The Anguish of Gift Giving (to family or customers)

Today is my husband’s birthday. Not only is it his birthday, it is the anniversary of our first date. Yes, I took him out for his birthday after he gave me some sad story at the gym that evening about how all his friends abandoned him because he wanted to work out first before going for dinner. On top of it, today marks our having been together for half of my life. Kind of weird.

Enough sappiness, onto my challenge. Am I the only one, or are there others out there, who have a hard time finding a good gift for the significant other? The thing is, if there’s something he wants, he pretty much goes and buys it himself. I hear my family thinks it’s hard to buy gifts for me too, although personally I think I am the easiest person in the world to buy for. And still we are committed to this practice of giving gifts.

He’s a runner, so for a while he got everything running related – shorts, socks, cold weather tights, etc. But there’s only so much gear you can fit in the dresser drawers. He’s always been an avid photographer, so for a long time I could always fall back on getting something photography related. Even then, purchases required explicit details on exactly which lens or filter or bag to order. But then he became a professional and any such purchases were no longer gifts, they were business expenses.

No worries. Who needs more stuff anyway? Experiences are better. I shelicopter rides as thank you to customers?pent time browsing sites like http://www.excitations.com for ideas. One year I wanted to give him a certificate for sailing lessons at a local marina. Nah, I don’t have time, he said. Another year some of my Twitter friends suggested a helicopter ride. How cool is that? Don’t you know I’ll get motion sickness, he admonished. I guess skydiving, where I get to push you out of the plane, ready or not, is out of the question too then. Arg!

This is the same kind of anguish many busy professionals go through in thinking about how to say thank you to clients. Finding customer gifts takes up too much mental energy and time, so it gets put on the back burner and rarely gets completed, which ends up costing them money in the long run. You don’t perform your own heart surgery or sew all your own clothes. Certainly allowing an expert to manage a client appreciation program is a better allocation of your resources than doing it yourself.  Ironically, it’s actually fun for me to find and send gestures of customer appreciation on behalf of my business clients. Maybe when you remove yourself from the thick of it, and take a step back, finding the right thing becomes easier.

PS: Any fantastic birthday gift suggestions welcome!

Saying Thank You to Customers in October

October is another great time to say thank you to customers. Unlike in December and even November, your clients are not inundated with cards, gift baskets and goodies this month. That means your kind gesture will make you look like a rock star stand out. And who doesn’t want that?!

There are plenty of special occasions to share your appreciation and show your thanks to customers this month. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month. You could go with a dog-themed gift or make a donation to a local shelter. It’s Apple Month; send a jar of delicious, organic apple butter. It’s Eat Better, Eat Together Month, which means you could put together baskets of simple and healthy dinner ingredients, such as whole wheat pasta and sauce or wild rice and lentils. October is National Book Month, so buy a case of your favorite book and share it with everyone. It’s National Caramel and National Popcorn Poppin’ Month; you could easily tie those two together in a yummy snack. In honor of Pizza Month, send a pizza making kit. To make this one even more interactive, ask your clients to then send you pictures of their pizza creation, or post them on your Facebook page.

Also in October:
National Food Bank Week, 14-20. Create a promotion that encourages your clients to donate canned goods to their local food bank.

World Vegetarian Day – share a veggie or bean soup mix or recipe.

Balloons Around the World Day – how fun to have a bouquet of balloons delivered to special clients.

National Chess Day – share chess sets or the more edible chess cookies.

International Top Spinning Day – send out those old-fashioned wooden tops and I guarantee your recipients will play with them all week.

World Pasta Day – again with the pasta, choose a package of funky shapes for extra attention.

Plush Animal Day – find your favorite animal and send a few out with a note tied around its neck, or attached to its paw. Better yet, make a donation to the World Wildlife Fund and you can choose which animal you want to “adopt.” Then they’ll send one of those plush animals to you or your recipient.

National Candy Corn Day – no one eats this stuff any other time of the year. Fill up some decorative bags and send one to everyone.

And of course there’s Halloween at the end of the month, giving you a great opportunity to send caramel or candy apple kits or an assortment of your favorite candies. Non-food items like masks or witch fingers are fun too!

You’ve got no excuse not to implement one of these creative ideas for reaching out and strengthening those client relationships this month.

You can debate the statistic of whether the cost of acquiring a new customer is five, seven or nine times greater than the cost of keeping current ones. What’s not up for debate is the fact that it’s much more cost effective to keep the ones you have, which is why customer thank yous seem like a worthwhile investment to me.

Need help coming up with creative gift ideas to reward loyal customers? Reach me at lori @ zenrabbit.com and let’s brainstorm.

Saying Thank You to Customers in September

September is a great time to say thank you to customers. Unlike in December and even November, you clients are not inundated with cards, gift baskets and goodies this month. That means your goodwill gesture will stand out, make a bigger impression and create more buzz.

