In this guide, we’ll explore the basic tenets of a “successful” customer appreciation campaign, and list some of the best (and most accessible) customer appreciation ideas.
The Benefits of Customer Appreciation
Customer appreciation is not a new concept. It’s been around for about as long as businesses have, with business owners providing free samples and preferential treatment to their most loyal patrons. But today, thanks to the ease of creating loyalty programs and the accessibility of social media, you’ll need to step up your game if you want to get more customers’ attention.
Let’s start by recounting the benefits of customer appreciation, so you know how you’re going to optimize your own strategy, high-level:
- Retention over acquisition. Marketing and advertising are helpful for finding new customers, but they can also be expensive, relatively speaking. The cost of acquiring a new customer is much higher than simply retaining one; investing a small amount in customer appreciation will ensure that your existing customers keep coming back.
- Word of mouth. Customer appreciation is also a perfect conduit for word-of-mouth about your business. When someone gets an unexpected benefit, or special treatment, they’re inclined to talk about the experience with their friends and family members. For every investment you make in customer appreciation, you’ll likely get a greater amount back in new interest in your business.
- Reputation and authority. Customer appreciation can also be a way to build your reputation and authority in the industry. If, for example, you have technicians or similar experts on staff, and they provide in-depth education and service to your customers, you’ll quickly become known as the go-to expert in the neighborhood.
- Competitive differentiation. This is also a good way to differentiate yourself from your competition. If you have a handful of competitors who offer similar products and services at similar prices, you’ll need some kind of edge to win customers to your side—and customer appreciation could be the way to do it.
- Incentive to purchase. Customer appreciation isn’t just about rewarding the people who have already purchased from you; it’s also about presenting a reward, or incentive, for people who have never purchased from you before. For example, if you offer a free bonus gift with every purchase, new customers will be more interested in shopping with you.
Which of these priorities is most important for you and your business? Obviously, you can work on multiple priorities at once, but some will naturally take precedent over others.
Now, let’s look at some of the customer appreciation ideas that can help you win new customers, preserve existing ones, and help your business grow.
Customer Appreciation Ideas: Loyalty Programs
One successful strategy for many businesses is to create and maintain a customer loyalty program. This can take a few different forms, but it always shares the same purpose: to establish a reward system for your customers (and track them while you’re at it). Simple loyalty programs might simply involve asking for a few pieces of personal information from each customer and creating an account for them on the backend, possibly tying their identity to a phone number. More complex loyalty programs might issue cards or tags that customers can swipe every time they make a purchase in your physical store or online, and a separate online platform they can use to cash in their rewards.
However you choose to approach a customer loyalty program, these ideas can help you make it work:
1. Give customers an incentive every time they come in.
You could encourage customer loyalty by offering program members some kind of incentive every time they come in. For example, you might offer a flat 5 percent discount for anyone with a membership card, or you might give members an extra service—like a free tire rotation to go with their oil change. It’s a small price to pay if it means keeping those customers coming in.
2. Offer tiered rewards.
You can also offer different “tiers” of rewards based on the level of activity from each customer. The easiest way to approach this is with a dollar value; for example, when a customer spends $100 with you, you might send them a free tote bag with the company logo on it. When they spend $1,000, you might give them a free copy of an upcoming product. And if they spend $10,000, you might reward them with an impressive tech gadget.
3. Provide occasional surprise discounts or offers.
People love surprises, and they’re good for business too—most people who are pleasantly surprised by something will go out of their way to share the experience with friends and family members, representing free word-of-mouth advertising. Surprise your loyal customers with extra discounts at the cash register, or with occasional mailed gifts.
4. Create exclusive products or services for members.
If you have the flexibility and creativity, you could create exclusive products or services for members. These are often best reserved for customer loyalty programs that come with a price; for example, a customer may pay $50 a year for a membership with your business, but in exchange, they also get access to a “premium” version of your core services.
5. Provide exclusive content to members.
If you want to make your members feel like they’re getting information from you they can’t get anywhere else, provide them with exclusive content. Collect email addresses from your members, then put them on an email list where you mail your latest blog posts, whitepapers, and other forms of content. Invest in this content and you’ll likely earn direct customer email engagement while simultaneously boosting your reputation as an authority in your field.
Customer Appreciation Ideas: Freebies and Giveaways
Bribery works too. If you have a customer who shows up every Tuesday, or a B2B client who’s been with you for years, you can reward their loyalty and incentivize further work with free gifts and giveaways, even if they’re inexpensive.
Check out these customer appreciation gift ideas:
6. Give free upgrades.
When working with a customer you know, consider occasionally giving them a free upgrade. For example, if they order a “small” version of your signature drink, give them a large for the cost of a small. If they pay for 3 hours of professional services, give them a few extra hours for free.
