…Sprinkle it with dew. Cover it in chocolate and a miracle or two?

The candy man, the candy man can!!!

So this week I have decided to focus my blog around the sugary, e-numbered goodness that is sweets/chocolate/candy and the potential positive effects a free piece of sugared E-number can have on the customer experience.There have been a number of reasons for my choice of blog this week. Firstly my recent shop floor musings have focused a bit around freebies and how shops could use them more. Additionally after swapping the shop floor for a coach at the weekend and helping out at the University open day I was struck by a staff member’s idea of handing out sweets to queuing individuals waiting for the halls accommodation tours. Then, to top it off, a fellow classmate this week offered me a chewing gum in class as I sat coughing through a three hour lecture! Cost him tuppence yet I really appreciated this gesture. So grab what’s left of your Halloween candy and settle into my blog on how free confectionery can make the customer experience even sweeter (terrible pun, had to do it, I’m not sorry about doing it!)

^Proof that my blog on sweets is scientific?

In America customer satisfaction is linked to the amount that is tipped by the customer. Using this assumption Strohmetz et al (2002) directly attempted to manipulate customer satisfaction in a restaurant, and hence tip size, simply by giving away small pieces of individual wrapped chocolate to each paying customer. As a bill was presented customers were initially also given one piece of chocolate each, and whilst this increased tip size/customer satisfaction, it did so by a barely noticeable 3%. Yet give them two pieces of chocolate each and tips increased by 14%. However the most interesting results came when customers were given one sweet and then one minute later the staff returned to give them another which increased tips by 23%! Basically if it looked like a member of staff appreciated you enough to come back again with more sweets you felt even more valued then if you had just received two sweets in the first place.

So how can something as small and as inexpensive as a sweet dramatically alter a customer’s perception of a service?

Firstly it can be considered a form of service recovery for an earlier failure that a customer may have perceived such as a particular item not being in stock or having to queue. A well-executed service recovery is important in enhancing customer satisfaction, building customer relationship and preventing customer defections  and customers appreciate when a business or service publically admits fault. A free gift in a form of a piece of candy could be perceived as a public admittance of a fault even the business may not have been aware one occurred.

Secondly handing out sweets makes the sweet giver appear more friendly. This was based on reasoning from a paper on similar simple techniques to increase a positive business and staff perception e.g. waiting staff hand writing “thank you” on a customer’s bill.  By the ‘sweet giver’ appearing more friendly customer happiness will not only increase but customers will also be more trusting and more willing to engage in conversation with the sweet giver (this paper gives a good, general overview). For example if free sweets were handed out at a University open day then the individuals looking round should feel even more willing to share with the staff all them worries and random thoughts that they want to ask but don’t. And by getting answers they should ultimately feel they have achieved from their day, are more knowledgeable and have more trust in the answers they were given.

^ I wanted to find a picture of ‘smiling candy’ to emphasise that sweets make customers happy. What i stumbled upon was a blog dedicated to putting faces on images of sweets!

Finally, and I think my favourite finding to come out of these sweet studies, is that being gifted unexpected food not only has a positive effect on people’s moods but also makes them more willing to help others. Individuals won’t suddenly become dramatically more altruistic but by feeling good due to a small gift they become willing to interact with other people, or even complete small manual tasks on behalf of others without being explicitly asked to do so. Additionally humans have developed the norm of reciprocity; we feel obliged to return a favour even if we never asked anyone to complete the favour for us in the first place (for an overview on reciprocity click here). Keeping customers happy is always important for long term customer satisfaction and loyalty but inducing reciprocity could benefit stores further. For example on the shop floor we currently have a scheme signing up people for online shopping in exchange for an online voucher. If store staff gave a shopper a sweet we could assume, based on this norm, the shopper would be a lot happier to ‘help’ the staff member and quickly fill in their e-mail address in ‘exchange’ for the sweet they had received earlier.

^Candy Crush also worked on reciprocity – I send you 3 extra moves, you send me some back! No wonder the game was so addicting, it tapped into human evolution!

