“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.” – Mother Theresa
Customer appreciation is a tool that every business has at its disposal, yet very few choose to utilize it to its full potential. As a business owner, I believe there is no better investment than to put time and money into sincerely appreciating one's customers. That "appreciation" can be defined as an increase in monetary value is more than appropriate in this case: it truly is the easiest way to strengthen your business and earn more money.
In my experience, the biggest obstacle to implementing an appreciation system is figuring out exactly how to incorporate it into a greater business plan. While I'm extremely grateful for the support and confidence of each and every one of my clients, I often allow my own gratitude to go unexpressed – save for a simple "thank you" – simply because I have no established process to which to refer. Recognizing this, I set out to expand my current approach, in the process creating a simple plan for integrating appreciation into my business and personal relationships.
Say Thank You – All The Time
The easiest way to begin showing your appreciation is to purchase a large box of Thank You cards and immediately send handwritten notes to all of your best customers, thanking them for their support. (A typed note on your company letterhead works just as well.) Put the remainder of the cards out in the open where you can see them. By keeping gratitude within sight and within reach, you will naturally begin to thank people more often.
As a bonus, Thank Yous serve as excellent marketing vehicles: they help to maintain top-of-mind awareness. You never know when a new project will land on the desk of a past client, and your well-timed Thank You may arrive just in time to win you the job.
Treat Prospects Like Paying Clients
Always assume that the prospect contacting you is about to become your next big client. This state of mind will help you treat your prospects as well as you would your best-paying clients; more often than not, the people inquiring about seemingly insignificant work have huge projects waiting somewhere in the wings.
Standardize Your Sales Process
Gratitude should be incorporated into each phase of your sales process. If you don't have a standardized sales process, now is a great time to start putting a process checklist together. Whenever I meet with a prospective client for the first time, I go back to the office and drop a Thank You note in the mail so that it arrives the next day. A week later – after I present my job proposal – I put another Thank You in the mail, expressing gratitude to the prospective client for their time and consideration. Finally, when the job is finished I send a letter of thanks out in addition to the invoice for the project. (Note: Obviously, I could simply include the Thank You with the invoice for the project, but I feel that it makes a better impression if the Thank You arrives separately; it's a personal note of thanks, sent to a person to whom I'm grateful.)
To really take it up a notch, figure out what your client's favorite restaurant is during the course of the project and send them a $50 or $100 gift card when the job is finished. (If you've planned to do this from day one, the cost of this grand gesture quite possibly may be built right in to your initial proposal.)
Put Gratitude on Your Calendar
If you know you'll be as grateful in six months as you are today, why not prepare to show your appreciation in advance? Focus on annual holidays or different seasons of the year and develop your own original gift ideas. Maybe you'd like to drop by with lemonade in July, or send hot cocoa in January; chocolates are great on Valentine's Day, and anything goes at Christmas time. The point is to figure out your own unique ideas in advance, put them on your calendar, and execute them when the time comes.
A great extension of this idea can be found at The Marketing Mix – an awesome blog put together by Peleg Top and Ilise Benun. Peleg's Thank Yous not only thank his clients, but also ask them to refer any friends or associates who might be a good fit for his services. Talk about a brilliant idea!
Track Your Ideas with a Gratitude List
Every so often I think of a great gift idea for a certain person. I could be walking through a store, browsing the web, or just talking to the person, when all of a sudden I think of something they would absolutely love to receive. So a few months ago, I started what I call my Gratitude List.
The Gratitude List is simply a three-column spreadsheet where I keep track of the names, specific interests, and possible gift ideas for all the people I care about – both personally and professionally. When I find out that an associate has a specific interest, or when I happen across a great gift idea for someone I know, I simply add it to the list. Not only does the list function as an archive of thoughtful gift ideas, it also serves as a regular reminder to be a thankful and generous person.
Become an Educational Resource
A great way to establish yourself as an expert (and to show clients how much you care about their successes) is to give away valuable professional advice at no cost. Different ways to do this include white papers, newsletters, e-books, blogs, and free seminars. While some people worry that they'll give away all their trade secrets to the competition or make their contracted services unnecessary, I believe this couldn't be further from the truth.
Giving away free advice puts your knowledge – and your company – on display, which makes more people want to work with you. A potential client is much more likely to choose the person who has already showcased their expertise versus the person who has said nothing. As for the competition, they can certainly try to mimic your ideas, but if you're always striving to learn more there's really no reason to worry about them catching up to you. It's much more beneficial to put your ideas down on paper and claim ownership over them than it is to remain silent.
Finally, from a marketing perspective, giving away free advice every so often keeps your current audience – as well as others who may be interested in your services in the future – attentive.
Let Your Customers In On The Excitement
Let's face it: owning your own business is exciting. Sure, it's also a lot of stress, long hours, and hard work, but that's not why people decide to do it. People go into business for the thrill of it – the freedom, the fun, and the possibilities. Why not share some of the excitement with your customers?
Everybody loves free stuff. Invest in some T-shirts and fun promotional items to give away to your clients. It works to market your business and helps maintain the "top-of-mind awareness" I mentioned earlier. I was having coffee with S.J. Barlament the other day, and he came up with a great suggestion (as he so often does): Invest in some high-quality stickers and start including them with every item of communication you send out – especially invoices.
If you have an office, throw a "client appreciation" party once or twice a year. Get a bunch of food and drinks and let people have some fun. It could be a pre- or post-party surrounding another big event, or just a small celebration of a recent success. Whatever the reason, your clients are virtually guaranteed to have a good time and appreciate you, in return, for providing that good time to them.
Treat Your Customers Like Royalty
In Jeffrey Gitomer's Little Black Book of Connections, there's an excellent chapter on wowing customers. A "WOW!" is an extraordinary gesture that pairs value with memorability, and as you might have guessed, makes the customer say "WOW!" Imagine showing up at a client's office one afternoon with a $100 present for no reason at all, except for the fact that you appreciate their support. The gesture sounds so grand it almost seems unreasonable – until you consider that for a mere $5,200 each year, you can turn 52 new people into your strongest advocates and gain a lifetime of support for your business.
If that weren't reason enough, consider the fact that well-planned WOW!-ing targets people at the heart of your target market. Think of all the meetings, places, and events where these people will go and express their appreciation of you to other potential clients after you've impressed them with your gratitude. I haven't done the study yet, but I think it reasonable to predict that a $5,200 WOW! budget, once implemented, could generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in new business over the course of just a few years. (Plus, if you also implement the Gratitude List mentioned earlier, you'll discover priceless gift ideas worth far more to your clients than the $100 or so that you'll spend on WOW!-ing them.)
That said, I understand that $5,200 can be a substantial sum of money to a business that's just getting started. If you need to begin with a smaller budget, then do so. But give one big gift every other week (or each month), rather than cutting back on the size of the gifts you'll be giving. The purpose of a WOW! budget, after all, is to create memorable, lasting impressions – the type of impressions that can only really be achieved with gestures far beyond the ordinary.
Dale Carnegie noted that the craving to be appreciated is "a gnawing and unfaltering human hunger, and the rare individual who honestly satisfies this heart hunger will hold people in the palm of his or her hand, and even the undertaker will be sorry when he dies."
The benefits of being a grateful person are immeasurable. By successfully incorporating simple, appreciative gestures into your daily life (and daily matters of business), you will begin to generate profound goodwill and support among the people around you. Over time, the consistent application of a gratitude system will effectively bulletproof your personal and business relationships alike, positioning you for a lifetime of wealth and success.