At the base level, businesses exist to serve customers. Whether individual consumers, communities, or even other businesses, it’s their continued support which keep brands afloat. So, expressing gratitude and appreciation for their support can go a long way in building relationships and strengthening retention rates.
When discussing customer appreciation ideas with clients and colleagues, I’ve found the most common themes are related to price or cost. From gift giving and freebies to discounts and special offers, the idea of appreciation is directly connected to bottom-line sacrifices. If we give them something, they will feel appreciated. However, that approach is not always feasible; especially given the financial strain many businesses have been facing the past few years. Perhaps more importantly, not all customers share the mentality of appreciation being connected to price or cost.
As consumers ourselves, we can step back and look at all the special offers and discounts we receive from a variety of brands. Are those making you feel appreciated? If they do, how long does that sense of being appreciated last? Best case scenario, customer sentiment is temporarily boosted. Worst case scenario, customers stop making regular purchases and just wait until the next “customer appreciation” offer comes around.
So, if discounts and freebies aren’t the answer, what is? How can businesses show appreciation in a cost-effective and long-lasting way?
1. Be sincere and authentic.
Customers are bombarded with marketing messages, branded content, and product/service offers all day, every day. Whether consciously or subconsciously, they have developed a filter which internally categorizes what they see as authentic or generic. For brands labeled as generic, it’s hard to make the jump to authentic. For brands labeled as authentic, there’s little room for missteps because customers will not hesitate to relabel them as generic.
When expressing gratitude and appreciation, the perception of authenticity is key. So, for that message to be perceived as authentic, every other brand message must be perceived as authentic as well. This ongoing effort to establish – and maintain – brand authenticity is certainly challenging, but the rewards are worth the effort. Those direct gestures of customer appreciation will be more openly received and believed. In addition, there will be a growing sense of appreciation year-round. Just like in our personal lives, being honest and sincere shows someone we care about them. The same concept applies with brands and their customers. Authenticity is a great way to convey appreciation, and its impact will extend beyond any one message.
2. Listen and respond.
This is a two-part approach because while it’s important to ensure customers feel heard, it’s equally important to ensure they feel understood. Imagine yourself in a team meeting where you share an idea that you’re passionate about. Your idea is acknowledged, but it ends there. No follow up discussion, no feedback, and no indication as to whether your idea will be seriously considered. You were heard, but were you understood? You had a voice, but did it matter? Upon leaving the meeting, did you feel your passion and ideas were appreciated?
This highlights a common missed opportunity for brands when asking for customer feedback. The insights are gathered and internalized, but the communication stops there. Customers are left wondering if their input was taken seriously, or if it was even received at all. By following up with customers after receiving their feedback, brands convey a level of importance and appreciation that may not have been felt otherwise.
It’s important to note that “following up” refers to meaningful communication, not the generic thank you for responding message displayed after completing a survey. Go beyond standard presets and practices by outlining key points and themes discovered through the customer feedback initiative. Share how customer feedback is being used to guide internal decision making. These extra efforts will help ensure customers feel heard, understood, and appreciated.
3. Deliver added value.
Products and services are typically focused on making the customer’s life easier and more enjoyable. With that in mind, consider the context in which your brand exists within the customer’s life. How and when is your product or service important? What external factors and variables are directly or indirectly having an impact?
Answering questions like these will help identify value-add opportunities by painting a broader picture of the customer’s situation. Whether it’s usage recommendations, complimentary product suggestions, or general situational advice, you will be showing the customer you understand who they are beyond their purchase. In doing so, your gratitude and appreciation are expressed through pleasant and unexpected surprises. You’ve gone above and beyond your stated value proposition by expanding your brand’s impact to unrelated areas that may have nothing to do with you but have everything to do with them.
4. Pay attention to detail.
Small things can make a big difference. This is as true in business as it is life in general. But with looming deadlines, firm budgets, and specific objectives, it is easy to overlook minor details. For the customer, however, these minor details can have larger implications on their opinion and perception of your brand.
If you don’t care enough to double check spelling, how important can this really be? The floor was messy when I visited the store, so is my experience really a priority? The customer service agent seemed rushed when discussing my order issue, so am I less important since I already made my purchase?
Even though each of these pain points have legitimate explanations, those lingering questions are shaping the customer’s perception of whether they matter. Addressing the smaller details before they become big concerns is an important factor in delivering positive customer experiences. While these may not be traditional “customer appreciation” initiatives because they are behind the scenes, they are still expressions of gratitude by ensuring the customer’s journey is seamless, efficient, and enjoyable the whole way through.
5. Include customers in business decisions.
No, we’re not suggesting customers be invited to executive meetings or zoom into strategy discussions. But there are ways to include customers in developmental processes that strengthen their connection with and to the brand. When considering a new product or service, start by asking if those products or services are something they would even want. Ask them for open-ended feedback on how your brand can offer further value – without having them choose between preset, structured options. Bring them in during the brainstorm or ideation phase to let them get creative and have some fun with sharing suggestions.
But as with the “listen and respond” I previously discussed, don’t forget to follow up with customers once decisions have been made. Share why and how certain initiatives were selected. This will help alleviate any disappointments if their suggestions were not pursued, and it will also bring them in that much closer to the decision-making process. People who have a seat at the table are the ones who matter. So, by giving customers a seat at the table, they will know they matter.
Customer appreciation isn’t limited to giving things away or slashing prices. As seen in this list, there are things we can be doing on a regular basis to show our gratitude. The first step in becoming a customer-centric brand is making the decision to be one. From there, including appreciation and gratitude as requisites for brand engagement will instill those attributes as part of who the brand is – not just what the brand does.
For over 35 years, we’ve empowered brands with Customer Insights Strategies that help build stronger relationships, stand out from competitors, and stay relevant as markets evolve. If you’re ready to level up your customer insights game, give us a shout!