You can find similar effects in giving away anything to customers; there is nothing unique about sweets (minus the small sugar rush or induction of endorphins you may experience after eating a few!) It’s not the value of the item that is given away that is important but the fact that it is free, free is a magic word to consumers, a free Belgium chocolate sea shell would have the same effect on a customer as a penny black jack because it is free, it’s a gift hence cost is not important.

Plus what I love about sweets (apart from the obvious ‘evolution makes me pre-disposed to love sugar!’) is that they can become so much more than a ‘free prize’ to a business or service. Splash a bit more cash and suddenly you have a novel form of marketing – edible marketing! Who wouldn’t love a brand name or company slogan stamped onto your tiny piece of rock candy! They sound a lot more appealing than an edible leaflet anyway! (though after a quick Google this is indeed a valid advertising concept in some parts of the world and one, I believe, needs to arrive in the UK soon!)




4 thoughts on “Who can take a sunrise?

  1. Sweets are a great way to enhance the mood of your patrons, but when the value of the gift increases the psychological responses vary. The Value-discounting hypothesis states that if something is offered as a free gift people are value it less. There is less intention to buy the product and it is rates as less expensive. This effect can be inhibited by price information or representatives of the brands value.

    Raghubir, P. (2004). Free gift with purchase: promoting or discounting the brand?. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 14(1), 181-186.

    • I think you have a valid point Dave, but this won’t apply if the thing being given away is not the product that an organization intends to sell. So giving away sweets might decrease their value to whoever is receiving it, but it does nothing to the value of the products/services being offered by an organization.

      By the way ‘littlegreenboots’, this is a fantastic post. It’s something so simple which can make a big difference to the experience of the product or service. To take a restaurant meal as an example, I feel unbelievably more connected/better value when I get free water and maybe ‘complimentary bread’ (at some fancy dancy place). It’s something so cheap to give customers, and it just improves EVERYTHING about the experience which I have.

      On a wider scale, I find the setting up of ‘free shops’ to be an interesting idea. Gareth Harvey (did his PhD at Bangor University) set one of these up in Wrexham. Apparently – couldn’t find the link to the paper – “free goods could make customers happy and make them want to spend more elsewhere”. This is in line with what you said, and i’m going to try and chase up if it had any influence on the sales in the area (but I have little hope that this has already been done…).

      Thanks for the good read!
      Free Shop in Wrexham: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-east-wales-21237207

  2. First thing’s first – where do I get those tic tac’s from? I love the look of them.
    I find the results of the sweet studies really interesting – that people are more willing to help others after being gifted sweets and that people feel positive towards the giver of the sweets.

    I notice that you mention, from an evolutionary point of view, ‘evolution makes me predisposed to love sugar!’. But there are quite a few studies that would suggest that ‘evolution makes us predisposed to love gifts’ too. So when the diners were being given gifts of chocolate, there may have been all sorts of deeply hard-wired reproductive, kin selection and reciprocation buttons being pressed too. Sadd and Gill (2003)
    carried out an interesting study that suggested gift giving is a significant way of cementing friendship bonds, as close friends were treated more generously than family members. They also suggested that the order of gift-giving expenditures to various recipients might serve as a good indication of the importance of the Darwinian models that are triggered (we’re back to reproduction, kin-selection and reciprocation). It would be interesting to see a study that looks at gift giving between different groups that test those three areas.

    Really interesting Blog.

  3. Last weekend I went to London, we booked a hotel to stayed overnight,as soon as into the four star hotel, there are not only clean sheet but two pieces chocolate on the bed. The chocolate have simple packing, only hotel’s name on it, however, this a little benefit which make me feel this hotel is delicate, elegant and systematic. Sweets(sugar) seems can bring more satisfaction for people and it also be processed primarily in our brain. Therefore, in some wedding company in Taiwan, firms will provide some sweets in the shop for brides, who are easily have emotional behaviour during the preparation of their wedding. That makes brides feel joy, and it also bring some positive impressions when they are served.

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