7. Let customers sample new products.
If you’re experimenting with some new products, consider letting your most loyal customers sample those products for free. This has multiple benefits. The customer will feel both rewarded and part of some exclusive club, since they’re trying something before anyone else gets a chance. You’ll get a chance to collect feedback from someone who genuinely cares about your business. And you might even generate some word-of-mouth hype for whatever you just created.
8. Provide an amuse-bouche.
An amuse-bouche is a specific offer in the restaurant industry; it’s a small, often bite-sized, single-serving hors d’oeuvre that isn’t available on the menu and isn’t specifically ordered. Instead, it’s presented by the chef, for free, to a customer for their enjoyment, sometimes as a demonstration of the chef’s skill or style. If you don’t work in the restaurant industry, you could try something similar—a small, exclusive sample that shows off what you do best.
9. Give away brand swag.
Brand swag is a buzzword that describes any useful promotional product that features your company’s information in some way. It could be a tote bag, a calendar, a phone case, or something more unconventional. Whatever the case, give it away to your loyal customers, or with a purchase of a certain value; on the surface, it’s a free gift, but it’s also a reminder that your company exists.
10. Host a raffle or drawing.
Consider entering your customers into a raffle, or a drawing, for a high-end product. You won’t be able to give these expensive products away to every customer who walks through the door, but you can enter every customer into a drawing for the product—and that’s enough of a gesture to make customers feel appreciated, and encourage them to come back in the future.
11. Cover costs randomly.
Random, occasional gestures of appreciation can instantly cement a customer’s loyalty for your brand. For example, when a customer is checking out or asking for the bill, tell them this one’s on the house. They’ll be pleasantly surprised, and might share the story with people they know.
12. Make a donation in customers’ honor.
If you care about your community and doing social good (and your customers feel the same way), you can make public donations to local nonprofit organizations in your customers’ honor.
Easy Little Touches for Customer Appreciation
Customer appreciation doesn’t have to manifest as some grand gesture; it doesn’t even have to cost anything. Instead, it can manifest as small gestures, or little touches, that instantly elevate the experience of doing business with you:
13. Provide coffee, water, and other amenities.
Depending on your industry, this might be a given. Provide your customers with some extra amenities that could make their shopping experience or service experience more enjoyable; fresh coffee, bottled water, or even a dish of free candy at the reception desk can go a long way to show customers that you care.
14. Offer price matching with your competitors.
Price matching is relatively common, but it’s an easy way to get an edge on your competitors. If a competing business tries to undersell you, you can simply match their price and win the sale back. It also shows that you want your customers to get the best possible deal.
15. Use first names with your regulars.
When someone feels recognized and welcomed at your business, they’ll be much more likely to return in the future. You can show them your appreciation by simply learning their name and using it regularly. A “Hey Joe!” when they walk in will make it hard for them to ever choose another business over yours.
16. Improve your overall customer service.
Basic customer service tenets are easy to learn and master, but you’ll need to spend a little more effort if you want to keep your customers around as long as possible. Small improvements, like training employees on tone and body language, can make a big impact.
17. Work to retain your employees.
Speaking of employees, work hard to retain them. If you have the same people working on a regular basis, all your loyal customers are going to see familiar faces whenever they walk in the door. On top of that, longer-tenured employees are going to have more experience, and will be more capable of handling complex customer needs. As an added benefit, the employees who stick around will be more satisfied with their position—and satisfied employees are more productive.
18. Include candy (or something similar) with every purchase.
A little free gift with every purchase can bring a smile to any customer’s face. Some online companies always send a small bag of cheap candies along with the product the customer ordered. It’s not a massive gesture, but it’s one that usually gets attention.
19. Send handwritten notes.
Similarly, you can send your customers handwritten notes. This is especially valuable in the B2B world, where personal connections could make or break a major corporate deal. A card with a thank-you message, or a simple “I look forward to working together” can bring more delight than a hundred emails.
20. Send a birthday message.
Try to recognize your most loyal customers’ birthdays in one way or another. In some cases, that means sending a simple “happy birthday” email, or a card in the mail (which will earn you bonus points). If you have the budget for it, or if you want to make a better impression, send your customers a birthday gift, like a gift card or a free product.
21. Send holiday cards.
Similarly, you should consider sending holiday cards—or at least an email to your customers. Even if only a percentage of your customers take the time to recognize the gesture and feel your appreciation, it will be worth the effort.
22. Go “above and beyond” at least occasionally.
People expect some standard degree of customer service whenever they patronize a business, so it’s not especially memorable when they get it. However, when you go “above and beyond” the call of duty, they tend to remember it—and tell other people about it. Going “above and beyond” is subjective and different for every business, so find some way to excel or break the norm in order to bring more value to your customers. You can start by reviewing our list of customer service skills and see if you have them all!
23. Provide expert insights.
If your business requires some level of expertise, try to have your on-staff professionals provide expert insights to your customers. For example, if you run a home improvement store, you could have staff members help customers with their DIY projects. If you run an auto repair shop, you could have your mechanics educate customers about the inner workings of their vehicles. Customers will appreciate it, and your reputation as an expert authority will grow.
