How to Use the Ben Franklin Effect to Increase Loyalty

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Customer loyalty is hard to develop, and wouldn’t be worth much if it weren’t. People don’t naturally extend goodwill to other people, let alone corporations, so loyalty needs to be carefully cultivated. But how exactly do you establish a lasting and positive connection?

This is something that the sales industry has been trying to determine since, well, forever. And while there isn’t a magic bullet, there are numerous methods that can prove effective if implemented correctly — including asking someone for a favor.

Yes, this goes against the common notion that it’s best to do someone a favor to get them to like you, but common notions are often flawed. Let’s take a look at the effect that drives this method, often called the Ben Franklin effect, and consider how you can use it to turn relative strangers into loyal customers.

Sometimes, asking for a favor is more persuasive than doing one for someone. #psychology #neuromarketing Share on X

What is the Ben Franklin effect?

Named after Ben Franklin (who wrote of borrowing a book from a rival who warmed to him as a result), this effect states the following: that if you ask someone to help you out in some way, and they indeed do, they will then be more likely to do you another favor. Note that asking for the favor is not enough: the person asked needs to willingly provide it without feeling too cajoled.

The existence of this effect doesn’t mean that doing someone a favor doesn’t work at all, I should note. It often does, depending on the context. The idea of invoking reciprocity, or reciprocation, was demonstrated by Robert Cialdini decades ago. However, doing the asking is often easier. And, a series of exchanged favors can lead to loyalty. Sometimes, though, circumstances make it easier to ask for something than to do something for another person..

On that note, if you intend to curry favor by asking for one, it will probably need to be small. A stranger (or even someone who views you negatively) might rankle at the notion of doing you a big favor — if anything, asking for it might make you look worse. But it depends entirely on the context. To decide what you can ask, you must “read the room” to the best of your ability.

How does the Ben Franklin effect work?

Many studies have been done on this effect (dating back decades), and the main school of thought identifies the culprit as an effort to resolve cognitive dissonance resulting from a perceived disparity between action and motivation.

While we tend to think that we have neat logical reasons for the actions we take, this is seemingly illusory: instead, we take action for reasons that are complex, instinctive, and often somewhat arbitrary. Then, we devise logical justifications to retroactively explain our behavior.

Apply this to the favor-requesting method of boosting loyalty and you get the following sequence:

  • You ask someone (who is not a friend) to do you a favor.
  • For whatever reason, they agree to do it.
  • They mind looks for a logical justification.
  • It struggles to reconcile the attitude towards you with the favor.
  • It “reinterprets” the former, concluding that you’re viewed positively.

Though the mind could come up with a justification without needing to adjust one of the parameters, it is reluctant to do so because of the implications. If you don’t really like someone but you did them a favor, that might leave you feeling exploited somehow, or played for a fool. To protect the ego, it’s easier to decide that you actually liked them to begin with.

How you can use it to win customer loyalty?

Particularly in the ecommerce world, there are so many possible points of interaction that it’s extremely easy to create opportunities to ask minor favors. Let’s run through a simple sequence that you can adapt to almost any circumstance:

  • Request something simple, like feedback.
    • The best way to do this is to use as many automation tools as possible to configure requests at interaction points. For instance, you could configure a chatbot to pop up following an order, or an email to send following delivery. Throw in the occasional manual request and you should have some success.
  • Thank favor providers while implying why they obliged.
    • Once someone has done you a favor, it’s vital that you follow up in a way that also furthers their retroactive justification. For instance, say that their favor was “incredibly generous” and talk about how much you appreciate it — giving the impression that it was a personal favor to you, instead of a quick and meaningless concession to a pop-up.
  • Build off that favor when asking for another.
    • We like to think that we’re consistent with how we behave and make decisions, so if we’re asked for a favor by someone we certainly did a favor for before, we’ll view it as making a lot of sense. To do otherwise would be to threaten the integrity of the face-saving explanation for the first favor. As such, every time you convince someone to do you a favor, it will add to their conviction that that liked you all along.
  • Slowly introduce incentives.
    • The snowballing goodwill of doing favors won’t last forever. At some point, you’ll push your luck too far, and the the explanation will change to “they did like you, but you’ve asked too much, and now they don’t”. To combat this, you should slowly start to introduce incentives to offset the increasing weight of the favors you’re asking. Their explanation might even change again to “they keep doing you favors because of your great incentives”.

If you can follow that formula, you can end up with a solid selection of loyal customers ready and willing to do you favors for nothing more than the occasional incentive. Escalate those incentives (as you would for a full customer loyalty scheme) and you can start turning them into influential brand advocates.

Got into the habit of doing too many favors for ungrateful or indifferent customers? Try flipping the script and asking instead. You just might find that the Ben Franklin effect is the missing loyalty ingredient you’ve been searching for.

How you can use the Ben Franklin Effect to create customer #loyalty. #psychology Share on X

Victoria Greene is an ecommerce marketing expert and freelance writer who is understandably skeptical about doing favors for strangers. You can read more of her work at her blog Victoria Ecommerce.

  1. Suzanne F. says

    As usual I am blown away by neuromarketing and how deep the roots go back. Thank you for the post.

  2. Alicia says

    What an interesting article! Thank you very much!

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