Love Letters

Hallmark and Carlton Cards along with FTD and your favorite chocolatier tells us that this is the “month of love” with St. Valentine’s Day fast approaching. While we consider what to give our special someone in our life how many of you business owners out there really, truly, madly, deeply show your appreciation to your best customers? I’m not talking about customer appreciation days – although those can be a good start if done right and not overdone – but more personalized, genuine expressions of gratitude. The range of how you can show your appreciation for your customers helping to support your family and lifestyle is about as wide as your creativity and budget permit. Consumer research, however, proves that often the most effective ways are the easiest and cheapest:
1. “Thank-You” with a smile
It’s the little things in life that add up to a lot. A genuine, hearty “thank you” said with a smile while looking directly into your customers’ eyes when they hand over their hard-earned, ever-diminishing after-tax, after-bills, cash is the easiest and one of the best ways to show you truly appreciate your customers. McDonald’s shouldn’t be the only ones that have “Free Smiles” on their menu! Actually, customers shouldn’t have to order a smile – it should be automatic with each visit to your store.
2. Personalized Service
How many of you or your staff actually take the time to come around the counter to really listen to what your customers might want and help them out with what they need? Providing what a customer needs is better than selling them what they want. In order to satisfy this priority you must provide a high level of personalized service that includes asking direct questions and really listening to their answers (both what is said and, often, what is not).
3. Customized Promotions
For the many of us that understand the bottom line saying in business that “Cash is King” you could certainly send a lot of love your customers’ way by leaving a little cash left in their wallets. However, you want to be sure that you are getting bang for your buck (in deferred, not lost, revenue if you do this right) with whatever discount, cash-back or bonus promotion you may offer. The key to success is ensuring that whatever contra is offered, that it is actually valued, appreciated and remembered by your clients. This is where I encourage you to get creative with fellow business owners to develop some cross-promotional activities. As one simple example: many of your best customers may all share the same favorite restaurant in town. How about contacting that restaurant to see if you can come to an agreement on some discounted gift cards to give to your best customers and vice versa? Next time your best customer spends $x or has a life milestone, why not reward them with something that is meaningful, shows you know them and, effectively saves them money – if not directly, then, certainly, indirectly.
4. “Love Letters”
How many of you keep in touch with your best clients throughout the year or in recognition of certain milestones in their lives such as birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, new jobs, etc? For a community in the Alberni Valley of about 25,000 residents we really do have a much smaller town feel. Everyone seems to know everyone. We share a lot about lives with each other. This is true with many of the shopkeepers to whom we are loyal. Some businesses lend themselves better to keeping track of certain dates as a matter of the records they must keep for transactions such as car dealers and realtors. Others, however, can easily keep a simple book or spread sheet in which you can record certain key pieces of information from your customers simply by remembering things they tell you in conversations. There are some businesses that send me newsletters telling me about their plans and new products and services as well as actually send me birthday cards with a personal note. I do not find this obtrusive in the least. I find this shows that the business person was actually paying attention and values me as a customer. Another way to really show you love your customers is to offer them fast, priority service if they ever have a problem with something you’ve sold them in the past. Past customers are your best future customers and source of new customers. If your business clearly demonstrates that I am valued then I am much more likely to shop with you than anyone else who appears to take my business for granted.