24. Set up and manage a community board.
Put up a “community board,” or something similar, where people from all over the community can post about events, offers, and other opportunities. Sure, they could just use social media, but a physical community board has a different feel to it, which most of your customers will appreciate. Plus, it’s a good starting point for conversations, so you can get to know your customers better.
25. Relax your return policy.
Your company probably has a formal return policy with stipulations about how and when a product must be returned. But if you truly appreciate your customers and want to provide them with value, you won’t mind loosening these regulations from time to time. For example, if customers typically have a 60-day window to return an item, but a customer takes 71 days, you might as well take the loss to preserve your customer relationship. For more on managing customer relationships, see our in-depth post (just click the link!)
Customer Appreciation on Social Media
Social media is a powerful marketing and advertising tool if harnessed properly, but it’s also a great platform to show your appreciation for employees. Check out these social media customer appreciation ideas:
26. Feature a “customer of the week” or something similar.
Every so often, consider highlighting a customer on social media; you can take their picture, post it, and write a bit about their purchasing habits and/or personal interests. They and their loved ones will be happy to see it, and will likely remember your brand forever. You can also include a small gift or discount so they feel even more special—and attract more customers to your store as well.
27. Call out notable individuals or stories from your business.
You can do something similar by posting about people who come to your business with specific needs, or a specific path to action. For example, if you run a bookstore, you could post about a customer’s journey to find the “perfect book” as a gift for their loved one (with the customer’s permission, of course). This demonstrates your care for your customers, and simultaneously shows off how your business can help people.
28. Promote your top customers.
It’s also a good idea to promote your “top” customers, in whatever context that phrase might apply. For example, you might post a photo of a customer who visited your place of business more times than anyone else in the past month, or someone who went out of their way to help your business succeed.
29. Create a “thank you” video with highlights.
Periodically, you can create and share a customer appreciation video, filling it with highlights—snippets of video of customer experiences over the past month or year. Again, it’s a way to get people’s attention and show off what your business can do, while simultaneously thanking your best customers.
30. Follow your customers.
As an even simpler way to show customer appreciation on social media, find and follow your customers. Assuming you know them by name and they have a good relationship with your brand, they’ll be happy to get the follow.
31. Collect and implement customer feedback.
You can also show your customers how much you care about them by going out of your way to collect, and then implement, customer feedback. If you have G Suite, you’ll have access to Google Forms, which can help you put together surveys and questionnaires. Ask your customers what they like most about your business, and what they’d like to see changed. You might be surprised to learn what preferences your customers have.
Customer Appreciation Event Ideas
Though usually a bit more expensive, hosting a customer appreciation event or celebration can be an amazing way to give back, and make your customers feel important. Check out these ideas for customer appreciation events, which double as great customer appreciation day ideas:
32. Allow flexible hours for loyal customers.
Though not a formal event, it’s a good idea to offer forgiving hours for your most loyal customers. For example, if you usually close at 6 pm, but a customer calls you, running late, consider staying open until 6:30 for them.
33. Host a barbecue or picnic.
If you run a small business, you can probably afford hosting a barbecue or a picnic for your customers once or twice a year. It’s a good opportunity to get to know them better on a personal level, and everyone loves free food. At larger scales, you could call in food trucks to provide food for purchase.
34. Offer a free car wash.
Regardless of the demographics you typically serve, almost everyone can appreciate a free car wash—and it won’t cost you much in terms of materials. Again, it’s a great opportunity to engage with your customers in an unconventional way—and you can post about it on social media.
35. Team up with other businesses for a block party or street sale.
The businesses surrounding yours probably care about their customer just as much as you care about yours. Why not get them involved, and join forces for a customer appreciation extravaganza? If the weather’s nice, you can host a small block party, or a street sale where you make your products available on the sidewalk for passersby.
36. Throw an anniversary party.
When celebrating a major milestone, like an anniversary or reaching a certain number of sales, get your customers involved. Offer deep discounts on your products, or keep your business open during unusual hours. You can even throw some kind of party in the parking lot—just make sure it’s something your customers will enjoy.
37. Host a customer appreciation day/week.
You can also simply host a designated “customer appreciation day” or “week.” During this period, you can offer membership benefits to all customers, or offer larger-than-usual discounts or extra incentives for shopping with you. The more consistent these events are, the better.
Now that you have a bunch of customer appreciation ideas, the best next step is to improve communication with your customers. Do you know your average customer email response time? If not, you’ll need an email analytics tool.
With EmailAnalytics, you can quickly analyze your customers’ messaging patterns, your employees’ messaging patterns, and your busiest times of day and days of the week. You can look up average response times, top senders and recipients, and analyze the flow of your email threads, ultimately using those insights to boost your customer service. Sign up for a free trial today, and get a better understanding of how your business is using email, and its impact on your customers!
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before exiting it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.