“Profit in business comes from repeat customers, customers that boast about your project or service, and that bring friends with them.” – W. Edwards Deming

If you do something nice for me, I want to reciprocate. In fact, I NEED to reciprocate — and as soon as possible. That way, I no longer feel that I am obligated to you in any way.

If you’ve read Robert Cialdini’s excellent book “Influence:  The Psychology of Persuasion” or remember the main point of Message #934, you know how powerful the principle of reciprocation is when it comes to marketing your product. What you may not realize is that you can also put this principle to work for you to get your satisfied customers to not only keep coming back but also recommend you to their friends.

The idea is to get into the habit of doing a small favor for three to five customers or potential customers each workday. Over a month, that adds up to 60 to 100 people who, at the very least, will be thinking good thoughts about you — and might even want to actively start helping you. The possibilities are endless. You could, for example, provide the customer with a piece of information that may be of help to him. One way I do this is to recommend to my clients that they sign up for a free trial subscription to ETR, explaining that they will get some great ideas if they do. A number of them have done it — and have then become paying subscribers. They have all come back to thank me for my suggestion.

Let me tell you a little story to illustrate how effective the principle of reciprocation can be.

A few years ago, it was still possible to have milk delivered to your door in my hometown. A young Asian man took over an established route at a time when most customers were buying their milk at the local supermarket.

And here’s what he did . . .

First, he went door to door and personally introduced himself to every homeowner in the area. Then, he gave each one a price list and asked thisquestion: “Mr./Mrs./Ms. Homeowner, if you were to use my service to buy milk, fruit juice, or yogurt, where would you like it delivered? Your front door? Your back door? Your letter box? There is no extra charge — it’s all part of the service.”

Needless to say, he picked up a lot of new customers by doing this. He wrote down in a notebook their answers to his question and followed through by making the deliveries exactly the way they wanted them done.

Three months later, his milk truck broke down. How did he handle this crisis? He borrowed three phones from his neighbors and got his whole family to help him call every customer and apologize for the delay. They said something like “This is a quick call to let you know that our truck broke down this morning and we are running about three hours behind time. Sorry for the delay.”

In other words, he made a special effort to let his customers know why their milk would not be delivered on schedule.

What effect did these small favors have on his business? People were telling their friends and everyone else they knew: “Have you heard about my milkman? He is so good!” As a result, his sales increased 125% in less than six months — and he became a minor celebrity in his delivery area.

Here’s the main point I want to make here. This milkman’s products (milk, juice, etc.) and prices didn’t change. And his potential customers could still buy the same things more conveniently in their local supermarket when they bought their groceries. Yet, by making it his policy to do all sorts of extra services for his customers, and by presenting those extra services as friendly gifts, he created a widespread and very powerful feeling of obligation among them. “My milkman has done me so many favors,” they thought. “What can I do to repay him?” One obvious answer: “Give him more business.” And that’s what happened. That’s what will happen to you, too, if you incorporate this important principle into your business.

One final thought: After reading over this piece, Michael Masterson commented that it’s very important to sell the idea that what you are doing is above and beyond the call of duty. “Extra services that are not labeled as such will come to be expected and eventually unappreciated,” he warns. “So do the good deed . . . but sell the goodness too!”

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