Reading “Favor Enhancement: Real gratitude can be profitable. How, then, to create it?” in the New York Times magazine. In this article, the author Rob Walker highlights a new program by Hyatt Hotels whereby staff members ‘randomly’ perform acts of generosity towards their customers. Hyatt may pick up your bar tab. Or your massage bill. Or maybe your super-expensive, but much needed late night Snickers bar.

The idea behind this marketing campaign is that customers who feel you have been unusually generous will become loyal, repeat customers.

I have had this experience personally. A un-asked for act of generosity by British Airways made me a lifelong customer. I was in a terrible car wreck on my honeymoon in Italy (not a brilliant start to married life). After a wobbly few days in Venice, I called BA sobbing “I want to go home now!” They not only changed our flights for no fee, they also upgraded us to first class, and the airline staff were unusually gracious. I was hooked as a customer, and have been ever since.

Robert Palmatier, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Washington and author of a coming paper in the Journal of Marketing tells us that making a customer feel truly grateful directly correlates to opening their wallets. For me, I’ve spent thousands and thousands of dollars on flights with BA in the 16 years since my honeymoon, flying my family of five back and forth between San Francisco and London.

In what ways can you make your customers feel grateful?

  • Do you know their birthday? Send them a virtual gift, a coupon or even a card.
  • Do you see a customer with a problem on their blog, or on Twitter? Answer. Respond. Fix it. Give them their money back. Without being asked.
  • Do you ship goods to your customers? Include a little freebie or two. I buy product from a Yon-Ka retailer who always includes goodie samples; I go back time and again to the same retailer so I can get those teeny-tiny free goodies that are perfect for two-day business trips.

Could Hyatt’s program backfire? What if someone hears about the program, and their bar tab isn’t picked up? Will they feel that’s unfair? I think not. I would like to think doing the right thing, being generous, and taking care of your customer on a personal level will generate goodwill and good word-of-mouth of the best kind.

Update on July 24, 2009: OMG, I’m loving this story about Triscuits: “How to create a culture of buzz” by John Jantsch. What’s your equivalent of sending Triscuits to Fiji? That’s what I’m talking about! In the “old days” such acts of generosity wouldn’t have gone far beyond Suva. But today, your generosity could be talked about anywhere in the world.