There are plenty of special holidays or reasons to show appreciation and say thanks for business this month. September is Apple Month, Fall Hat Month, Honey Month, Self Improvement Month, Skin Care Awareness Month, Guide Dog Month, National Preparedness Month.

Teddy BearAlso in September:

  • Cheese Pizza Day – send a gift certificate for a local pizza place
  • Read a Book Day – share a copy of your favorite business or inspirational book
  • Teddy Bear Day – who doesn’t love a cute Teddy Bear?
  • Chocolate Milkshake Day – a gift card is probably the way to go here
  • Play Doh Day – send a mini jar of this childhood favorite. Who’s not going to play with it?!
  • Talk Like a Pirate Day – find a translation guide to send
  • Elephant Appreciation Day – write a note on a card with a picture of an elephant
  • Comic Book Day – get really creative and make your own
  • Pancake Day – pancake mix and a bottle of syrup
  • Chewing Gum Day – easy enough to mail or drop off a pack of gum
  • Most appropriately, September 27 is National Thank You Day.

Pick one of these fun holidays and use it as a reason to send your customers a note or gift. Remember, if you improve your customer retention rate by just 5%, you can expect to see an increase in profits of 25-100%. Seems like a worthwhile investment to me.

Need help coming up with creative gift ideas to reward loyal customers? Reach me at lori @ zenrabbit.com and let’s brainstorm.

Infusing Humor into Your Customer Appreciation

Today is the birth anniversary of Lucille Ball. Born in 1911, she became one of the world’s best known and most loved comediennes. Who doesn’t haveLucille Ball a favorite episode of her wacky adventures on “I Love Lucy,” that when you think about it now, still makes you laugh out loud?!

A sense of humor is consistently on the top 5 list of characteristics people find most attractive in others. Even the most serious person enjoys a good laugh once in a while. Life and business can be challenging and stressful. Humor lightens the mood, makes you feel good and strengthens relationships.

Business guru Tom Peters claims “The number one premise of business is that it need not be boring or dull. It ought to be fun. If it’s not fun, you’re wasting your life.” He says humor in the workplace increases creativity, teamwork and ultimately productivity. People want to work with people who are fun.

Are you infusing humor as part of your customer retention strategy? When you’re looking for ways to say thank you to customers, incorporating humor can be the way to go. I hear all the time from professionals who think their industry is too conservative to allow them to use humor. Yes, I’m talking about you in financial services, insurance and the medical professions. It’s not true! Of course there is a place and time for everything. Customer appreciation is all about strengthening relationships, and since we’ve already established that humor does that, then here is exactly the right place to use it.

No need to dress up in a clown costume or send out rubber chickens. All you need is a little forethought and creativity. Here are few gift ideas you can use to say thank you this month that will surely solicit a laugh from your loyal customers, along with “reasons” why you’re sending this particular gift at this time.

Need more ideas or help creating a message to go with your humorous client appreciation gift? Want someone else to find and send customer thank you gifts for you? Not a problem. Give me a call and let’s get started!

Why Gratitude is Good for Business

Right on is what I said when I saw this article posted by Fortune magazine on CNNMoney. It’s always a good thing when people are talking about the importance of gratitude in business, even if they’re not quoting me. Ha ha.

In fact, two of the people they did quote, Kristina Bouweiri/Reston Limousine and Heidi Kallett/The Dandelion Patch, are strong business women in my local circle of contacts. How cool is that?!

The article totally supports what Zen Rabbit is all about – building appreciation into a business’ daily and weekly plans and strategies and doing it year-round instead of just for the December holidays. Of course these business people are seeing benefits to this approach in terms of more engaged workers and more loyal customers.

See the whole article here, at http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2011/11/23/why-gratitude-is-good-for-business-year-round/

Client Appreciation as a Marketing Strategy

A few months ago I was interviewed by an internationally-known marketing guru. We talked about how you can incorporate client appreciation into your marketing strategy. If you’re a member of the “inner circle,” you would have gotten the interview on CD. Have you heard the recording yet? If you’re like me, and you throw them on a pile to listen to later and months later you finally get around to popping the CD in the player, maybe you haven’t heard it yet.

Incorporating Client Appreciation Into Your Marketing Strategy

I’m sharing a short clip of it here (click on the above text) because it’s so powerful, a new client signed up for the Gratitude Program yesterday after listening to just the first five minutes. Stay tuned for more short clips to come in the next few weeks.

May it be powerful enough to prompt you into action as well!

Holiday Gift Ideas for Clients

Many business people traditionally send holiday gifts as their way of showing appreciation for clients, customers, partners, etc. For those who like the idea of concierge service, gourmet food treats and making a great impression, this video offers some nice gift ideas. Look for the special offer at the end!

Client Appreciation for Financial Advisors

Before I started writing this article, I did a quick Google search on “client appreciation for financial advisors.” Most of what came up was all about client appreciation events, which are very common in the industry. My guess as to why is that advisors hope their clients bring friends with them to the event so the planner can get an introduction for potential new business. This is all fine and good, nothing wrong with hosting appreciation events, but I’m not crazy about them as a way to really show your thanks or differentiate yourself.

