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8 customer appreciation ideas—that don’t involve giving gifts


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Ah, the art of customer appreciation. Done right, you can keep your customers around for a longer time (and have more opportunities to upsell, cross-sell, and get referrals). Done wrong—well, even if your customer doesn’t 100% appreciate what you’re offering, they’ll probably still think, “Hey, at least they tried.”

Basically, showing  your customers some appreciation is a pretty low-risk, but high-reward initiative for any business to take. But if you’re managing a small business, what are some good ways to show your customers that you appreciate them—without spending a ton of cash?

Even if you don’t have the deep pockets of, say, a Starbucks or an Amazon, there are still many unique and rewarding ways to show your appreciation and build positive customer relationships. (And this is especially important if your business depends on repeat customers, for example if you’re in the restaurant, healthcare, or finance business.) And guess what, you don’t have to give away a ton of swag.

In fact, we’re going to look at some fascinating research that strongly suggests that gifts aren’t necessary at all. So, how do you appreciate loyal customers without buying expensive and not-very-useful swag?

We’re going to share a few specific ideas for customer appreciation (none of that vague, fluffy stuff like “Be genuine” or “Make your customers feel heard”). In this post, we’re going to look at:

As a bonus, we’ll also take a look at customer appreciation examples from real companies so you can see some of these ideas in action.

Everybody wants to feel appreciated, right?

Let’s get into it.

Make your customers feel appreciated. Take the quiz to see how customer-obsessed your business is. 💚

👀 Ready to see how your business stacks up?

Enjoy the quiz!


Why customer appreciation is important—especially for small businesses

We’re going to keep this part short: if you’re running a small business, you’ve got stiff competition.

Not only do you have other local competitors around your size, you’ve also got the big-name competitors who will hit you hard on price and marketing because they have long-term relationships with suppliers and agencies. The Amazons, the Wal-Marts… life’s hard for a small business.

Lucky for you, even though you’re selling a product or service, you can compete on other elements too: namely, the customer experience. You can’t do much about your competitor undercutting you on price because you still need to maintain some kind of margin, but the experience—that can be a competitive advantage for you, without you needing to spend a ton of money.

So how does it work?

The reason why you shouldn’t default to gifts and swag to show customer appreciation

Don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying that people don’t love gifts.

But there is most definitely a difference between giving thoughtful, personalized gifts and the many impersonal, generic (and sometimes even blatantly self-promotional) ones like water bottles and lanyards that businesses tend to distribute en masse to customers whenever Customer Appreciation Day rolls around.

What’s interesting is that according to research from the University of North Carolina, you don’t have to give gifts to show gratitude or appreciation to someone. In fact, the researchers ran four separate experiments, and in all four, a “brief written expression of gratitude” was enough to get the person who received it to provide more help.

“[The] findings suggest that when helpers are thanked for their efforts, the resulting sense of being socially valued is critical in encouraging them to provide more help in the future. Gratitude expressions spill over onto other beneficiaries as well, suggesting that one can spark a chain of prosocial behavior with a simple thank you.1

Can’t come up with any customer appreciation ideas that involve giving presents? We’d venture to say that that’s okay.

8 ways to show customer appreciation that don’t involve you giving them anything

1. Implement their feedback.

There’s arguably no better way to make a person feel appreciated than to listen to them and what they ask of you—and this goes for customers too.

If a customer has constructive criticism for you, use it. It’s easy to take this type of feedback negatively (especially if someone is airing it in public on Instagram), but this is not something you should overlook because if someone took the time to let you know what they think of your product or service, that shows they’re a customer who’s invested in this relationship to some degree. They care about making this work—but only if you care too. If you ignore their feedback, you might just lose customers in the long run. Not just this one, but anyone else who might’ve seen that Instagram comment go ignored.

This customer spent her hard-earned money at a car dealership, got unsatisfactory service, and the dealership wasted no time in responding to her and presumably, implementing her feedback:

Heather is unsatisfied review about Honda of Thousand Oaks

For example, using a customer service tool like Gainsight, you can see what your relationship with a customer is looking like, if you need to give them an extra dose of appreciation—and if you hook this tool up with your phone system or communication tool (like RingCentral), you can even dial your customer to thank them directly from your dashboard:

Gainsight App Integration for RingCentral

2. Give them a shoutout on social media

If you’re not already doing this, get on it.

