Customer appreciation ideas for your small business

As a business owner, I know the eternal value of my customer relationships. I learned long ago that great customers begin with great relationships. While every customer may be different, the one thing I've found they all want is personalized, individual attention at all times, not just when you're selling to them.

In my own six year old marketing consultancy, I've shown customer appreciation in many ways from sending chocolate packages to buying dinner for an entire office staff. While my customers may have liked these rewards, I discovered four customer appreciation techniques that worked better than most.

These four techniques helped me to maintain relationships, network to new business opportunities and most of all become part of some very rewarding life experiences.

Non-business only meetings. As a consultant, especially a marketing consultant, it's very difficult to put aside the sales part of my business. On one occasion, I had given a loyal customer the hard sell on a new workshop we offered. After about five minutes of listening to my sales pitch, he asked me to not speak any more about business. He gave me an assignment. He wanted me to simply get to know him as a person for the rest of the afternoon. We decided to spend the warm May afternoon playing miniature golf. It was one of the most rewarding experiences. The pressure was off for both of us and we enjoyed learning more about each other as people. Since then, I make sure to spend time with every client as a person, not as a potential sale.

Donation in their name. Holidays can be some of the more awkward times to deal with clients. We always need to be politically correct with gift giving while considering religious and cultural differences. A few years ago, while racking our brains to get a new client the right gift, a client who we just signed the week before, our team was at a loss. We didn't want to seem too aggressive yet we didn't want to seem trivial as well. One of our managers came up with a great idea. Why not put a donation in the customer's company name to a local health non-profit organization? It made a lot of sense. It was late December and the season of giving. In the end the client fully appreciated our gesture and paid it forward, by contributing for one of their customers.

Promote learning. Our customers were primarily health care and non-profit organizations. They had very little in the way of business education and training. They were often focused on their specific areas of expertise such as health education and running health clinics. Throughout our interactions with our customers, we noticed that they struggled with the more basic principles of business, especially in management and marketing at the frontlines of the organization. We showed our appreciation for their loyalty by consistently sending business articles, books and audio on areas that we knew would help them. It worked so well for them that many of the resources sent were used to develop more thorough training programs.

Exclusive free content. For our most loyal customers, we show our appreciation by giving them access to exclusive free content as soon as we develop it. For us, it gives a real world audience that provides feedback on the new workshop or resource that we share. For the customer, they get brand new, exclusive marketing strategy content that has not yet hit the market. It gives them a jump on what may become a new best practice or resource.

Connecting with your customers is critical. Showing appreciation to your customers will always come back to help your business. It's the human element. It's the opportunity to show that you care about your customers not only as intelligent people, but also as humans that have emotions, strive to learn, and desire to engage with you on a level beyond the sale of your product or service.

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