Just Say NO to Gift Cards

Another example of why gift cards aren’t the best choice for saying thank you to customers, rewarding loyalty and building stronger relationships showed up in my world the other day. I belong to an entrepreneurial women’s group and as a gesture of appreciation, the founder sent out egift cards to all the members. Since they would arrive via email and could be overlooked as spam, she posted a “be on the lookout for this email” message on our private Facebook page.

While several people responded with excitement and gratitude, one person posted this:

FBpost-giftcard

It says: “Perhaps I am splitting hairs, but I don’t want something that was probably paid for with my monthly dues to be a gift. Technically it would be called a rebate. Unless the $5 cards were a measure of goodwill directly from the Starbucks corporation.”

Ouch! Now we can discuss whether or not the poster is justified or exhibiting bad manners, but the truth of the matter is, she’s not the only one who feels that way about receiving a gift card. If you’re using gift cards to say thank you to clients, members or referral sources, they may very well feel the same way. And if they do, it could affect their decision to send you more business.

Even though you may be spending the same $5 or $10 or $50, giving gift cards is very different from giving actual gifts. Gift cards have a monetary value attached and displayed right on them, (why not just hand the recipient a $10 bill?). A box of cookies, a plant or a beach ball do not and are therefore perceived as a much more authentic gift and genuine expression of appreciation.

In our society, we use money as a form of payment for market transactions. We pay money to buy goods and services. We can get away with giving money as a gift for weddings or children’s birthdays because what we’re really giving there is an investment in their futures. Paying out cash, or giving a gift card, which is the equivalent of cash, is not an acceptable form of gift for business associates.

In addition to now being viewed as tactless, giving a gift card is also not very memorable. It’s certainly not noteworthy. Who gets so excited about a gift card that she displays it on her desk or shows it to her colleagues? Why would you want to give something forgettable when you could easily share something more fun and remarkable? Often for the same price or less!

Next time you’re faced with the decision of how to give thanks, think of the most creative way you can do it, not the least.

Need help coming up with remarkable, impressive and still budget-friendly thank yous? I’ve got plenty of ideas. Call me and let’s brainstorm.

PS: Just for the record, I am not looking a gift horse in the mouth and do appreciate the meaning behind the giving of the above mentioned gift card. However, I felt compelled to take this opportunity to discuss the consequences of making that giving choice.

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The Humanization of Business

Years ago, back in the days of our grandparents, most people conducted business with people they knew. Business was local and you would recognize your vendors and suppliers if you ran into them at the grocery store. Some deals were done with contracts, but all agreements involved a handshake. There was a human element to every transaction.

Today, we can pretty much run our business and personal lives without having to interact with other humans. Everything can be bought and sold online, Writing emailconversations conducted via email or text. We can, however that doesn’t mean we should. For all the technology that’s been developed, humans are still wired to need physical contact and interaction with other humans. Perhaps ironically, the ability and expectation to be constantly available via electronic communications has actually created a greater importance for physically reaching out and touching someone.

How many of your clients do you know personally? Depending on your industry, you may have met with every one of them at some point in the relationship. Or you may have never even had a one-on-one conversation with them. The more of your business is conducted electronically, the higher the risk you have of customers leaving without saying goodbye. Why? Because it’s easy to walk away from someone you don’t really know, a business with which you have no real connection, even if they are providing you with a valuable service.

It’s much more difficult to change suppliers when you’ve had tangible interactions with someone. And this is why it’s so critical to take communications with your customers beyond the Internet! It’s especially important when you can’t physically meet face to face to send notes, gifts, tangible representations, because those things act as your surrogate. They are material stand-ins that aren’t likely to be ignored and can’t be deleted with a keystroke.

When you send a tangible gift, you’re telling your customer that he is important to you. He’s not getting the message that he’s just one of 1,000 people on a mass email list. He’s getting the message that he’s special, even if, in reality, you sent the same thing to 1,000 other people too.

Just last week, I received a bookmark and a note in the mail from a colleague. Her note Heart Bookmarksaid, “I am grateful to be connected to you,” and included a short list of her favorite books. Wow, very cool and unexpected (which is part of what makes it so cool!). Now I know I’m not the only person to whom she sent that gift, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that she cares enough about our relationship to reach out and touch me in that way. We’ve never met in person, but she just strengthened our bond.