Social media is often referred to as an “equalizer” and rightfully so, because no matter how small your business is, you can have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, an Instagram profile—and yes, even a LinkedIn profile.

All of these channels give you a super low-cost, easy way to communicate with your customers. It costs you literally nothing to @ mention a loyal customer on social media and thank them for being so awesome. It’s a core part of building relationships (not to mention it’s absolutely essential for online customer service).

And to make your life even easier, there are so many tools out there that consolidate all your social media profiles into one place so that you can answer a Twitter DM, send a Facebook message, and respond to a Tweet without having to switch between tabs and windows. Like this one:

3. Send customer appreciation emails or texts

If you remember from that research paper earlier, a simple written expression of gratitude can be enough to get another person to reciprocate your thanks through action.

Whether it’s adding a thank you note into the bag after someone’s bought something or sending a customer appreciation email to thank someone for being a long-time customer, you’ve got multiple options here.

Or, if your customers are more responsive to texts, you could be like 24 Hour Tees and text your customers after they’ve submitted a T-shirt order to thank them—and even follow up on the order:

How to write a customer appreciation email in 4 simple steps

That being said, email is still probably one of the most common ways to communicate with customers, so here’s how to write a customer appreciation email in a few steps:

1. Always, always address the customer by name.

2. Tell them exactly what you’re appreciating them for. Is it for making a big-ticket purchase? Is it for being a loyal customer and hitting the five-year anniversary mark with your business? They might not even know they’ve been with you this long—tell them!

💡 Pro-tip:

Whether it’s a customer appreciation note or an apology to a customer, specificity is the key. Don’t just write something generic that can easily be applied to any customer for any reason. There’s no effort in copied and pasted messages like that—and whoever’s reading them can tell.

3. What does this mean to you and your business? Remember, we’re not necessarily giving away a customer appreciation gift here—you could, if it’s a really special occasion, but it’s not a must-have. Because of this, you need another, less material way of showing your gratitude. The easiest way to do that is to literally express your thanks, in as heart-felt a way as you can.

4. Sign off with your name, or whoever from your company has the relationship with the customer. If no one particular person does, get someone who is in a position of power, like a manager or even the owner, to sign off. (It might also be good to include that person’s business card so the customer knows “Wow, the business owner wrote this note to me!”)

💡 Pro-tip:

Use a CRM to log important customer details so that anyone can look up a customer profile and see if it’s time to show them some appreciation.

4. Give them a sneak peek at upcoming products or features

One of the easiest ways to reward your customers for being customers? Make sure they get the first look at new stuff coming out.

A variation of this that is pretty common is instead of giving their customers the sneak peek, some businesses share the news with their email subscribers, like what Canva does here:

Canva giving customers a sneak peek at their upcoming products or features

Got exciting new products coming out soon? Email your customers and make them feel special about having that relationship with your business. That in itself should be valuable. It’s one of the simplest things you can do.

💡 Pro-tip:

This is also a tactic that some luxury car dealerships use—when the new Porsche gets released this year, you can bet the customers who bought a Porsche last year will find out first. Seems a little counterintuitive since who needs multiple Porsches, but if you’re looking at the target audience, they most likely have the cash to blow. It’s a classic double whammy: customer appreciation and an opportunity to upsell and cross-sell.

5. Observe National Customer Appreciation Day

Yep, this is a real day. In the US, National Customer Appreciation Day is April 18th. That being said, there’s a high chance you (and many other people) didn’t know this, so we’d argue this date was set arbitrarily. If you’re going to have a “Customer Appreciation Day,” just make sure you’ve promoted it to your target audience and customers in advance so that they actually know you’re doing it. If you need some Customer Appreciation Event ideas, keep reading below…

💡 Pro-tip:

National Customer Appreciation Day in the US is April 18th. That being said, there’s a high chance you (and many other people) didn’t know this, so we’d argue this date was set arbitrarily. (Hey, we’ve even seen companies do “Customer Appreciation Month.” If you’re going to have a “Customer Appreciation Day,” just make sure you’ve promoted it to your target audience and customers in advance so that they actually know you’re doing it. If you need some Customer Appreciation Day ideas, keep reading below…

6. Plan ahead for customer appreciation

We’re just going to come right out and say it. That common “Go the extra mile” tip that you see in many articles about customer appreciation ideas? It’s kind of useless. Why? Because each customer situation is so unique—there are so many different ways a company can “go the extra mile.”

