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The Karmic web, you get what you give
2010-07-13: Reciprocity is the idea that if you give people something, they will feel indebted to you and at some point in the future, will give back to you.
You can think of giving as being like saving. As you give out, so you shall receive. I've always admired those who have the strength of character to give their time or income to others. There are those who give away 10% of their income.
It's become almost a standard way forward for Internet businesses. Google spent years developing its whole search business before working out how to make money from it (Adwords), and they still give us search free of charge. Oh, and Google maps. Google maps free of charge. We take it for granted, but Google maps free of charge, and the street view thingy. Isn't that just completely amazing?
So we feel some warmth towards Google and what they get back is that we use them over other search engines, and that means they can dominate pay per click and earn the money to give us more free stuff.
But is that a really good example of reciprocity? If Google's search was even slightly worse than Microsoft's or Yahoo!, we'd have walked. When Google launched Street View there was an outcry about privacy. We didn't say "yeah, well, look at all the great free stuff they give us".
When you go to your local deli and they put in a free sweet, that triggers reciprocity. It's one-to-one giving that does it, and if they remember that you prefer dark chocolate, that could make you happy for a week! It's the idea that the business thought of you personally, and did something special for you.
That dark chocolate trick won't work on your girlfriend btw. That's your expected level of service. The only way is down (if you get it wrong). It has to be over-and-above service to trigger reciprocity and it has to be true giving, not when you want something or to atone for previous wrongs (BP can make it right as much as they like, but we won't forgive in a hurry).
This was the last time we went to Ikea. We swore never again. Prior to that (so over six years ago), I'd bought two CD cabinets and only assembled and used one. The other day my partner decided to assemble the other and discovered there were no nuts and bolts inside the pack.
I tried to dissuade her from calling on the basis that the experience would be painful, exasperating and a waste of emotional energy. She ignored me and called anyway. Despite the item being six years out of date, the person she spoke to knew the unit, could see what she needed, pieced together a package of nuts and bolts and spares just in case, sent it by post, we got it after a couple of days, she assembled the unit and it works.
How's that for service? I'll tell you: it wipes away the majority of the previous pain.
And look what just happened. I blogged about it. I could have Tweeted, or mentioned them in my Facebook status. Giving great service or giving things away is link-bait: it's something you do to encourage people to link to your website (and so give you traffic and raise your position in the search engines) .. Karma y'see. It's a link building strategy.
Previously I've tried giving away 'free' reports, but it's not really worked in any big way. In Internet marketing, information and advice is ten a penny, so I'm not perceived to be giving away anything at all, even if it's a neat and hard-won set of key to-do's borne of years of experience.
As a sole trader, I could spend my days giving away my expertise but there comes a point when I have to pay the mortgage. Much as I would love Internet marketing to be the strongest driver of your business, there are others with different views: the accountant, for instance, and their view is equally strongly held, valid and hard won.
Radio Four is doing a series on London and in one programme they talked (as I remember) to a market stall greengrocer who had inherited his stall from his dad who, seeing a flow of Indian immigrants to the area advised him to learn Punjabi (or was it Hindi): "they'll love you", he said. He did, and he's now a key part of the community and the stall is still successful.
So, reciprocity. Give to receive. Or in other words, give great personal service. How can you apply that to your business? No .. more than what you just thought. How could you turn it up to eleven? Make it your differentiator.
I recently got slightly irritated with Aldi because I couldn't email them. Having the potential to be a pompous old git, I wanted to email my local shop manager to ask if they would consider replacing one of the three types of white rice that they sell with a risotto rice as I'm often having to go to another shop to buy that. Aldi don't do email. So I felt a little rejected, I was only trying to help, but I guess what they do is what they do and they do it well. It's the Ryanair of food retail: total efficiency. They don't want to field customer emails. They want to be great at what they do.
What I'm saying is: reciprocity might be your thing or it might not. It has to fit with your brand and your marketing strategy. But you could argue that Aldi's constant fight to deliver low prices encourages reciprocity and loyalty and we customers accept that there are no bells nor whistles.
Whatever reciprocity means to you, it's all about how the customer feels about your service. If they don't feel they are getting value, or appreciated, they'll walk. So it's a do or die thing, but you have to work it out for your business, and do it within your means. It's good karma. We need a bit of that in these tough times.

By John Allsopp
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