Last year in Birmingham a couple of friends and I were stopped by an individual whilst we were walking through the shopping centre. He asked us something strange, about having paint on our hands or something, which caused us to stop as were surprised and not ready to say ‘no thank you’ and hurry on as one might normally do when they see someone trying to sell them something. Once we had stopped we were trapped. He started by asking us general questions and we had to engage him in conversation, not to do so would have violated social norms and seemed rude, since we had already made the mistake of stopping. He exploited the similarity altercast, showing himself as ‘just like us’ by talking about ‘nights out’ etc. Through this he built a rapport with us, allowing him to exploit this by making us feel empathy towards him: when we asked if we could just take a leaflet and sign up online he told us that unfortunately this would mean he wouldn’t get his commission. He used flattery by pretending to take an interest in our lives and by asking us to give him tips on how to do his job as we were psychology students (though he was clearly already very good at it!). He also threw in the ‘that’s not all’ technique by saying that if we signed up we would get a free Topshop voucher worth £40, which sounded pretty good. After standing and talking to this man for such a long time and him making such an effort I think the norm of reciprocity kicked in. He had taken so much time to talk to us, when he could have been talking to other customers, we felt like we owed him our compliance.
We all ended up signing up to love film. None of us received our Topshop vouchers, and we all cancelled our subscription after the first month.
Gremler & Gwinner (2008) conducted a content analysis on responses of customers and employees about times when a rapport had been established in a sales relationship. They identified five techniques that employees use to successfully build rapport with customers. The first is ‘uncommonly attentive behaviour’, the salesman in the above situation used one of the subcategories of this ‘intense personal interest’ by expressing interest in the customer as a person. He also used the second technique ’common grounding behaviour’ by trying to identify mutual interests with us and trying to show that he was similar to us. It could also be argued that he used the ‘unexpected honesty’ subcategory of the ‘courteous behaviour’ technique by telling us that he would not get paid if we did not sign up right then. He definitely used the fourth technique, ‘connecting behaviour’ and ticked all the subcategory boxes which are ‘using humour’, ‘pleasant conversation’ and ‘friendly interaction’. He probably also ticked the box for the last technique which was ‘information sharing behaviour’ as he ‘imparted knowledge’ by showing us all the films we could get and how we could choose which one we wanted each month etc.
He did a very good job!
Gremler, D. D., & Gwinner, K. P. (2008). Rapport-building behaviours used by retail employees. Journal of Retailing, 84, 308-324.