Making Customers Grateful Makes Sense

Hyatt Hotels recently announced a program for delivering “random acts  of generosity” to clients. These unexpected actions include things like picking up the tab for a bar bill or a massage in the spa. The thinking is that these surprise “gifts” will make customers grateful, which is a potentially a more valuable emotion than satisfaction.

This approach makes sense given new research in the Journal Of Marketing called The Role Of Customer Gratitude In Relationship Marketing by Robert W. Palmatier from the University of Washington. The research looked at the reaction of consumers who “perceive themselves to be the recipient of an intentionally rendered benefit.” Here are some key insights in the research:

  • Gratitude generates short-term feelings of reciprocity that creates an environment for building stronger relationships.
  • The propensity to reciprocate from gratitude decays over time; so mechanisms must be setup to take advantage of those feelings.
  • The feelings of gratitude are strengthened when the actions are viewed as benevolent and not self-serving for the company.
  • The feelings of gratitude are strengthened when the actions are perceived as coming from the free-will of an employee (without any direct benefits for the employee).

These findings also fit nicely into the Kano Model that I periodically discuss in this blog. Hyatt’s “acts of kindness”  represent what Kano would call “attractive” features; valuable but unexpected elements that can create a significant positive emotional response from customers.

When companies think about designing customer experiences, they should think about eliminating problems, consistently meeting customer needs, and delivering some unexpected acts of generosity.

The bottom line: Create an enviornment that encourages employees to do unexpectedly kind things for customers.

Written by 

I am an experience management transformist, helping organizations improve business results by engaging the hearts and minds of their customers, employees, and partners. My "job" is Head of the Qualtrics XM Institute. The Institute is still being established, but our goal is to help organizations around the world thrive by mastering Experience Management (XM). As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. Prior to joining Qualtrics, I was managing partner of Temkin Group (leading CX research, advisory, and training firm), co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (, and a VP at Forrester Research. I'm a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Check out my LinkedIn profile:

7 thoughts on “Making Customers Grateful Makes Sense”

  1. The problem I have with announcing a program like this is that you’re now setting expectations of the possibility of receiving such a gift. What happens if I’m a good customer and stay several times at a Hyatt without receiving a “random act of generosity”? Am I now disappointed that I didn’t receive anything?

    Not to mention now I’d be on the lookout for that to happen. When I’m at the bar, I’d wonder if I’m going to have to pay for the drinks. I think making this promotional public takes away from the randomness and thus the program has less of an impact that they desired.

    That’s mentioned in the NY Times article about this – I would have instituted this program, but not announced it. I think the potential risks outweigh the benefits here…

    1. Steven: You make a very good point; I would have rolled this out differently as well. The research shows that the power of gratitude is caused by the fact that it’s unexpected and perceived to be done on the free-will of the employee. If it’s perceived as a corporate program, then it will lessen the impact and might also cause some people to expect a freebie. I’ll bet there will be a lot of customers asking employees to pick up the tab for their drinks. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out.

  2. Sorry,

    Like I was saying. I know that whenever, I received something unexpected from a hotel I always remember that hotel for its kind act however small or large it may be. That simple kind act now makes the decide to go back there easier.

  3. It would be great if the gifts given also showed gratitude to the earth with a green gift. A wide variety of items exist to choose from like reusable water bottles, shower timers, etc. Hotels can even brand these products to be sure the guest will not forget the “random act of gratitude”.

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