Want to Score Special Deals, Samples and Swag? Try Flattery

My wife is the type of person who gets along with everyone. She’s never met someone she can’t have a five-minute conversation with: another patient in the dentist’s waiting room, a fellow shopper waiting to check out, the cashier—you name it. It’s remarkable, really.

Whenever she does this at a store, she asks the cashier if he or she has any coupons. More often than you’d probably imagine, they do, and scan it for her. The lesson? Being nice can help you save money. Being nice and willing to ask for the discount is the real winning combination.

With that in mind, I thought it’d be fun to conduct a little experiment earlier this year called the Flattery Project, where I emailed more than 40 of my favorite companies—from Chipotle to Burt’s Bees—and told them that they were awesome, one of their products was awesome or I had an awesome experience at one of their locations. Then I explicitly asked if they had any coupons or samples to send my way.

Why’d I think this would work? In addition to my wife’s success at the check-out counter, I figured it’d be refreshing for customer service reps, who get the brunt of customers’ frustrations and anger every day, to hear a compliment instead. And I was right—saying thanks netted some pretty great freebies.

Thirty-five percent of companies sent me something. Some notables: Nespresso gifted me a free set of glass cappuccino cups and saucers. Pepsi sent two coupons for a free six- or eight-pack of any Pepsi-Cola product. And Tom’s of Maine mailed a little box of goodies, including samplers of toothpaste, deodorant and soap. (To my surprise, a small number—about 16 percent—ignored my message entirely.)

All in all, I consider the experiment a success. It was fun, gave me a sneak peek into the customer service workings of some of my favorite companies and resulted in about $150 worth of free products and savings when you add up the coupons.

Want to give your own Flattery Project a shot? Keep in mind these valuable lessons I learned along the way.

Make sure your email includes a specific ask.

Put yourself in the shoes of a customer service representative, whose job it is to go through customer emails as quickly as possible. If you only compliment the company, they’ll feel great, say thank you, then close the ticket. Mailing you something, on the other hand, takes a few minutes longer, and they may not feel compelled to do that unless you ask.

You can be pretty straightforward. For most companies, I simply wrote: “I don’t know if you have any samples or coupons you could send my way, but I’d be most appreciative to try more of your products.” (For Nespresso, however, I went went step further and specifically asked for swag, so I could show off my love of their products.)

Consumer product companies are the most generous with coupons.

When it comes to coupons, you’ll likely find the most success with large consumer product companies. They have a huge customer service infrastructure in place and, given the popularity of extreme couponing, they’re accustomed to dealing with these types of requests.

For example, Frito-Lay (a PepsiCo brand) sent $1 off any Frito-Lay product priced $1 or greater, as well as two 55-cents-off coupons for products priced 55 cents or greater. Procter & Gamble sent $3 off Pampers diapers, $2 off Pampers wipes and $1 off an ultra soft mega roll pack of Charmin. (Note that some companies have schedules for how often they’ll send a customer coupons—often, every six months.)

Smaller companies are more likely to send product samples.

The more “boutique” or “culture-focused” a company is, the better your chances of getting products and coupons.

While Republic of Tea isn’t exactly a small brand, they are privately held and loaded with personality—so much that their “Minister of Evolution” sent a handwritten card along with tea samples. Tom’s of Maine is another good example. As I mentioned earlier, they sent us a gift box with several types of samples.

Don’t bother complimenting restaurants.

My success rate on getting anything from restaurants was extremely low. In fact, exactly 0 percent of the ones I emailed sent anything.

The reasoning makes sense. I was emailing the corporate offices, when many of the stores are franchises run by owner-operators. Many companies, like Chick-fil-A and Jimmy John’s, told me that they couldn’t give us anything because promotional coupons are handled at the franchise level and outside their purview.

Check company websites for free coupons.

Lastly, if you just want coupons, rather than swag or product samples, and don’t want to send a ton of emails, check the company’s website first. Many offer easily accessible free coupons—all you have to do is search for them. Plus, companies like Hormel and Clorox just directed me to their sites, anyway, so you can save yourself a step.

The quickest way to search is to Google “ coupons.” (Putting tells Google to search the company website.)

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