The CFO of a mid-sized company was being let go due to mismanagement of the company’s funds. In his final hours at the company, the CFO made a last-ditch effort to earn the goodwill of some of the company’s customers. He called the managers of each of their three largest customers, and announced that 20% of their account balances had been forgiven, and the late fees waived.

A week later, the President of the company was informed by his Digital Marketing Director that each of their three largest customers had submitted thank-yous on the customer forum on the company website, had posted rave reviews about the company on, and had written glowing comments on the company’s LinkedIn and Facebook pages. Moments later, the Senior Sales Manager reported that all of these same customers had substantially expanded their accounts with the company. And the HR Director revealed that the former CFO now had stellar recommendations on his LinkedIn profile from the managers of the three customers.

“Shrewd fellow,” commented the President. “Too bad his performance while he was here was not so wise.”

Some of you may recognize this story as an adaptation of one told by Jesus in Luke 16. Why was this dishonest CFO commended in the end? Because his final actions earned him the loyalty of his employer’s customers – and likely helped his employer as well. The CFO made good use of the principle of Reciprocation, one of the six Weapons of Influence identified by researcher Robert Cialdini.

The principle of Reciprocation says that people tend to repay kindnesses that have been shown to them, whether in business or in personal life. Part of this may stem from our unwillingness to seem ungrateful, or indebted, or a freeloader. But also, we simply prefer to do business with people who exhibit good customer service.

When I taste samples at a grocery store, I feel obligated to spend money there. When a waitress does an exceptional job at keeping my water glass refilled, I want to tip her more generously. When I get my oil changed and the mechanic notices that my tires are a little low, and puts some air in them for free, I am happier to continue to patronize that service shop.

What can your organization do to initiate reciprocation from your audience? Offer free samples? Give small gifts from time to time? Send “Happy Birthday” postcards on customers’ birthdays? Randomly award free shipping? Or simply go above and beyond in customer service?

A word of caution: the principle of Reciprocation should not be used manipulatively. If it is, your customers will catch on – and leave. But cultivate within your organization a genuine attitude of giving and serving, and you will see good returns.

For more ideas and tested examples of the principle of Reciprocation, read Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive by Goldstein, Martin, and Cialdini.


Haley Dilling is a freelance web designer and marketing consultant currently residing in Abilene, Texas.  For more information, please visit her site.