Sure, some financial planners may host events that are real blowouts, the kind of “you have GOT to be there” parties that people talk about for months. But most don’t come close to that.

Like gift cards, these appreciation dinners have three main drawbacks. One, they’re not personal. It’s a party for a bunch of people, not in honor of them personally. Two, they require your clients to make an effort. And a majority of your clients are not excited about making any efforts outside of their normal routine. Three, if everyone’s doing them, how then are you so special?

That’s why if you really want to let your clients know you value them, you send them something that requires no effort on their part – a genuine token of thanks that can be enjoyed right away, without sharing, in the privacy of their own home. In case you haven’t noticed, especially in America, people like instant gratification.

A survey done earlier this year of registered investment advisors found that most saw an increase in assets under management, coming from both new and existing clients. So you’ve got lots of new people with whom it would behoove you to strengthen bonds. Additionally, the study revealed almost 25% of advisors expected to increase spending in client appreciation activities. If you’re going to increase spending, don’t you want to make sure you’re doing it effectively?

Here are 3 better ways for financial advisors to reach out to their clients:

1. Handwritten notes – even if your assistant writes them. Send a card to say thanks at a random time, other than a birthday.

2. Gourmet food – people love treats, so send something they’d not likely find or buy for themselves and let them indulge courtesy of you. Food is a very social and nurturing thing; it says, “I care,” which is why it’s received particularly well.

3. Books – do you have a favorite recommendation? Sharing something you enjoy allows your clients to feel a closer relationship and who knows, maybe you’ll introduce them to a new genre or author that they would have never otherwise discovered.

There’s no doubt that building tighter relationships with your clients is essential to the success of your business. Just make sure the money you spend actually accomplishes what you intend.

Why Bad Manners are Good for Business

You might have lots of stories in which you are the recipient of poor treatment and bad manners. I wouldn’t be surprised, as it seems like common courtesies have gone the way of the mimeograph. Maybe you can even laugh at some of those instances now. But is it possible for bad manners to be good news for your business?

The answer is YES and here’s how. Since so few people are using good manners these days, they’ve become a great way to differentiate yourself in business (and life in general). Showing appreciation and saying thank you when people do something nice for you helps you stand out. It puts you head and shoulders above the competition.

Everyone likes to be acknowledged and feel valued. It’s a basic human need and no one gets too much. So if you can provide it – in addition to whatever product or service you’re in business to deliver – you are sure to attract more business. The more customers who love you, the more word-of-mouth and referrals you get and it becomes a beautiful cycle of growth.

Remember the last time you made an effort to say thank you to someone? I mean a sincere effort, not a quickly sent off, one line email. What did you do? Mail a handwritten thank you note? Deliver a bouquet of flowers? Send a gourmet care package or basket?

What kind of response did you get? First of all, YOU probably felt pretty good because doing a good deed benefits your well-being too. And then you probably got a phone call or some type of excited or grateful thank you for saying thank you. Even if you didn’t, it’s a safe bet to say you made a positive impact on the recipient.

Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

So go ahead world, be rude! We’ll just use your lack of manners to our own advantage.

Good Idea to Pay for a Good Deed?

The concept first showed up to me in Dan Ariely’s book “Predictably Irrational.” I just finished “Drive” by Dan Pink and he talks about it too. So it’s high time I mention it here.

Paying people for doing nice things for you is not only ineffective, it’s insulting. Think about how you might feel if you did a favor for someone and he turned around and said, “hey buddy, thanks a lot. Here’s 25 bucks.” Or a friend shows up to your dinner party and instead of presenting you with a nice bottle of wine or a yummy dessert, she hands you some cash. You’d think, wow, that’s kind of weird.

There are two sets of norms in our society – social norms and market norms. Social norms are the domain of friendly requests, good deeds and warm and fuzzy. Market norms are about monetary exchanges in transactions such as wages, prices, rents, etc. Life is good when you understand the difference and keep them separate.

Things get a little hairy though when you start mixing the two. And that’s what happens in business when you pay people for giving you referrals. Essentially, when you pay a commission to someone who is not an employee for giving you a referral, you’re making a financial transaction.

Many times people make referrals because they want to be helpful. They’re not necessarily looking for anything in return. It’s a social exchange. And in social exchanges, gifts are the most acceptable type of “reward.”

Not only are small gifts more the accepted norm, giving them instead of money actually increases the likelihood that they will continue to share information with you. Studies have shown people will work more for a cause (or something they believe is worthy) than for cash. Both Ariely’s and Pink’s books address the reasoning behind this in more depth and I recommend reading them. But suffice it to know that if you want more referral business, saying thank you with a small gift or gesture is more effective than offering legal tender. Yes, even in “this economy.”