The principle of reciprocity: Why we give gifts in business

Great customer service isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s also good for business. Without customer retention strategies in place, acquiring new clients is akin to sailing a leaky boat - the journey will be an ongoing struggle that ends in you sinking. So how can business gift giving help?

Let’s be honest, everyone loves getting gifts. But how can your business avoid burning budgets and really perfect the process? In this blog, we consider the science of giving gifts in business, including the principle of reciprocity, pre-suasion, the frugal wow and the element of surprise.


The principle of reciprocity

In Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini explores the principle of reciprocity naming it as one of the cornerstones of social psychology. It’s the social norm and instinctive urge to respond to one positive action with another positive action.

So what does social psychology have to do with giving gifts in business? Humans are social animals, when something good happens to us, we are hard-wired to return the favour and pay back. For example when you are invited to a dinner party, the next time you host a dinner party you invite them back.

"We are hard-wired to return the favour and pay back."

Even in the modern world, reciprocity is a human emotive behaviour that can be seen at work in a whole host of situations, including in business. Gift giving in business can act as the initial positive action which triggers a positive response.



Cialdini also came up with the concept of ‘pre-suasion’, which posits that subtle and seemingly insignificant cues can prime people to say ‘yes’ before they are even asked.

Pre-suasion is essentially the art of enhancing powers of influence and winning people over. It happens all the time - for instance, many businesses will conduct A/B testing to examine which imagery, layouts or copy performs best on their website or within emails. If subtle cues such as font, colour palettes and other elements can make a real difference to how a brand is perceived, giving gifts in business will certainly have an impact.

First impressions count in the business world just as in ‘real life’, and pre-suasion can help to pave the way for a positive customer relationship in the future. However, don’t focus exclusively on brand new clients - keep it up throughout the customer journey, celebrate milestones, anniversaries and birthdays.


Frugal wows

We’ve all heard the phrase “it’s the thought that counts” but it’s true! You don’t need huge budgets to give gifts in business that achieve positive emotional customer reactions. Helpscout refers to the ‘frugal wow’ as the use of small gestures to create lasting loyalty.

While practical factors such as price, product and location play some part in our purchase choices, an overwhelming factor is experience. Business success often reflects how clients feel about your brand, and relatively small gestures can have a big impact on your image.

Frugal wows are, by definition, not of any particular financial value to customers. However, they are remembered and valued because they create an unexpected experience. Giving gifts in business doesn’t have to cost the earth, so long as these ‘random acts of kindness’ achieve a moment of customer delight.



Surprise and delight

Although ‘acts of kindness’ can be incredibly effective in their own right, research shows that the ‘random’ element makes significantly even more powerful. Unexpected gestures stand out more in our minds and leave a stronger impression on the longer term.

Forget about business gift giving for a minute. In 1987, Psychologist Norbert Schwarz’s ‘Dime Experiment’ found that simply discovering an unclaimed coin could have a significant impact on an individual’s overall satisfaction with life!

"Unexpected gestures stand out more in our minds and leave a stronger impression long term."

“It's not the value of what you find. It's that something positive happened to you,” explained Schwarz. In addition to this, surprise is a key component: “The dime only works if you're not aware you're happy because you found it.”

So how can this principle be applied to gift giving in business? Consider what your customers DON’T expect from you, and do that. Surprise upgrades, free treats and handwritten notes could make their day and alter their perception of your brand.


Gift giving in business can trigger our senses

Giving gifts in business can amplify moments of customer delight, keep your business in mind and encourage them to share their experience with others.

If your budget can stretch a little further than handwritten notes, why not give a business gift your customer can touch, taste, smell or even use? Simply sharing a drinks hamper, chocolate bar or aromatherapy candle appeals to their human senses, gives them a moment of tangible delight and provides a talking point for anyone around them. It’s a win-win situation!

Inkpact is delighted to be launching our very own corporate gifting range delivered complete with handwritten notes in letterbox-friendly hampers. Whether your client is a gin lover, wellness guru or accessorising enthusiast, we have the perfect choice. Better yet, order in a few clicks with our helpful CRM integrations. Check them out!

Back to Blog