Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Free Starbucks?

Does ‘just asking’ really work? A question I asked myself after the 1st behaviour change lecture. I figured I’d give it a go, so here’s how it went down.

As a huge coffee fan who appreciates the great customer service at my local Starbucks, I thought why not tell them? Surely they’d want to hear how great their store is doing. So, I emailed Starbucks, expressing how much I valued their excellent customer service, whilst emphasising my regular custom. Then I asked, “Any chance your great customer service team could send me 2 vouchers to use for my next visit?”

There were several different influence tactics I tried to use to get some free Starbucks…

Firstly, I used flattery as research has shown flattery does indeed work (Pratkanis, 2007). By first complimenting Starbucks as an ‘Amazing company’ ‘whose values I admire’, it became more likely they would comply with my request as they most likely would have fallen into this ‘flattery trap’. For example, Hendrick et al. (1972) found complimenting individuals before asking them to comply with their request for completing a 7-page questionnaire significantly increased compliance. Aside from complimenting them because I knew flattery works, I thought this strategy would be more effective as this unexpectedly nice email would have stood out from the rest of their emails. Typically, retailers don’t receive lengthy emails complimenting them as much as they do receive complaints about the most mundane details (those of you who’ve worked in customer service will understand!). 

 It’s well established that as social beings we like others to view us as consistent in our behaviour and attitudes (Cialdini, 2007). Once we’ve made a decision to commit ourselves to a particular cause or behaviour, we will try our utmost best to be consistent with our following behaviour. For example, Pliner et al. (1974) found individuals who were asked to wear a lapel to show their support for a local charity were more likely to donate to that charity later on, demonstrating their desire to be consistent with the cause they had already committed to.
Starbucks have a company value they try to uphold, “Delivering our very best in all we do and holding ourselves accountable for results.” Therefore, with delivering the best service possible to customers being something Starbucks have committed themselves to, there was a higher possibility they would comply and give the customer what they wanted, in my case, free drinks. Plus, my email mentioned how their service standards “never fail to make my day”, surely if Starbucks want to uphold a consistent company image, they’d strive to make my day again by complying with my request?

I also used the good old norm of reciprocity. The norm of reciprocity dictates that when someone does something nice for us, we often feel it is only right that we give them something back (Groves, Cialdini & Couper, 1992). In this case, ‘my gift’ to Starbucks was positive store feedback as they highly esteem customer service. Starbucks most likely felt the obligation to do something in return for me as a token of appreciation for my ‘invaluable feedback’, making it more likely for them to send me vouchers. Also, mentioning I was a regular customer (hence contributing to their sales) could have similarly increased their likelihood of wanting to do something nice for me in return. For example, Regan (1971) conducted a study in which a confederate posing as a fellow participant in an experiment got themselves a Coke and bought one for the other participant too. When the confederate later tried to sell raffle tickets to the same participant, simply offering the Coke increased raffle ticket sales in comparison to when no Coke was given. The participant must have felt it was only right to help out the confederate when he needed a favour (selling raffle tickets) because he had gotten him a coke earlier. 

Lastly, instead of simply asking for a free drink on my next visit, I employed the pique technique by asking for exactly 2. This is where an unusual request for a specific amount leads to higher compliance, in comparison to a standard amount. For example, Santos, Leve and Pratkanis (1994) found when asking individuals for a specific amount of change e.g.”Can you spare 17 cents?” , compliance was much higher than when posing a general request such as “Can you spare any change?”. This is because the curiosity invoking nature of a strange request forces an individual to ponder over it more than they usually would, which in turn increases the likelihood they will comply with the request.

So did ‘just asking’ work?

YES! I received exactly 2 Starbucks vouchers!

So, with this in mind… I’ll be emailing Jaguar next.


Cialdini, R. B., & Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: The psychology of persuasion (pp. 173-174). New York: Collins.

Groves, R. M., Cialdini, R. B., & Couper, M. P. (1992). Understanding the decision to participate in a survey. Public opinion quarterly56, 475-495.

Hendrick, C., Borden, R., Giesen, M., Murray, E. J., & Seyfried, B. A. (1972). Effectiveness of ingratiation tactics in a cover letter on mail questionnaire response. Psychonomic Science26, 349-351.

Pliner, P., Hart, H., Kohl, J., & Saari, D. (1974). Compliance without pressure: Some further data on the foot-in-the-door technique. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology10, 17-22.

Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). Social influence analysis: An index of tactics. The science of social influence: Advances and future progress, 17-82.

Regan, D. T. (1971). Effects of a favour and liking on compliance. Journal of experimental social psychology7, 627-639.

Santos, M. D., Leve, C., & Pratkanis, A. R. (1994). Hey buddy, can you spare seventeen cents? Mindful persuasion and the pique technique. Journal of Applied Social Psychology24, 755-764.

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