotional response we seek from a meaningful gift experience is “gratitude”.  This is a defined emotional state and explained well by Neel Burton MD.

“Gratitude never came easily to us human beings, and is a diminishing virtue in modern times. In our consumerist society, we focus on what we lack, or what other people have that we don’t, whereas gratitude is the feeling of appreciation for what we already have.
It is the recognition that the good in our life can come from something that is outside us and outside our control – be it other people, nature, or a higher power – and that owes little or nothing to us.”

Without doubt, it’s an area that requires much more research, however it is difficult to deny the findings and associated discussion provided by works like “The Psychology of Gratitude” By Robert A. Emmons, Michael E. McCullough. They persuasively argue that “gratitude” itself is such a positive emotion, it can offset any number of negative emotions as well as ensure a higher level of memory recall of “pleasant” and “upbeat” emotions. Gratitude is such a strong emotional response that it ensures the experience is encoded and related to other similar episodes and therefore more easily retrieved from our long-term memory. In layman’s terms, when you feel gratitude the heightened positive emotional state ensures you remember it, so it can outweigh any negative experiences.

So, as a retailer in a relationship, we desire our customers to feel “gratitude”; it means they feel special, they remember positive experiences and want to continue the relationship. As Robert A. Emmons, Michael E. McCullough suggests, one of the most common and reliable ways to obtain a person’s “gratitude” is by offering them an “unexpected gift”.

I am aware of the cost implications of giving “stuff” away, however it is an opportunity to collaborate with other retailers/distributers and even promote relevant in-house products.  And an unexpected gift could be a friendly, caring interaction with one of your colleagues. Let’s face it, we desperately want to give the “great” customer experience every time and from a psychological perspective, “gratitude” is a fantastic start point.

I’d be interested in your thoughts, feedback and experience too. Or if you have any questions, drop me a line (J[email protected]) – I’d love to hear from you.

Neel Burton MD
“The Psychology of Gratitude”
By Robert A. Emmons, Michael E. McCullough