We’ve all seen the sandwich board sign on the sidewalk as we walk past our favourite small business: “Customer Appreciation Day!”
If there’s one thing customers remember about a business, it’s when they feel their patronage counts. Or better yet, when there is a concrete offering that shows how your business respects and acknowledges its customers.
Of course, you can’t give each of your customers a week’s vacation, but you can take the time to provide some gestures that will go a long way towards ensuring repeat business until the next holiday season and beyond.
The handwritten card
To be sure, if you run a coffee shop, it’s impractical to offer a handwritten appreciation card to each and every customer who walks through the door.
However, if you run a small business with a limited (and manageable) number of clients/customers, a small handwritten note or card is a classy, thoughtful touch, especially if the content is personalized and authentic.
This can’t be emphasized enough: in an era of instant gratification and disposable everything, opening up a handwritten note on eye-catching stationary is a throwback moment that really hits the sweet spot of communication.
Pro tip: at the beginning of each year, start a spreadsheet or some other type of database where you can plug in personal details about clients. For example, if you learn during one of your conversations with a client that she is expecting a child, record this detail and make reference to it when it comes time to send your appreciation note/card. Or perhaps your client mentioned in passing that they’ve always dreamed of retiring in Costa Rica: you can mention this whimsically in your appreciation note.
The baked goods
Brownies, festive Rice Krispie squares, Nanaimo bars, colourful cookies…the baked options are endless. If you want to get ambitious, a chocolate fondue with some chopped fruits for dipping is a sure fire hit in any setting.
Distribution obviously depends on the nature of your clientele and business, but even if you’re simply shipping a few batches of cookies, a simple and stylish presentation always helps. There are specialized businesses that will ship you personalized cookies.
Here’s a thought: integrate the handwritten note with the baked goods.
Just remember to mind your food-handling practices so you don’t turn holiday appreciation into a gastro-intestinal situation!
The opportunity to show appreciation for your customers is also a chance to further cement your brand in their imagination (especially if you can cleverly tie your messaging and brand into an inexpensive object or trinket).
For example, let’s say your business is named “Sally’s Start Ups.” At Sally’s Start Ups, owner Sally aims to support start-ups with resources, business information, tools, and financing.
Sally has arranged for a shipment of a few hundred samples of a choice blend of ground coffee beans (enough to brew a small pot of coffee). Sally has attached a little label to each package, reading “Sally Wants You to Start Up Your Day Right.”
This may sound like a cynical approach to appreciation, but it’s anything but. People love swag and people love free stuff. They will only love your business more when they see your gift and make that association when they are brewing their unique coffee.
The promotional leverage
Nail down a decent prize (e.g., a new iPad, a drone camera, a weekend getaway to Vegas) and structure a simple image-based contest via Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and/or Instagram. Make a few posters for your establishment and talk it up during transactions.
If you don’t have a brick-and-mortar store, the contest idea still works as an online-only offering. Get the word out via social media and make sure your web page mentions it in a prominent place a few weeks before the holiday season.
The hook can be whatever works well for your product/brand. You can ask for customers to submit a picture of them using your product in the most innovative way or in the most unusual place. Or you can offer your customers a chance to contribute directly to your product (e.g., the next great tagline or the next best flavour). Multinational companies have large promotional budgets for these types of contests, but you really only need an internet connection and a social media account to make it work.
The best part of these gifts is that is also acts to promote your business and create goodwill, as well as potentially generating creative new ideas.
A word of warning: make sure you cover your legal bases for any contest you hold. There are a few pitfalls related to the odds of winning, paying tax on contest winnings (in Quebec), disclaimers against fraud, copyright, and complying with social media site rules. Canada’s Competition Bureau has guidance on holding a promotional contest.