You can bury your head in the sand and say it’s not true, or choose to believe you and your customers are more evolved than to need such physical connections. The bottom line is humans are still wired to desire tactile interaction with other humans. Recognize and provide it to your customers and you will see the benefits in the success of your business.

Strengthening Existing Client Relationships

Looking to improve your revenue this year and build a bigger business? That’s fantastic. How are you going to do it? What’s your plan? Most people answer that question with “get more customers.” And typically “get more customers” means do more marketing.

You could certainly spend time and money on chasing down new clients. OR, you could invest in the relationships you have with your current customers and strengthen them. When you do that, you’ll see existing clients buying more from you, maybe more frequently. You’ll also see an increase in referrals coming from those current clients. Business grows and you don’t have to work as hard. How great is that?

Here are a few ideas you can use to fortify those bonds.

Call them on their birthday. Everyone likes to receive happy birthday wishes on THEIR day. With the advent of Facebook, you’re probably getting a lot more than you used to, but most of them are not all that sincere. How many phone calls did you get on your birthday? Mine was last week, so I can tell you it was exactly seven – four family members, two friends and my financial adviser. Since only one was from someone with whom I do business, it stands out in my mind. I’m guessing he has a list he prints out every week and he sets aside 10 minutes a day to do those calls. Doesn’t take long and makes people happy.

Send a handwritten card or small gift on their birthday. Depending on the value of a client to you, you may choose to do something more than a phone call. One of Zen Rabbit’s clients sends a small package of Gratitude Cookies to each of his clients on their birthdays. Small gesture makes a big impression. If you are going to send a card, for gosh sakes, make it personal and don’t send something printed and signed by a computer!

Surprise them with random gifts of appreciation. These gifts don’t need to be expensive or extravagant. If you have products that are physical delivered to your customers, or you’re on site with them frequently, you can include surprises in what you send out or bring with you. One vendorGlass Teapot I know included a few lolly pops in each shipment. Otherwise you can do a special mailing. January is Hot Tea Month, so you could share your favorite tea. It’s also International Creativity Month, which begs for sharing a box of crayons or colored pens. Or how about sharing a delicious recipe or even an entire little cookbook of soup recipes for National Soup Month.

Print out or clip articles you see about your clients’ or their children’s achievements and mail them in an envelope with a note. Are you getting the drift here about delivering items in physical form via mail or other delivery service? It makes a difference! Electronic communications are fine and useful. But connecting on a more personal, tactile level is essential to human connectivity.

Going about business as usual, counting on clients to “know” you value their business is much like not changing the oil in your car when it’s time. The performance of your car isn’t affected right away. You may be able to drive for quite a while without issue. But sooner or later, that kind of neglect is going to cause major problems and will be pretty costly to fix.

Take care of your existing business connections, sincerely say thank you to customers for business, add the elements of fun and spontaneity to your client relationships and see how your business is rewarded with more.

What creative ideas have you used? Share here or come over to Zen Rabbit’s Facebook page to tell us about it.

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!

It’s Customer Service Week

This is Customer Service Week. Now you might think that every week, or every day, is about providing excellent customer service. That’s what I would say too. But this week is actually more about recognizing the people on your team who work with your customers and help ensure that they are properly taken care of.

If you have people who service your customers, this week is a great time to:

  • Boost morale, motivation and teamwork.
  • Reward frontline reps.
  • Increase company-wide awareness of the importance of delivering super customer service.
  • Thank colleagues in other departments for their support.
  • Remind customers of your team’s commitment to creating raving fans.

There are a million ways to show your appreciation for your fantastic team members. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Throw a party and provide breakfast, lunch or afternoon treats.
  • Hand out certificates of appreciation.
  • Bring in a massage therapist to provide seated or chair massages.
  • Play games or other fun activities and award prizes.
  • Give away special gifts (Gratitude Cookies or Zen Crunch make an especially nice gesture).

It’s not so much about what you choose to do, as much as that you do something to recognize the efforts of your customer service team.