An airline might overnight a suit for a best man for free because he forgot it and the destination wedding is the next day. A SaaS company might send a long-time customer his favorite donuts to celebrate his fifth anniversary as their customer. The degree to which a customer should be rewarded, the type of service or reward, can all vary. So how can you build a culture of going the extra mile in customer appreciation?

So, create a tangible, specific policy—say, for situations in which your customer support team is allowed to do something extra for the customer at their discretion. You can put a limit on this of course. If it’s going to cost more than $100 or something, then the employee should ask the manager first, but this “at their discretion” part is key.

Often, your opportunity to do something special for a customer comes up unexpectedly—and has an expiration date. Once the moment has passed (like with the best man example above), it’s gone. If that airline employee had to go through multiple people and wait for their responses just to get approval, that best man probably wouldn’t have had a great wedding experience.

So, be ready with an at-your-discretion (to-a-certain-degree) policy.

💡 Pro-tip:

Another way to thank your customers is through social media shout-outs—if you’re already using social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, post a thank-you to your customers and @ mention them to show some public appreciation!

7. Rewards program – restaurant punch cards

Okay, this one is kind of a cheat because we said we wouldn’t make you give away stuff, but a rewards program isn’t exactly a giveaway because your customers have to earn these rewards. And often, they have to earn a certain number of rewards before they get the prize. For example…

Customer rewards program example: Starbucks

Confession: we can’t wait to cash in Starbucks’ free birthday drinks. Especially because you can order the most expensive thing you can think of. Like a $7 venti mocha cookie crumble frap with three shots of espresso.

Starbucks has a tiered reward program that gives points for all purchases. When you get enough points—called reward stars—you can cash them in for things like a free flavor or espresso shot, free muffin or cookie, free drink (including that $7 frap), or even select merchandise and bags of coffee to enjoy at home:

Starbucks reward program that gives points for all purchases.

As part of this customer appreciation program, they often special events or offers where customers can earn even more stars for ordering a specific item, or making a specific number of visits in a week. They also frequently send out customer service surveys that, when completed, give customers reward stars.

The result? Customers return time and time again, enjoy their free food and drinks, and even provide valuable feedback. As one of the most iconic and profitable coffee shop chains in the world, we’d say Starbucks knows what they’re doing.

8. Make sure you have a good employee experience

And don’t forget about your employees either.

“By implementing gratitude into company culture, employees are more willing to spread their positive feelings with others, whether it’s helping out with a project or taking time to notice and recognizing those that have gone the extra mile.”2

Take a look at this study reported by Harvard Medical School and done by researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania3 :

“Managers who remember to say “thank you” to people who work for them may find that those employees feel motivated to work harder. Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania randomly divided university fund-raisers into two groups. One group made phone calls to solicit alumni donations in the same way they always had. The second group — assigned to work on a different day — received a pep talk from the director of annual giving, who told the fund-raisers she was grateful for their efforts. During the following week, the university employees who heard her message of gratitude made 50% more fund-raising calls than those who did not.”

It’s pretty amazing. Who knew? Even without extravagant Customer Appreciation Day “deals” or customer thank-you gifts, rewarding your own team for a job well done can make a tangible impact on your customers’ moods, loyalty, and more importantly, the likelihood of them reciprocating your appreciation by referring their friends (and even buying more stuff). Plus it’s great for morale.

So, find ways to keep your employees engaged. If you’re not comfortable asking them directly, send them a survey, or use an engagement app to give them an alternative way to express how they’re feeling about work.

Ready to put these customer appreciation ideas to the test?

Whether you’re low on budget or low on staff, these customer appreciation ideas are great for helping small businesses especially punch above their weight.

Choose one (or a few) that you think will work best for your target audience, implement the idea, and don’t forget to track the results!






Originally published Jun 01, 2020, updated Oct 16, 2020

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