Hug Your Customers

Hug Your Customers

September 20, 2011

Hug Your Customers

Really.  Give them a hug.  A big one.  Genuine.  Warm.  Caring.  That may be the best sales tool you have.  At least, that’s what the science is saying.  An article from Fast Company profiled Dr. Paul J Zak at Claremont Graduate University about his research on the hormone oxytocin – a hormone produced by the brain that is more traditionally known in scientific circles as the hormone that connects mothers to their babies.  (It’s the emotional umbilical cord in that way.)

Dr. Zak is more commonly known as Dr. Love because he has become absolutely obsessed with understanding the role this hormone plays in our everyday lives.  What he’s uncovered in study after study is that oxytocin is one of the critical components of human trust.  And trust, well:

“Trust pervades human societies.  Trust is indispensable in friendship, love, families and organizations, and plays a key role in economic exchange and politics.  In the absence of trust among trading partners, market transactions break down.  In the absence of trust in a country’s institutions and leaders, political legitimacy breaks down.”  (Emphasis added.) (Kosfeld, Heinrichs, Zak, Fischbacher, & Fehr, 2005)

Can I Trust You?

Trust isn’t limited to person-to-person relationships either.  Human beings have the strangest ability to trust what seems like lifeless or unaware items.  We trust symbols.  We trust buildings.  We trust large bodies of government (sometimes).  We also trust brands and products.  We may even love them.  Social psychologists call this a parasocial relationship and it is defined by an emotional and psychological relationship between two parties – except one party has no clue the relationship exists.  We traditionally see this between fans and celebrities but it’s not a difficult leap to believe that my MacBook Pro has very little cognitive awareness of the fact that I love her.  (See what I did there?)

In Brand We Trust

Do they trust your brand?  This is perhaps the question every brand manager should be asking – and measuring. Trust is one of the key ingredients to brand loyalty.  At a very basic level, you need to have a product whose quality does not vary to inspire trust (Lassar, Mittal & Sharma, 1984).  Variation leads to unpredictability and unpredictability, as any parenting book will tell you, makes establishing a trustworthy relationship difficult.  But those are the basics.  Trust becomes even more important as the risk associated with the product increases – either measured in outlay of financial resources or in the importance of the use of the product.  Familiarity, one of the measures I hear bantered around the most in research facility back rooms, isn’t it.  “Consumers have to trust the brand in order to make a purchase decision (Elliott & Yannopoulou, 2007).”

This makes the trust hormone, oxytocin, an unsung hero for most brands.  Oxytocin not only improves the chances that your high-risk product will get purchased, but it increases the threshold for monetary sacrifice (Morhenn, Park, Piper & Zak, 2008).  This study showed that touch followed by an intentional act of trust had the greatest effect – a 243% increase in monetary sacrifice!  Two hundred forty-three percent.  It’s worth the rewrite.  Of course, if you have a storefront or a sales staff that has direct contact with your customer, this is easy to put into action.  If you have a brand that lacks a retail presence or personal interaction, you can’t hug every customer.  But if I put my hypothesis hat on, I’d bet that you could get a significant increase of brand love with an intentional act of trust alone.  Either way, it seems that hugging is a best practice to follow to inspire brand loyalty.  In the immortal words of Will Ferrell in that seminal classic, “The Wedding Crashers,” bring it in for the real thing!

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